Every essay answers a question at the heart of the subject the author chooses to explore. A thesis statement distills this analysis or argument down to a single sentence, or two. Typically found in the first paragraph of the paper, the declaration serves as an indispensable guide to the argument for both the writer and his readers. A good thesis statement can make or break an essay. But how, exactly, do you write one?
Most formal essays
contain a thesis statement. They make it easier for the author to organize his ideas and present a convincing argument. Generally speaking, there are two types of thesis statements - those for assigned and for unassigned topics. Either way, the easiest and most reliable way to get started is to condense your arguments into a single question.
Let's say, for example, that the subject of your assignment is the recent effort to lengthen the school day and/or year in the United States. The first thing to remember about penning a thesis statement is that it must be declarative and leave no room for ambiguity or doubt. Whether your readers ultimately agree with you or not, you do not want them to be confused about what side of the issue you come down on. They should know from the outset that you either agree or disagree with a certain argument or proposal.
Using our earlier example, your thesis statement would seek to answer the following question: "What are the potential benefits of lengthening the school day and/or year in the United States?" Now all you have to do is answer that question and you will have a solid thesis sentence. You might say, for example, that "America is falling behind with regard to international educational rankings and that extending the school year is absolutely necessary because it will keep our kids competitive on a global level." In that instance, you would obviously be taking the pro side of the argument. Of course, you could also reject the assertion that longer school years or days would improve the American educational system for the better by taking the position that endless school years would cripple creativity and imagination.
As unpleasant and uncomfortable as it may sound, brainstorming is a process most serious writers rely on. It is especially useful when the topic is not assigned and the author has to choose from a broad subject matter, such as "the obesity epidemic in America." A student could spend hours wrestling with a subject that expansive. And that is where brainstorming comes in. Instead of focusing on the overall problem, select a single aspect of the issue that is inextricably and undeniably linked to it. For example, "increased sugar consumption and how these empty calories are adding to the American waistline."
Narrow the topic
As a general rule, the smaller the group you focus on, the more accurate and convincing your paper will be. Let's say, for example, that instead of focusing on the entire U.S. population and their increased sugar consumption, you turn your attention to school children. Not only will the documentation be easier to locate, since it deals with a more specific group of people, but it should also be more accurate because the schools keep track of exactly how much sugar kids consume on a daily basis.
Once you have explored your subject in greater detail and have the evidence and numbers to make your case, you might decide to revise you thesis statement. Remember, the more specific the statement, the better. So, you might be in favor of reducing sugar consumption by school children because the childhood obesity rate has tripled since 1980! And, not surprisingly, so has sugar consumption! The correlation is impossible to miss, which means the thesis statement holds water.
Now that you have made your position known, you can once again revise your thesis statement
, or let it stand. Just remember to use specific language and avoid ambiguity at all costs. Never use noncommittal words like "kind of" or "sort of."
It is also important to collect quotes from experts in the field and recent statistics that will strengthen and support your position.
As important as the thesis sentence is, it is only a guide. If you fail to answer the implied questions with evidence and facts, your paper will fall flat. It is not enough to simply make a declarative statement and then incorporate a few discrete statistics or quotes. You must present them in an orderly and professional way. There should be a recognizable pattern or flow and, just as with a memorable speech or comedic routine, save your best arguments or jokes for the end. Going out on a high note is something most experienced essayists master in short order.
A few final tips
Don't be afraid to take a strong stand! Even if it's unpopular or unconventional, you readers will respect your gumption, even if they don't agree with your conclusions. In fact, most spirited debates start with people who staunchly stand on opposite sides of the aisle, which makes these controversial arguments all the more interesting and engaging.
At the risk of being redundant and repetitive, we must say, once again, the only difference between a good thesis statement
and a weak one is that the strong statement actually takes some sort of a stand. For example, you would not want to state that "sugar is mostly bad for children, but that it also has some positive aspects."
Obviously, an ambiguous sentence like that one defeats the purpose of the thesis statement. First, it does not provide the author with a clear position or a guide to his paper. Second, it confuses the reader and makes him wonder what stance, if any, the writer will take.
Last but not least, an essayist should always remember that the point of his paper is not to take a nuanced approach. Rather, it is to make a strong statement that serves as the basis for a serious discussion. It should be simple, specific, and unequivocal.