Lecture Notes for Day 6

Lecture Notes for Day 6
Writing Your Thesis Statement
By Jan Withers
Your teacher has given an open-ended essay assignment: take any position on
the book your class just finished, and back up your argument with at least three
good points. Even hearing the assignment makes your skin crawl -- once again,
the dreaded thesis statement is rearing its ugly head, grinning nastily at you over
the top of the blank page. Before your hands get too sweaty to type, here are
some tips to making the thesis process as painless as possible.
Grow A Good Thesis Statement
Once again, the dreaded
If you haven't written your essay yet, go away,
thesis statement is rearing
write a rough draft, and then come back later. Fact
its ugly head.
is, most of us don't know what we want to say until
we start writing. Pick a specific topic, then decide your purpose: What exactly do
you want to say about it? Picture your best obnoxious friend asking, "Why are you
telling me this?"
Welcome to the Working Thesis
You'll want a simple sentence you can write on a sticky note and post on the
corner of the computer monitor while you tap away at the keyboard. Keep your
working thesis straightforward -- it's only meant to keep you from straying into
the pros and cons of Mongolian woolly slippers. Here's the magic working thesis
Subject + Attitude = Thesis
Your topic and your opinion on that topic -- that's it. The secret of the working
thesis is that you're allowed to change your mind (about either your subject or
your attitude) at any point while drafting. Just whip off that first sticky note and
slap on your new, improved, topic-and-opinion combo with fries.
Every "A+" thesis starts with a specific topic. Here are some guidelines to what
"specific" means:
If your instructor has told you what to write about, make sure to do just
that. Sorry, but it's true-if your teacher wants to see something specific,
this is not the time to get creative and imaginative.
If the assignment has been left up to you, write about something you're
deeply passionate and profoundly knowledgeable about. Or, write on
something that bores you, and find a small spark of attitude to start your
own fire. Or even discuss something from your everyday life. What's
familiar to you may fascinate others when examined up close and personal.
(Think twice about this one-no one wants to read about the life of your
fern, for example)
Narrow It Down
You've heard it a hundred times. Setting the margins to 2 inches left and right is
not going to help. Pick one of your subtopics and write with that as the central
idea. For example:
Original: I hate vegetables. (Yawn.)
Subtopic: Brussel sprouts deterred me from a healthy vegan lifestyle.
Original: Why homeless children can't break the poverty cycle. (Writing a
book, are you?)
Subtopic: Why homeless preschoolers need school vouchers. (Oh-an
Focus your thesis in three quick steps:
1. Use specific terms instead of vague categories. (Narrow "music" to
2. Use adjectives. (Narrow "reggae" to "American reggae.")
3. Limit the discussion to a particular context. (Narrow "American reggae" to
"the American reggae revival in the 1980s.")
The Difference Between a Topic and a Thesis
The topic of an essay is just that -- a topic for discussion that's up for grabs. It's a
subject without a verb. Your thesis provides the verb. It answers the question,
"So?" To construct a decent thesis statement, state your opinion, make a point,
take a stand, have a slant, and provide perspective, set out to prove somethingyou get the idea. Begin boldly with a challenging or provocative assertion; you
can always refine your approach later.
Thesis Don'ts
Avoid starting your thesis sentence with "In my opinion I believe and in
this essay will argue that…" or any variation thereof. You can do it -admitting that you've used such phrases as a crutch is the first step. Hey,
if it's a thesis, it's always your take on things, right?
Just stating a fact. A thesis has to be worth arguing about.
Tackling two topics at once (even if they seem related). Pick one and stick
with it.
And finally, something every thesis maker can use to stay focused:
The Good Thesis Pledge and Checklist
Your thesis promises the reader at least two things: what you're going to discuss
and the angle you're going to discuss it from. Make sure that you follow through
on your commitment. Take the good thesis pledge today:
On my honor, I promise that:
1. I did not start with "This thesis states" or "In my opinion."
2. I narrowed my topic to fit the scope of the essay.
3. I have an honest opinion, insight, angle, perspective, or argument worth
4. I have made one clear point, not four.
5. I will stand by this thesis only until I find a better one after finishing the
See? No blood, no pain, and your tamed thesis statement sits patiently at the end
of your introduction, ready to guide the reader into your essay.
After completing a Ph.D. in English and teaching part-time, Jan Withers took the
advice of a student who said the best way to improve her teaching would be to
quit teaching. So she switched to publishing and now enjoys expanding the
concept of education as an online content editor for John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
These notes are from www.sparknotes.com
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