Developing a Thesis Statement
Creating a Preliminary Thesis Statement
Creating a preliminary thesis is the first step. For this, you must already have a research question. Examine it carefully and do a little brainstorming as to what the possible answer(s) might be: make some educated guesses, in other words, and write them down.
You want to end up with a statement that isn't necessarily conclusive but gets you thinking and started on building one that is: a final statement around which your research can be focused. Let's use an environmental question fueling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling debate (circa 2006) to build a thesis statement.
Research Question: What is the impact of China's rapidly expanding economy on global oil markets and how does it affect the argument against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
Formulate a preliminary answer; add some supporting facts or observations-in this case both-as well as a preliminary conclusion, as in the following:
Preliminary Thesis Statement: The growth of China's rapidly expanding economy is radically changing the playing field in a global oil-market dominated for decades by the United States and Japan. Currently the second largest consumer of petroleum products in the world, China may very well become the largest, possibly importing as much as two-thirds of its requirement by 2025. This may be due to the growing Chinese auto market. It may also be due to an inability to meet established nuclear power plant construction targets. Regardless, the stakes are high. The question of where enough energy to satisfy global needs is going to come from cannot be downplayed. Despite the protests of environmental activists across the United States, the increasing needs of China to sustain their growing economy by contracting with nations deemed hostile by the United States may very well change the tone of the debate about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It may tilt away from environmentalist conservation positions toward those who favor exploration and production.
This preliminary thesis provides some direction for your inquiry. In one short paragraph, four things are accomplished:
- A preliminary answer to the first part of a two part question has been given: "China's economy is radically changing the global, oil-market playing-field."
- A hypothetical observation has been added: "In time, China might become the largest player in the field."
- A supporting fact is also added: "China is currently the second largest petroleum-product consumer in the world."
- Finally, a concluding supposition or hypothesis is suggested: "The tone of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling debate may change."
No matter what type of writing that you do, whether you are writing an essay in a nursing class or an essay for a literature class, it has a main topic. In college level writing, most professors agree that this topic should be expressed in a thesis sentence. The thesis is a very important part of an essay because it summarizes what you have in mind for this essay and guides the reader in reading your essay accurately.
What a thesis IS:
- It is a claim (not a fact) that can be supported by a reason or reasons;
- It directly answers the question of the assignment;
- It is a statement that unifies the paper by stating the writer's most important or significant point regarding the topic;
- It is usually one sentence that does not discuss many topics;
- It forecasts the content and order of the essay;
- It is placed most often in the beginning of the essay, preferably towards the end of the introduction, but at least within the first or second paragraph; and
- It is sometimes – but rarely – implied rather than stated outright.
Developing Your Thesis
Now that we know what a strong thesis statement is, we can begin to craft one of our own. Most effective thesis statements often answer these three questions:
- What is the essay’s subject?
- What is the main idea that will be discussed about the topic?
- What is the evidence or support that will be used to support the main idea?
Let’s suppose that I want to write an essay about playing sports. I might begin with a sentence like this:
Playing sports is really good for people.
This is a good start because it does express my position without announcing it; unfortunately, it is vague and general and therefore ineffective. It is not all that exciting for my reader, and it leaves my audience too many unanswered questions. WHY is playing sports good for people? HOW does playing sports benefit people? WHICH people benefit from playing sports? Asking questions about the topic is a great way to find more specific information to include in my thesis.
Let’s suppose now that after asking these questions, I’ve decided I want to narrow my topic into children and sports. I might next have a thesis like this:
Playing sports is really good for children.
Now my thesis is more specific, but I still haven’t really answered the WHY and HOW questions. Maybe I think that playing sports helps children develop better cooperation skills, better coordination, and better overall health. I might have a thesis that ends up like this:
Playing sports is beneficial for children because it helps them develop better cooperation skills, better coordination, and better overall health.
Notice that I have beefed up my vocabulary a bit by changing “really good” to “beneficial.” For help with specific vocabulary, check out the Using Precise Language page.
Notice that I also now have the three major elements of a thesis statement:
1) A subject: playing sports
2) A main idea: playing sports is beneficial for children
3) Support or Evidence: better cooperation, better coordination, and better overall health.
Most effective thesis statements contain this type of structure, often called an action plan or plan of development. This is such an effective type of thesis because it clearly tells the reader what is going to be discussed; it also helps the writer stay focused and organized. How can you now use this pattern to create an effective thesis statement?
Remember, this is not the only type of effective thesis statement, but using this pattern is helpful if you are having difficulty creating your thesis and staying organized in your writing.
What a thesis is NOT:
- A thesis is not an announcement.
Example: I am going to tell you the importance of ABC.
I don’t need the announcement element of this thesis. I can simply write, “The importance of ABC is XYZ.”
- A thesis is not introduced by an opinion phrase such as I think, I feel, I believe.
Example: I feel that good hygiene begins with the basics of effective hand-washing.
I don’t need to write that “I feel” this because if I am writing it, then chances are that I feel it, right?
- A thesis is not a statement of fact.
Example: George Will writes about economic equality in the United States.
Discussing a statement of fact is extremely difficult. How will I continue the discussion of something that cannot be disputed? It can easily be proven that George Will did in fact write about equality in the United States, so I don’t really have a strong position because it is simply a fact.
- A thesis is not a question.
Example: What makes a photograph so significant?
Remember, a thesis states your position on your topic. A question cannot state anything because it is not a statement. A question is a great lead in to a thesis, but it can’t be the thesis.
Example 5: George Will writes, “Economic equality is good for the United States.”
This quote tells us George Will’s position, but it does not clearly express my position. It therefore can’t be my thesis.