The only reason for asking for a trial thesis statement is to allow us to have something to discuss in class. You will usually not finish writing your thesis statement until you have nearly finished writing and revising your essay. Because your thesis statement may or may not appear in the body of your essay, I will ask you to always put your thesis statement at the very end of your essay, labeled and printed as a separate paragraph after your last paragraph or after your list of works cited, if you have one.
So what is a thesis statement? A thesis statement is a single declarative sentence that states what you want your readers to know, believe, or understand after having read your essay. If we understand that definition, it will be a lot easier to work with thesis statements, so let's take a minute to break it down into its component parts and make sure we see what it contains.
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A thesis statement, in other words, is only one sentence, not two or three or more. Because the thesis statement is the main point you want to make in one essay; so it should be one sentence. Frederick Crews defines an essay as "a short piece of nonfiction that tries to make a point in an interesting way. This doesn't mean that you can only make one assertion in an essay. But it means that all of the many claims you make must fit together, that they must all support or lead to a single point claim, conclusion that defines the whole essay.
And if everything you say in an essay supports a single point or claim, then you can express that claim in a single sentence.
Notice that nobody is saying that it must be a short sentence or a pretty sentence. But it must be one sentence, not two or more sentences. If you can't express the main point of your essay in one sentence, your essay probably doesn't have one point; it probably has two.
And that means it should be two essays. Feel free to write them both, but one at a time. A declarative sentence is simply a sentence that makes a statement rather than asking a question or making a command. It is really saying the same thing twice to say that a thesis statement is a declarative sentence. It just means that a thesis statement is a statement. The repetition is for emphasis; it helps us to keep in mind that a thesis statement is not a question. You may often start work on your essay with a question in mind.
That's a good idea. But the question is not your thesis statement. Your thesis statement will be the answer to the question, an answer that you will defend and explain in your essay. Different essays will have different purposes, depending on your message and your audience.
If you are writing about a topic that your readers know very little about, you will write differently than you would if you were writing about a topic about which your readers were well informed. Some textbooks attempt to break down the kinds of essays into categories like "informative," "persuasive," "expository," or "argumentative. No good essay is entirely informative or entirely persuasive. Almost any good essay will have to inform the reader at some points and persuade the reader at others.
But every good essay is unified, moves toward a single major point. Thus every good essay has a thesis statement, though it may be implied rather than explicitly stated in the text of the essay. If you are writing a primarily "informative" essay rather than a primarily "persuasive" essay, that doesn't mean your essay doesn't have a thesis; it just means that your thesis is a statement about which your readers are uninformed, rather than one on which they may have opinions that differ from yours.
Whatever kind of essay you are writing, you want to decide before you finish it what the point will be, where it's going. Thus you want your thesis statement to express in a sentence what your whole essay says, what you want your readers to know or believe or understand by the end of the essay. You don't just want the thesis statement to be a general conclusion that someone might reach from your essay; you want it to say what your essay says.
Thesis Statement | Writing About Texts
One problem with many, perhaps most, trial thesis statements is that they are too general and hence do not really give any guidance as to what issues and what evidence will be in this essay. You may have been asked in a previous class to put your thesis statement in the first paragraph of your essay. There is nothing wrong with putting the thesis statement in the first paragraph, if that will help you to get your point across to your readers.
But many excellent essays do not state the thesis statement in the first paragraph. The decision as to whether to do so should be based on what will work best with your subject and your readers.
Developing a thesis statement
However, the tradition of putting the thesis in the first paragraph has led some students to mistakenly think of the thesis statement as a kind of introduction to the essay. In some cases, the thesis statement works well as part of the introduction; in some cases it doesn't. But a thesis statement is not necessarily part of the introduction, and in developing your thesis statement you should not be thinking primarily about how you want your essay to start.
You should be thinking about what you want the whole essay to say, what you want the reader to know or believe at the end of the essay, not the beginning.
Thesis Statement Examples
This is why you often cannot finish your thesis statement until you finish your essay. Why should you write a thesis statement when you write an essay? What is it good for? Is it just busy work? Something English teachers are required to impose on students to keep them from having any free time? One of those long traditions that everyone has forgotten the reason for? I don't think so. Developing a thesis statement is an important part of the process of writing an essay. In fact, you really can't write a good essay without developing a thesis statement.
Of course, to "develop" a thesis statement doesn't necessarily require writing it down on a piece of paper and handing it in with your essay. But that is what I will ask you to do for every essay you write. So I'll have to answer this question in two parts: First, why do you need to develop a thesis statement?
Second, why do I ask you to write it down and hand it in?
First, why do you need to develop a thesis statement when you write an essay? The reason is that, using the definition of a thesis statement given above, you can't write a good essay without one. In fact, it flows from the definition of an essay that an essay cannot fail to have a thesis. An essay is "a short piece of nonfiction that tries to make a point in an interesting way.
If it doesn't make a point, if it's just a random bunch of paragraphs about the same topic that never come to any conclusion, then it isn't really an essay. Notice that the definition says that an essay tries to make a point in an interesting way. Most essays don't completely succeed for all readers. Having a thesis is no guarantee of a good essay.
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You might try to make a point, and fail. But if you don't have a point to make, if you don't have a thesis, then you can't possibly succeed. When I talk about "having a thesis," I don't mean that you have to have the thesis before writing the essay.
Thesis Statement: Bad vs. Good
When you write you are creating ideas. One of the things that makes writing so interesting and exciting is that, in the process of writing, you almost always discover ideas and connections between ideas that you didn't recognize before. Even if you have a clear idea of what you think you want to say before you start to write, you will usually discover that in the process of writing your idea changes.
Often you will have to start writing with only a question to answer or a topic to explore, and you'll have to write your way to a thesis. You will keep revising your thesis statement as you revise your essay. Where the thesis statement is most important is at the end of the process, during revision. You want your essay to come to a point, to have a clear thesis that every reader will understand.
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This brings us to the second question. Even if we accept that every good essay does have a thesis statement, often that thesis is implied by the essay and not explicitly stated. But I am going to ask you to submit your thesis statement in writing with every draft and every essay you write. What's the value of writing out your thesis statement on a piece of paper? If you know the point you are trying to make, isn't that enough? The basic answer is "yes. On the other hand, if your thesis is clear in your mind, it is very easy to write it down on a piece of paper.
It just takes a few seconds. No problem. Unfortunately, most of us are not absolutely clear in our minds about what point we are making when we write. Even when we think we know exactly what we want to say, we often discover when we start to write it down that it isn't all there. The main reason I ask you to write down your thesis statement and submit it before, during, and after you write your essay is that we will use the trial thesis statement as a tool to discuss and revise your essay.
Think of your essay as a building. You are the architect. As you design the building you construct a scale model so that you and your clients can see what the finished building will look like. It doesn't have all the detail the finished building will, but it does allow us to see the shape and overall design.