thesis notes

Thesis Statements (General Notes):
What is a thesis?
A thesis is the primary and coherent articulation of the purpose and context for your
Any text with an audience has both a purpose and context; the purpose is related to the
ideas or how we understand the ideas; the context is related to how those ideas fit into a
larger set of knowledge. The thesis makes these relationships clear to the audience.
Academic essays need explicit statements of purpose and context.
The thesis should appear somewhere in the introduction. It does not have to be just 1 sentence although, in short essays, it should be as concise as possible (see note on complexity below).
The thesis guides the ideas body paragraphs, the evidence, and the logic.
Guidelines for Thesis Statements in College Writing:
Thesis statements should not be a recital of simple factual information because it leads to
circular argument and repetitive discussion of evidence.
For instance: “In 2005, hurricane Katrina was a major natural disaster because it caused
thousands of deaths and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.”
Thesis statements should not be a 1-sentence summary of your main points. First, summary,
does not clearly communicate either purpose or context. Second, college writing necessitates
sophistication and complexity that cannot be reduced to a single sentence. If you can easily
summarize your whole argument - or all your main points - in a single sentence, why write the
rest of the paper?
Don’t try to write a thesis that summarizes your argument. Instead, try to write a thesis
statement that makes your discussion of evidence and sources possible and purposeful.
A note about complexity ...
Writing teachers often encourage complex thesis statements. The two previous
guidelines implicitly describe different ideas about the complexity of thesis statements.
However, don’t confuse the need for complexity with a need for complicated or obtuse
ideas. Thesis statements do not need to be complicated or difficult to understand.
Good thesis statements are clear and specific.
The complexity of the thesis statement should match the length of the essay. One of the most
important jobs of the thesis is to limit the necessary scope of the topic to a specific focus (this is
about using the purpose and context to limit the breadth of the ideas in the essay). You can’t
write a 5 page essay about how art changed over the last 100 years. But, you could write a 5
page paper about how 1 or 2 of Picasso’s paintings challenged previous ideas about art.
A note about contexts ...
There are lots of different contexts ... the 4 most common contexts in academic writing
are: (1) historical, (2) geographic/regional, (3) generic (or cultural), and (4) disciplinary.
Contexts make your general ideas specific and apply them to a set of sources and
evidence. You should feel free to combine cultural, historical, disciplinary and generic
contexts to best suit the topic of your essay.
Historical and geographic contexts are pretty much just common sense. “How state
laws redefined water rights in the Southwestern United States over the past 25 years.”
Cultural context is often associated with genre. For instance: “How Steven King’s Carrie
expanded and changed the gender stereotypes of women in horror movies in the late
1970s and early 1980s.”
Disciplinary context is very important, and can make a boring thesis very specific and
focused. For instance consider these disciplinary variations on a thesis about solar
“New advancements in the efficiency of solar power technology is changing
alternative energy in America.” (no disciplinary context)
“Over the past 5 years, new advancements in the efficiency of solar power technology
has changed economic perspectives about distribution and demand for alternative
energy in America.”
“Since 2000, advancements in the efficiency of solar power technology are changing
the way state politicians reconsider existing laws about tax-credits for alternative
“Recent advertising and marketing for the new advancements in the efficiency of
solar power technology is also changing the psychology and understanding that
urban families have about alternative energy in America.”
3 Categories of Thesis Statements:
1.Question Posing
2.Problem Posing
I. Comparative
II. Correlative
III. Cause & Effect*
IV. Contradictory
Question and problem posing thesis statements do what their names imply. They ask questions
or pose problems about ideas, understanding, or texts.
Important Note: Problems and questions must be specific - and you must be able to use
your body paragraphs to address them in your essay. Bad: “Why did Americans take part
in the evil of slavery?” Better: “How can we understand ideas about good and evil in
American politics during the civil war?” Best: “How does Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”
redefine the vocabulary of American morality during the civil war?”
Contextual Thesis Statements:
There are 4 main types of contextual thesis statements: comparative, correlative, cause and
effect, and contradictory.
“Comparative” (contextual) thesis statements compare and contrast more than 1 primary
text within or across a specific context. As the name implies, these are good for compare
and contrast essays.
“Correlative” (contextual) thesis statements correlate ideas within a single primary text.
These focus analysis - they are good for rhetorical analysis essays, etc..
“Cause and Effect” is marked in the list above because it is the standard model for the
scientific hypothesis. For instance, “If we introduce 30 mg of our new drug, then we will
see a decrease in symptoms related to heart disease.” Cause and effect thesis statements
are very rare in non-scientific essays ... generally you should think of cause and effect
thesis statements as hypotheses rather than theses. On the one hand, if you’re not
proposing a hypothesis, don’t use them. On the other hand, they can be very compelling
statements of purpose and context when paired with problem posing thesis statements.
“Contradictory” thesis statements are not necessarily as negative - or as argumentative as the name implies. While they are good at framing the context of an argument in a
persuasive essay, they are equally good for simply proposing an alternative perspective as
the purpose for an analytical essay (see example 2 below).
It often helps to think about patterns of subordinating conjunctions to begin drafting thesis
statements. The following list of conjunction patterns is neither exhaustive nor set-in-stone,
you could add your own, or feel free to adapt and combine them:
not only-but also
if-then (the basic scientific hypothesis)
at the same time-also
... instead ...
Some Thesis Examples:
These examples are deliberately imperfect - think about their strengths and weaknesses.
Example 1: “Yes ... But” (the example below is a contradictory thesis):
Facts X, Y, and Z, demonstrate that the movement for gender equality has made major
advances in the workplace over the past 20 years. However, by reconsidering ideas A
and B from the text it is also important to consider how women still struggle to earn
equal pay and promotions after an extended maternity leave.
(Note: often the beginning “yes” is omitted; and, yes, “however” is the same type of
Example 2: “Although ... Also” (sometimes a correlative and sometimes a contradictory thesis;
the example below is contradictory):
Although William Blake’s thematic contributions to Romantic poetry are widely
acknowledged by literary critics, in order to fully appreciate his role in late-eighteenthcentury art it is also important to reconsider his innovations in technical and mechanical
aspects of printing.
Example 3: “Not Only ... But Also” (the example below is a correlative thesis, but the last part
incorporates a problem posing statement):
Not only is it important to consider how the Bauhaus Movement influenced art in
Germany during the 1920s, it is also important to understand how it created new
challenges for modern artists in America to expand the relationship between art and
commercial production.
Example 4: “If ... Then” (the example below is a causal thesis; it is the foundation of the scientific
If we introduce the non-native South African Clawed Frog into the pond, then we will
see a decrease in the population of native tree frogs.
Example 5: “Unless ... Cannot” (the example below is a correlative thesis, these are often used to
describe understanding or knowledge - however, this is also an example of mixing a question
posing thesis with a contextual thesis):
Unless we consider how John Milton’s mixes classical allusion with his contemporary
vocabulary of seventeenth-century natural description, we cannot fully understand how
his description of Eden in Paradise Lost influences the early eighteenth-century landscape
poetry of James Thomson’s Seasons.
Example 6: “At the same time ... also” (the example below is another correlative thesis that is
often used to describe understanding or knowledge):
At the same time that the Rolling Stones rose in popularity across the United States,
and helped to define the genre of Rock music, they also challenged and transgressed
many of the boundaries of racial interaction, which allowed their music to contribute
and address the rhetoric of civil rights.
Note: “at the same time” is not a figure of speech in this kind of thesis. It is a literal
correlation of two ideas happening at the same time.
Example 7: “... Instead/nevertheless ...” (the example below is a different version of the yes-but
thesis; it is usually a contradictory, but sometimes a correlative thesis - and the thesis below
includes a problem statement):
Facebook’s 2013 introduction of the graph search has provided many members with new
and exciting ways to communicate and share their ideas; nevertheless, it has also
brought about additional complications and privacy issues.
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