Montgomery College Germantown Campus

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The Thesis Statement

Creating a thesis statement is often the hardest part of essay writing. Really, thesis statements are a lot easier to write than most students may think. Think of a thesis statement as a simple formula:

main idea + controlling idea = thesis statement

The main idea is the limited topic. The controlling idea is your attitude toward, opinion of, or belief about the main idea; this is what makes your thesis statement arguable. 

Here is a link to a helpful Prezi that explains how to create a thesis statement. Additionally, an instructional video on thesis statements is available here:

What is a Thesis Statement?
  • Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing your thesis can help you fix it if it seems like there is a lack of focus.
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one can agree or disagree with, it's possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than presenting an opinion, idea or attitude.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong opinion. Make sure you that your opinion or idea is clear, and comes across strongly.
  • Does my thesis pass the "So what?" test? If a reader's first response is, "So what?" then you need to clarify, or make a connection with the larger issue asked of the question.
  • Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change.
  • Does my thesis pass the "how and why?" test? If a reader's first response is "how?" or "why?" your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader.
  • Some essays work better if they have a ‘working thesis’. A working thesis means that your thesis is not fixed; it will evolve as the points of your essay are written. It is flexible and can be changed
  • After you have written your first draft, return to your working thesis and check the following:

Below is the handout we use for this workshop:

How to Develop an Essay: The Thesis Statement
What is the Thesis Statement?
·         The thesis statement is that sentence or two in the introduction of your essay that contains the focus of your essay and tells your reader what the essay is going to be about. It is the foundation of your essay.
·         The thesis statement contains an expression of an attitude, opinion, or idea about the essay topic, and establishes what the content of your paper will be. It is like a mini-outline.
·         The lack of a good thesis statement can lead to an essay that lacks focus.
·         A thesis statement is the main idea that your essay supports. A very complex thesis statement may take up a whole paragraph, but the standard Freshman/EL104 composition essay should do the job in a concise sentence or two.

Getting to Your Thesis:
·         Almost all essay topics, no matter how complicated, can be reduced to a single question.
·         To get to your thesis, first simplify the essay topic to a specific question. For example, if your assignment is: “Write an essay explaining the benefits of word processing college essays”
        Turn the request into a question like: “What are the potential benefits of word processing essays?”
        Then, compose one or two complete sentences answering that question: The potential benefits of word processing college essays are the improvement in the overall presentation of  work,  the use of editing features that help develop grammar, and the development of long-run technical skills
·         When writing your thesis, remember to think in “threes” – you may be required to have three supporting paragraphs the content of which should mirror the thesis.
-          The potential benefits of word processing college essays are 1) the improvement in the overall presentation of  work, 2) the use of editing features that help develop grammar, and 3) the development of long-run technical skills
·         Also make sure your thesis is ‘parallel’ - Parallel structure (also called parallelism) is the repetition of a chosen grammatical form within a sentence. By making each item or idea in your sentence follow the same grammatical pattern, you create a parallel construction.

Not Parallel:
Peter likes biking, running, and to take afternoon naps.
Peter likes biking, running, and taking afternoon naps.
Peter likes to hike, to run, and to take afternoon naps.

Points to Remember About the Thesis Statement:
1.      The thesis statement should be expressed in a complete sentence. The thesis is the main statement for the entire essay so it should express a complete thought. It is not a title. Also, since it is a statement, it should not be written as a question.
-          The Death Penalty – Not a TS
-          The death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment. - aTS
2.      A thesis statement expresses an opinion, attitude or idea; it does not announce the topic the essay will develop.
-          I am going to discuss the effects of radiation. - Not a good TS
-          The effects of radiation are often unpredictable - aTS                                                                                                     
3.      A thesis statement should express an opinion, attitude, or idea; it should not express a fact. Since the Thesis statement is a statement that expresses an attitude, idea or opinion, it is a statement that the reader can either agree or disagree with.
-          Cows produce milk – Not a good TS          
-          The milk cows produce is not always fit for human consumption aTS
-          There are many advantages and disadvantages of going to college - (Not a good TS)
-          The advantages of going to college far outweigh the disadvantages. - (aTS)                                                                       
4.      A thesis statement should express only one idea toward one topic; if a thesis statement contains 2 or more ideas, the essay may lack unity and coherence.
-          Going to college in the Midwest can be fun, and I have found that living in a suburb of a large city is the best way to live while at college.  (Not a good TS)
-          Going to college in the Midwest can be fun. (aTS)       

Study the following statements carefully. If the statement is a good thesis statement, write yes in the blank; if not, write no and explain why it is not a thesis statement. Finally, re-write the thesis statement.
1.      The advantages of majoring in engineering. (YES/NO)                                                           _______________________________________________________________________
2.      I would like to discuss my views on basketball. (YES/NO)                                                                  _______________________________________________________________________
3.      Students should be allowed to manage the bookstore. (YES/NO)                                                                  ______________________________________________________________________
4.      When I came to the United States, I wasn’t used to eating in fast food places, and I was amazed at the shopping centers. (YES/NO)                                                                                           _______________________________________________________________________
5.      Why do I want to be a teacher? (YES/NO)                                                                                                          _______________________________________________________________________
6.      Knowing a foreign language can be beneficial to anyone. (YES/NO)                                                   _______________________________________________________________________
7.      This advertisement attempts to appeal to the readers’ sense of patriotism. (YES/NO)                        _______________________________________________________________________

Study the following statements that are not good thesis statements. Rewrite each of the sentences to make it a thesis statement. The first one is done for you:
1.      I am going to explain why I decided to go to college                                       
      Choosing to go to college was a difficult decision.                                                                       
2.      The hazards of storing chemical wastes. ____________________________________________________________________­­­______
3.      There are many similarities and differences between life in the country and life in the city.                                                                                                                                        __________________________________________________________________________
4.      New York City is the largest city in the United States.                                                                  __________________________________________________________________________
5.      Universities in the United States should require more humanities courses; they should also have more social activities.                                                                                            __________________________________________________________________________

Let’s Review…
A thesis statement …
-          Tells the reader how you (the writer) will interpret the topic under discussion.
-          Tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper
-          Directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or a topic, not the topic itself. The topic of an essay might be the ‘Vietnam War’ or ‘Pride and Prejudice’; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
-          Makes a claim that the reader might dispute.
-          Is usually a single sentence toward the end of your first paragraph that presents your argument to the reader.

How Do I Know if My Thesis is Strong?
If there's time, run your thesis by your Professor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can assess your thesis yourself. When reviewing your first draft and the thesis, ask yourself the following:

What is a Working Thesis?
1.      Does my thesis statement outline my opinion, idea, argument and analysis?
2.      Are the points outlined in my thesis statement emphasized in my essay (check the topic sentence/controlling idea of each paragraph
3.      Does it clearly reflect the structure of my essay
If your thesis explains the topic and supporting points, then your thesis is good to go.

Further Exploration of the Thesis Statement

THESIS STATEMENT:     The book The Namesake accurately represents Bengali lifestyle through attention to cultural detail, the use of Bengali words, and direct quotes from Bengali people.
The thesis statement above has 3 main parts:

LIMITED SUBJECT:  The limited subject tells the reader exactly what or whom the essay focuses.  From the example, the book title (The Namesake) is the limited subject of the thesis statement:
The Namesake accurately represents Bengali lifestyle through attention to cultural detail, the use of Bengali words, and direct quotes from Bengali people.

THE PRECISE OPINION:  The precise opinion gives your answer to a question about the subject. 
The Namesake accurately represents Bengali lifestyle through attention to cultural detail, the use of Bengali words, and direct quotes from Bengali people.
A good precise opinion is vital to the reader's comprehension of the goal of the essay.

THE BLUEPRINT: A blueprint is a plan for the essay. Just like the blueprint of a building tells you what the finished product is supposed to look like, the blueprint of an essay permits you to see the whole shape of your ideas before you start churning out whole paragraphs.
The Namesake accurately represents Bengali lifestyle through attention to cultural detail, the use of Bengali words, and direct quotes from Bengali people.
In the blueprint, the author shows their intention to support the precise opinion. The author of the example above introduces three different kinds of evidence: cultural detail, Bengali words, and quotes from the Namesake. Informed by this blueprint, the reader expects to see at least one section (a paragraph) devoted to each subtopic.
To emphasize the structure of your essay, repeat each phrase of the blueprint as you introduce the paragraph(s) in which you expand and support each point that you want to make.  The way you introduce the supporting evidence is through topic sentences (mini thesis statements) that echo the paper's main idea.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Refining Composition Skills – Smalley, Reutten, and Kozyrev