The single most critical characteristic of an effective English essay
is a strong thesis statement. For many writers, however, it's often one of the most misunderstood.
In a paragraph, the main idea is expressed in the form of a topic sentence. Similarly, a well-written English essay needs an effective thesis statement to tell us the central idea or ideas of the work we're about to read. A thesis statement indicates to the reader the focus of the essay. Think of it as a way to condense into one or two sentences the main points you want the reader of your work to walk away with.
Introducing Your Thesis Statement
A typical English essay usually begins with an introductory paragraph that starts out with a general statement and gradually narrows into a more specific thesis statement. For this reason, a thesis statement is often found near the end of the introductory paragraph.
An advantage of introducing your essay's focus early on is to avoid surprising the reader later on in the essay. Beginning with broad statements will allow the reader to get comfortable and interested in the essay. Ease the reader into your thesis statement by gradually getting more specific. Think of your introductory paragraph as a funnel that starts out wide and narrows into a single, clear point.
Scope Is the Key
Keeping your focus sufficiently narrowed is perhaps the most critical aspect of your thesis statement
. Trying to accomplish too much is the downfall of many thesis statements. No one wants to read an essay that vaguely wanders all over the place in some desperate attempt to provide too much information in not enough space. In other words, don't bite off more than you can chew.
The scope of a statement such as "Homelessness in America has many causes" is simply too wide to support in one coherent essay. A more narrow statement, such as "Illness is a main cause for much of America's homelessness," would be less vague, yet still difficult to develop with any real depth. Further narrowing the statement to something like "Homeless veterans in San Diego County have a higher rate of mental illness" would probably allow the writer to present an adequately supported essay within a certain number of pages.
What's the Plan?
One way to keep your thesis statement sufficiently narrowed is to include in it a plan for its development that indicates the major points your essay will make.
"Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath is masterfully written"
is an example of a thesis statement that is too general to support within the scope of a typical English essay. However, "Steinbeck's used vivid imagery, realistic dialogue, and believable characters to make The Grapes of Wrath a masterful story"
is a more manageable statement, and it tells the reader the three main points the essay will make, without overly stating the details. Such a thesis statement lends itself to the standard five-paragraph English essay
, with each supporting paragraph in the body of the essay devoted to one of the three concepts mentioned (i.e., imagery, dialogue, and characters) in the plan of development.
Not all thesis statements will include such a plan, and if you do decide to incorporate one into your thesis statement, take care to word it in a way that avoids announcing your thesis statement.
Avoid an Announcement
While it is important to make the position of your thesis statement clear, do so in a way that avoids making overly obvious assertions. A thesis statement that begins with "This essay is about..." or "The point of this paper is..." will weaken the effectiveness of your essay. Not only is such an unimaginative announcement plain boring, but it's also amateurish, annoying, and unnecessary.
Think of your thesis statement as an opportunity to engage your reader in a debate. In a debate, the lack of subtlety in such a statement as "I'm about to convince you that..." could seriously compromise your ability to prove your points, even if they're good ones. You do want to present a clear indication of your attitude, using important keywords to reflect your belief, but be sure not to underestimate your reader's deductive abilities; assume that he/she's able to follow your ideas without overly simplifying them.
Be Ready to Revise
Of paramount importance is remaining flexible when it comes to your thesis statement. During the course of your work, you may find that you need to edit, revise, or even rewrite your thesis statement. For this reason, many writers will delay finalizing their thesis statement until the later stages of drafting the essay.
Once you've written the main body of your essay, go back and revisit your thesis statement. Do your topic sentences, examples, and details still support your thesis statement? Oftentimes during the process of writing your essay you will develop new ideas that you hadn't thought of when you were drafting your original thesis statement.
If you find that some of your supporting material seems to go beyond the limits of your thesis statement, you need to make some revisions. This may be a simple matter of adding to the thesis statement itself so that it will better incorporate all of your support. You may also need to reexamine the support to see if it would be better to leave it out. If certain elements of your supporting paragraphs change the direction of your focus significantly, your essay is likely more unified without them.
Creating a strong thesis statement
provides the solid foundation upon which the rest of your essay is built. An essay built upon a weak or haphazard foundation usually indicates that the focus will be unclear, the scope will be too wide (or too narrow), or that the writer just did not have a clear plan or direction in mind. On the other hand, an effective thesis statement will work to ground the essay, to help fortify its focus, providing the point around which the rest of the work revolves.