By: Laura Griglak
Everyone knows that thesis statements are important. They set up your main argument and offer a guide for readers to refer back to. And yet, constructing an effective thesis statement is a lot like herding cats. One second the wily devil is within your grasp, and the next, it is lost in the briar bushes.
The good news is that while herding cats will be forever impossible, writing an effective thesis statement is well within reach. The first step is to understand the nature of the beast.
STEP ONE: What is a thesis statement?
The thesis statement provides an anchor for your paper. It is typically a single sentence that includes your main point, as well as supporting information that gives the reader a clear understanding of what they are about to read. Here is an example from Purdue Owl (a fantastic, online resource):
“High school graduates should be required to take a year off to pursue community service projects before entering college in order to increase their maturity and global awareness.”
THE MAIN POINT: “High school graduates should be required to take a year off to pursue community service projects before entering college”
SUPPORTING INFORMATION: “in order to increase their maturity and global awareness.”
It is important to note that the “supporting information” is not random. It generally answers the question “why” or “how.” Why should high school graduates be required to take a year off? Answer: to increase their maturity and global awareness.
STEP TWO: How to construct your initial thesis statement.
Now that we know what a thesis is, it’s time to buckle down and write one!
Here is an example of a prompt you could encounter:
How does social media effect your day-to-day life?
So, how do we take this prompt and turn it into a thesis? The first step is answering the question. How does social media effect your day-to-day life? This might require a little brainstorming. Personally, I might sit down and write out something like this:
Hmm…social media sure does take up a lot of my time…If I wasn’t on social media all the time maybe I would have time to get my homework done. Heck, I might even be able to keep up on my dishes! But would it be worth it? Maybe not. I do get a lot out of social media. I get to keep in touch with my friends from high school and it’s a great way to share ideas with others.
Okay, now we have our idea. It’s time to turn it into a thesis. Remember, your thesis should have two parts: 1) your main point; and 2) supporting information.
MAIN POINT: Social media takes up a lot of my time, but the benefits outweigh the negatives.
SUPPORTING INFO: I sometimes fall behind on my responsibilities, but I am able to easily stay in touch with my friends and share ideas.
THESIS: Social media takes up a lot of time that could have been dedicated to responsibilities like homework or chores, but the benefits outweigh the negatives, as I am able to stay in touch with my friends who help me spread ideas.
By organizing my thoughts and breaking down the information, it made forming the thesis a much easier task.
STEP THREE: Don’t assume your thesis statement is set in stone.
That’s right, thesis statements can change.
Sometimes you form this amazing thesis statement, only to find that as you write your paper, you stray from your main point. Sometimes this means you need to refocus your information to meet the expectations of your thesis. However, there are times in which it makes more sense to refocus your thesis to meet the expectations of your paper. It all depends on what you are trying to say in your paper.
The key is that when you are finished, the paper should reflect what you outline in your thesis.
FINAL WORDS: Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion!
“It makes sense in my head.”
How many times have you heard/said something like this? As the writer, it is easy to lose perspective on your own work. You become so close to the material that you can no longer see the full picture.
Don’t be afraid to show your piece to a second set of eyes/ears. Getting that outside perspective can help verify whether you were able to maintain your paper’s focus. And as always, you are welcome to bring your work to us here at the Marian E. Write Writing Center. We are always up for a little cat herding.