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Developing a Thesis Statement
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Developing a Thesis Statement

Academic writing is driven by a thesis, or main point, which usually originates in academic inquiry.  As we gather answers, perspectives, and facts from various sources, we develop our own understanding and opinions about the issues we are researching.  From this new knowledge we derive a thesis for the paper we are writing.  Your thesis is your contribution to the conversation, your take on the topic.  It is your analysis of a concept or relationship, your argument for a point of view, your proposal for a solution, your response to another writer's idea, etc.

thesis statement is a sentence (sometimes more than one sentence) that reveals your essay's main point.  Usually placed toward the beginning of the essay, your thesis statement offers readers a preview of and direction for the paper.  However, if you first want to build your reasoning in the reader's mind, or you want to narrate your discovery process, you might choose to delay your thesis statement until the final paragraphs of your essay.

 

How Does One Develop a Thesis Statement?

Some writers perform research, develop a thesis, and then draft their paper.  Other writers do research, draft their paper, and then develop a thesis from what they have written.  Any method can be effective, as long as you keep an open mind through the process and are willing to revise your thesis as you explore your topic.

What you don't know will hurt you.     Consider the following questions (Hedengren, 2004, pp. 39-40) meant to help you develop a complete thesis statement:

  1. What is your topic?  Get to know your topic by researching related events in history and reading the prominent and not-so-prominent voices that have weighed in on the  conversation.  At some point, you will likely narrow your topic down so your work relates to what you see these authors saying.
  2. What is your stance on the topic?  As you develop your understanding, educate yourself by exploring  multiple perspectives.   Look for  strengths and weaknesses  in every source.
  3. Why do you believe this?  Deliberately challenge the assumptions you hold.  Why?  Because to deepen your understanding (as well as to reach your audience), you need to scrutinize your own point of view, not just others'.  This helps you refine your stance as well as explain it to your audience in their terms.
  4. Why would someone disagree with this?  Pay equal attention to sources you agree with and those you disagree with -- including sources that encourage you to ask yourself the really tough questions.   As you engage in honest, thorough inquiry, you will uncover new truths, revise and hone your stance, and make your work ethical and meaningful.

When you have answers to the four questions above, you can use them to draft a tentative thesis statement.  For example --

Although . . . [possible disagreement] . . . , I believe . . . [your stance] . . . because . . . [reasons] . . . .

Though a complete thesis makes use of all of these elements, the elements may appear in your thesis statement in a different order or be implied rather than stated.  As you continue the inquiry process throughout your project, you will revise your statement to meet your needs.

 

Reference

Hedengren, B. F. (2004).  A TA's guide to teaching writing in all disciplines.  New York: Bedford/St. Martin's.

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