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Stuff on Thesis Straight from the Book Not My Work

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What Am I A Thesis?

Limiting a Subject

Before writing a thesis statement, you must choose a subject or topic for your paper. After choosing a subject or topic, you then must go through a process of narrowing the subject. In fact, narrow the subject until you have a topic that can be treated effectively in the assigned length of your paper. In many respects, the narrower your subject, the better off you are, as long as you haven't narrowed it to a point where nothing much can be said about it. With a properly limited subject, you explore only a small part of your general subject, but you explore it thoroughly.

A paper of 500 words on education, for example, is doomed to be superficial at best. The topic is way too large. It might be possible, however, to write 500 words worth reading if the topic were limited to one of your teachers, essay versus objective examinations, your reasons for attending college (narrowed down to just one reason if you have enough to say), college registration procedures, abolishing of F grades, college fraternities, physical education requirements, and so on.

With a sensibly limited subject, you start to have a fighting chance of producing a good paper. You are no longer doomed to superficiality. If you write a description of one of your teachers, for example, you possess immensely more knowledge about your subject than does anyone who has not taken a course from that teacher. Certainly, you are no longer at the mercy of every thought about education that you have ever had.

GENERAL SUBJECT

LIMITED SUBJECT

Education

Professor X

Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers

Prejudice

Minority Groups

Politics

Influence of the Media

Television

Commercials

You may still have trouble, though. You've limited your subject, and you've done it well, but what now? Look at the most limited of the subjects in the preceding table. You're writing a description of a teacher--Professor X. Do you tell your reader about the teacher's height, weight, age, marital status, clothing, ethnic background, religious background, educational background, grading policy, attendance policy, lecture techniques, sense of humor, knowledge of field? How, in short, do you determine what belongs in your paper and what doesn't?

The truth is that you're still at the mercy of every thought that occurs to you. This time, it's every thought about Professor X, not every thought about education in general. The way out of your forest of facts, so to speak, is illuminated by the formulation of a thesis statement.

Statement of Purpose (Thesis)

Your thesis is the basic stand you take, the opinion you express, the point you make about your now limited subject. It's your controlling idea, tying together and giving direction to all other separate elements in your paper. At this point, your primary purpose in writing becomes one of persuading readers that your thesis is a valid one.

That's not to say that you shouldn't have secondary purposes in mind as you write your essay. You may want to amuse your readers or alarm them or issue them a call to action. But unless the primary purpose is achieved, no secondary purpose stands a chance of succeeding. If you want to amuse you readers by making fun of a bad movie, for example, there's no way to do it successfully without first convincing them of the validity of your thesis that the movie is bad and thus deserves to be laughed at.

A thesis, of course, is only a vibration in the brain until it is turned into words. The first step in creating a workable thesis is to write a one-sentence version of the thesis, called a Thesis Statement.

Professor X is an incompetent teacher.

Professor X is a classic absent-minded professor.

Professor X's sarcasm in class antagonizes many students.

Professor X's colorful personality has made him popular.

Professor X is a great teacher.

If you need more than one relatively uncomplicated sentence to express your thesis, chances are either that the thesis isn't as unified as it ought to be or that it's too ambitious for a short paper.

LIMITED SUBJECT

THESIS STATEMENT

Professor X

Professor X grades his classes fairly.

The Los Angeles Dodgers

The addition of Jackie Robinson to the 1947 Dodger team changed face of sports forever.

Minority Groups

Hostility to certain minority groups is a prejudice that will endure for awhile yet.

Influence of the Media

Newspapers and television have seriously distorted American politics.

Commercials

Television commercials are great entertainment.

Writing with a thesis obviously gives a paper a sense of purpose and eliminates the problem of aimless drift. Your purpose is now clear: you need to prove your thesis to your readers. As a result, writing with a thesis in mind also helps enormously in organizing the paper. You use, for example, only what enables you to accomplish your purpose. Professor X's weight problems and religious beliefs have nothing to do with his abilities as a teacher; so you don't bother with them. Most of all, writing with a thesis gives the paper an intrinsic dramatic interest. You commit yourself to a course of action. You have something at stake: "This is what I believe, and this is why I'm right." You state, "Professor X is incompetent." Your reader asks, "Why do you think so?" You say, "I'll be glad to tell you." Your reader says, "I'm listening." And you're ready to roll.

So far, then, it's been established that a thesis is the main idea that all elements in the paper should support and that writers should be able to express their theses in one sentence. It's been established that a thesis has several important practical benefits, as well. So important is the thesis statement, in fact, that it bears an even closer look. One way of doing this is by stating what a thesis statement is not.

What a Thesis Ain't

A thesis is not a title. A title can often give a reader some notion of what the thesis is going to be, but it is not the thesis itself. The thesis, as presented in the thesis statement, does not suggest the main idea--it is the main idea. Remember, too, that a thesis statement will always be a complete sentence; there's no other way to make a statement other than to express it in a complete thought.

TITLE, NOT A THESIS

THESIS STATEMENT

The Decline of Baseball

In recent years, baseball has experienced a significant decline in popularity.

Homes and Schools

Parents need to participate more in the education of their children.

A Frightening Experience

Your first exposure to snow skiing can be a frightening experience.

The Fad of Divorce

Too many people get divorced for trivial reasons.

A thesis is not an announcement of the subject. A thesis takes a stand on the subject. It expresses an attitude toward the subject. It is not the subject itself.

ANNOUNCEMENT, NOT A THESIS

THESIS STATEMENT

My subject is the incompetence of Professor X.

Professor X is an incompetent teacher.

I want to share some thoughts with you about our space program.

Our space program is a waste of money.

The thesis of this paper is the difficulty of solving our environmental problems.

Solving our environmental problems is more difficult than many environmentalists believe.

A thesis is not a statement of absolute fact. A thesis makes a judgment or interprets. There's no way to write an entire paper supporting a statement that needs no support.

NOT A THESIS
Jane Austen is the author of Pride and Prejudice.
In 1970, Ohio had a population of 10,652,017.
Suicide is the deliberate taking of one's own life.
President Lincoln's first name was Abraham.

Not a Title

A title can often give the reader some notion of what the thesis is going to be, but it is not the thesis itself. The thesis itself, as presented in the thesis statement, does not suggest the main idea-it is the main idea. Remember, too, that a thesis statement will always be a complex sentence; there is no other way to make a statement.

TITLE: NOT A THESIS
THESIS STATEMENT
Home and Schools Parents ought to participate more in the education of their children.
James Cagney: Hollywood Great James Cagney was one of the greatest actors ever to appear in movies.
Inflation and Old Age Continuing inflation makes it almost impossible to plan intelligently for one's retirement.
A Shattering Experience My first visit to the zoo was a shattering experience.
The Fad of Divorce Too many people get divorced for trivial reasons.
Colored Divider

Not an Announcement of the Subject

A thesis takes a stand. It expresses an attitude toward the subject. It is not the subject itself.

ANNOUNCEMENT: NOT A THESIS
THESIS STATEMENT
My subject is the incompetence of Professor X.
Professor X is an incompetent teacher.
I want to share some thoughts with you about our space program.
Our space program is a waste of money.
The many unforeseen problems I encountered when I went camping are the topic of this theme.
I encountered many unforeseen problems when I went camping.
This paper will attempt to tell you something about the emotions I felt on viewing the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon was even more magnificent that I had imagined.
The thesis of this paper is the difficulty of solving our environmental problems.
Solving our environmental problems is more difficult than many environmentalists believe.
Colored Divider

Not a Statement of Absolute Fact

A thesis makes a judgment of interpretation. There's no way to spend a whole paper supporting a statement that needs to support.

FACT: NOT A THESIS

Jane Austin is the author if Pride and Prejudice.
The capitol of California is Sacramento.
Suicide is the deliberate taking of one's own life.
President Lincoln's first name was Abraham.
The planet closest to the sun is Mercury.

What a Good Thesis Is

It's possible to have a one-sentence statement of an idea and still not have a thesis that can be supported effectively. What characterizes a good thesis?
A good thesis is restricted.

In certain respects, devising a thesis statement as you plan your paper can sometimes be a way in itself of limiting, or restricting, your subject even further. A paper supporting the thesis that Professor X is incompetent, besides taking a stand on its subject, has far less territory to cover than a paper on Professor X in general. Thesis statements themselves, however, may not always have been sufficiently narrowed down. A good thesis deals with restricted, bite-size issues rather than issues that would require a lifetime to discuss intelligently. The more restricted the thesis, the better the chances are for supporting it fully.
POOR
BETTER

The world is in a terrible mess.
Trade barriers contribute to international tensions.

People are too selfish.
Human selfishness is seen at its worst during rush hour.

The American steel industry has problems.
The worst problem of the American steel industry is lack of funds to renovate outdated plants and equipment.

Crime must be stopped.
Our courts should hand out tougher sentences.

A good thesis is unified.

The thesis expresses one major idea about its subject. The tight structural strength of your paper depends on its working to support that one idea. A good thesis may sometimes include a secondary idea if it is strictly subordinated to the major one, but without that subordination the writer will have too many important ideas to handle, and the structure of the paper will suffer.

POOR
BETTER

Detective stories are not a high form of literature, but people have always been fascinated by them, and many fine writers have experimented with them.
Detective stories appeal to the basic human desire for thrills.

The new health program is excellent, but it has several drawbacks, and it should be run only on experimental basis for two or three years.
The new health program should be run only on experimental basis for two or three years.

OR

Despite its general excellence, the new health program should be run only on an experimental basis for two or three years.

The Columbus Cavaliers have trouble at the defensive end and linebacker positions, and front- office tensions don't help, but the team should be able to make the play-offs.
The Columbus Cavaliers should be able to make the play-offs.
OR

Even granting a few troubles, the Columbus Cavaliers should be able to make the play- offs.

A good thesis is specific.

A satisfactorily restricted and unified thesis may be useless if the idea it commits you to is too vague. "The new World Trade Center is impressive," for example, could mean anything from impressively beautiful to impressively ugly. With a thesis statement like "Hemingway's war stories are very good," you would probably have to spend so many words defining what on earth "good" means that there would be no room for anything else. Even when there's no likelihood of conclusion, vague ideas normally come through as so familiar or dull or universally accepted that the reader sees no point in paying attention to them.
POOR
BETTER

The World Trade Center is impressive.
The World Trade Center is a monument to human folly.

Hemingway's war stories are very good.
Hemingway's war stories helped create a new prose style.

Drug addiction is a big problem.
Drug addiction has caused a dramatic increase in crimes of violence.

Our vacation was a tremendous experience.
Our vacation enabled us to learn the true meaning of sharing.

My parents are wonderful people.
Everything my parents do is based on their loving concern for the welfare of the family.…...

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