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thesis statement

The thesis statement: 5 common mistakes to avoid

Dec 03, 2012 - Posted to  Thesis Writing
The thesis statement is generally defined as one to two sentences near the beginning of a work that clearly states the main points to be argued or discussed. Exact preferences of a thesis statement, such as it being one or two sentences, or where it is placed in the paper, differs based on individual preferences- but the primary characteristics are the same. The thesis statement should assert only one concept or idea, be narrow and specific, and accurately represent the contents of the paper. Many beginning students, as well as experienced ones, find difficulty in properly constructing a thesis statement. Below are some common misunderstandings that students often encounter when formulating thesis statements.

#1

Broad, general thesis statements: A major blunder to avoid is creating a thesis statement that is too broad or too vague to be reasonably accomplished within the confines of your paper. Broad or general statements are unrealistic and hard to satisfy. Likewise, by definition, something broad does not define-and your thesis statement should clearly define your main objective along with what you hope to accomplish in your paper.
An example of a broad thesis statement is; 'Children in Europe suffer from many psychological disorders.' This thesis statement does not provide enough information to properly formulate a paper regarding it. A better thesis statement would be; 'Children in Europe suffer from many psychological disorders due to the collapse of the two-parent household and troubling familial dynamics.'
*As you can see the actual thesis statement in the second example is a bit longer than the 'bad' example that came before it. This is because a thesis statement needs to be specific and easily measurable-the first one is not.

#2

Writing a statement that is not arguable-most people would agree with it: One of the hallmarks of a proper thesis statement is that it is something than can be 'contested' or argued. Choosing a blanket, neutral statement that doesn't initiate any worthwhile discussions is another common error in essay and term paper writing. The objective of many papers is to argue a point, convince or persuade, or to inform and explain. These goals would be very hard to accomplish using neutral statements that fail to provoke a counter argument or at least considerable points to debate.
*Note that a thesis statement need not always hold a very strong opinion. As long as it is weighty enough to be thoroughly discussed and provide an intriguing or interesting argument; that should be sufficient.

#3

Including several points, rather than one main point: Because of this common mistake some people may even feel that the definition of a thesis statement as 'one or two sentences' should be restricted to just one sentence. This is because it is very easy to go overboard and complicate your thesis statement by adding too many points of analysis. In general one sentence is usually more than enough to adequately illustrate your main argument and objective.
*Its okay for your one main idea to include a few subpoints or details as needed. With the above example regarding 'Educational psychology' it can be observed that the full thesis statement in fact conveyed one idea by providing two points of discussion; 'two-parent households and troubling familial dynamics.'

#4

(a) Writing the thesis statement as a question: This simple mistake can be avoided by returning back to the term thesis statement! A statement is not a question-and though this is an obvious mistake many people still tend to fall into it. The problem often occurs when first formulating the research question. A narrow and well-structured research question will likely resemble a thesis statement in many respects. And because of this many people unfamiliar to writing research papers, for example, may end up marking their thesis statement as a question rather than a statement. This can also be better understood by knowing that the thesis statement should actually answer the research question rather than be the research question.
(b) Writing the thesis statement as a fact or observation: This concern is usually coupled with the previous one in that it goes back to the definition of a thesis statement and its intent. Since the thesis statement is an absolute and decisive one, it should clearly state a position rather than make an observation or state a fact. Many compelling observations surface throughout the course of research, as well as facts, and they all may seem like a good fit for a thesis statement. But the key thing to remember is that those statements will not accomplish the objective if they do not accurately represent what is being proven in the essay or paper.
*For example; 'Poor nutrition leads to obesity.' Whether this statement is true or not it doesn't satisfy the requirements of a thesis statement because it doesn't (a) argue a point (b) identify anything specific about the topic. A better sentence would be 'Poor nutrition as well as lack of exercise in school is the cause of obesity in American children.'
Some of the key differences in this statement is that it is very specific and can be debated or argued and can adequately be covered in a research paper. {*A counter argument perhaps would be that it is not the lack of exercise and nutrition in the schools that leads to obesity but rather its the lack of similar things in the home environment that contribute to this.}

#5

Providing too much detail and cluttering up your statement: This mistake is the opposite of the first one. Perhaps in trying to avoid writing a very broad statement, students may fall into the other extreme and provide a lengthy, filled thesis statement. This contradicts another feature which is that the thesis statement should be short and concise. Because one of its main functions is to summarize the major points of your paper or essay and in doing so should really be limited to two lines or less.
*Remember that whatever you claim to prove or analyze must be satisfied by the proofs and evidences present in your paper-so avoid overburdening yourself by setting high expectations that must be met.
The last point is a crucial one. Many people use the thesis statement as a guide and a mini-outline for their papers and essays. For that reason its best to start off with a trial thesis statement that is reasonable in size and only looks at a one or two points. This will hopefully make the burden of meeting thesis statement expectations less and provide more room for the development of ideas.
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