Writing Effective Thesis Statements
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How to Write an Objective and Convincing Thesis Statement
The thesis statement is popularly referred to as the “road map” for an essay because it provides critical structure and guidance. Most academic essays require the student to create an objective and analytical argument which will be established in the thesis and then explained and analyzed in more depth in the body paragraphs. If the thesis is not objective, the essay writer may fail to make his/her point effectively and may then endanger his/her performance on the particular assignment.
What Does it Mean to Write an Objective Thesis Statement?
In the art of academic and persuasive writing, making an objective argument means that the author must defend and support his/her point without straightforwardly stating his/her stance in the first or second person (I, we, you). The act of using third-person pronouns (he, she, it, they), rather than first or second person, shifts the perspective off of the author and reader in order to make a substantive argument that does not rely on explicitly stated personal opinion.
Create a Clear and Specific Thesis
Because the thesis is the crux of an essay and the foundation that the subsequent body paragraphs depend on, it is important to spend as much time as is needed to refine the thesis statement. When a student is having difficulty expressing an idea, he/she often relies on vague language, including words such as “things” and “stuff,” to get around the problem. However, this weakens the thesis to the point of making it ineffective.
For example, consider a prompt regarding William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies which asks students to investigate and analyze the main themes in the novel. If a student in the class were to write “Golding discusses many things in his novels and it has some important themes,” this would technically be on-topic, but the thesis would be so weak that it would be hard for a reader to decipher what the author means by “things” and “some important themes.”
Instead, say that the student was to write “In the novel, Lord of the Flies, author William Golding explores several themes, including the distinction between civilization and savagery and the question of whether evil is inherent within the heart of man.” In addition to being on topic, this statement answers the question in a way that is clear and specific, thereby crafting a more comprehensive argument. Here, the student has identified the name of the author, the title of the novel, and has specifically listed the themes that will be discussed in the argument.
Create an Arguable Thesis
In addition to ensuring that the thesis is clear and specific, it is also important to make it arguable. It is not enough to simply state a fact like “Barack Obama is the first African-American President of the United States.” While that is a true statement, this straightforward fact leaves little room for exploration and further explication.
To offer an arguable point that can be defended in the thesis, the student could craft a statement that says, “As the first African-American President, Barack Obama is in a unique position to impact international relations as well as domestic policy.” The arguable point here would be the concept of a “unique position.” Since not everyone would agree that Obama is in a “unique position,” the student would need to prove that Obama’s circumstance is indeed “unique” by explaining his specific contributions to international relations and domestic policy and how he is better able to influence those situations than another president would be.
Because most academic writing is, by nature, persuasive, it is important to build an argument that takes a solid stance and can be defended with evidence. The goal is not to persuade the reader with empty rhetoric; instead, the goal is to thoughtfully establish an argument in the thesis and defend it thoroughly and well throughout the body paragraphs.
Avoiding “I” in the Thesis Statement
One of the biggest challenges that new writers face is removing “I” from a thesis statement. Many students are tempted to write a sentence such as the following: “In my paper, I am going to talk about why the death penalty should be abolished.” This student has clearly attempted a thesis statement here, but this falls short of the goal of creating a substantive and objective thesis. This statement wastes valuable space by announcing to the reader what the writer will discuss and it also fails to specifically state the reasons why the death penalty should be abolished.
In this case, using an objective thesis statement would create a more convincing and professional-sounding argument. For example, the student could write, “The death penalty should be abolished because of its cost to taxpayers, because it is not a proven deterrent to crime, and because innocent people are at risk of being wrongly convicted and put to death.” This objective statement eliminates the unnecessary “I” element, takes a solid argumentative stance, and gives the reader a brief introduction to the support that will be used to defend the author’s position.
Avoiding “You” and “We” in the Thesis Statement
Another issue that new writers face is using “you” or “we” in the thesis statement. Students are often tempted to write statements such as “Throughout this paper, you will see why the death penalty should be abolished” or “Together, we will see the reasons why the death penalty should be abolished.” While these statements are noble attempts to make the reader feel like an active participant, in this case, the writer runs the risk of alienating the reader.
Depending on the circumstances, if the reader does not agree (i.e. “see”) the author’s point or if the reader does not feel that the author has made his/her case well enough in the thesis, the reader may give up and abandon the paper altogether, thereby eliminating any possibility that the author might have had to convince the reader to formulate a new perspective or stance.
As such, the trick to writing a successful thesis statement is to draw readers in and guide them gently through the paper while offering the strongest evidence possible to support the given argument. A thesis statement that is objective and analytical is much more likely to keep a reader engaged, regardless of the topic at hand, since an objective thesis shows professionalism and critical thinking.
Writing an effective thesis statement requires a lot of practice. Keep in mind that trial and error is completely natural while developing one’s writing abilities, but with time and effort this process will often become second nature.