Two Steps to a Working Thesis Statement

by Frank

Two Steps to a Working Thesis Statement

November is the month for research papers. It is also the time of the semester when the formulation of a proper Thesis Statement becomes essential. And sure, this topic may seem overdone, but the thesis happens to be the life-blood of any decent paper.

Thesis statements dictate the logical sequence of your paper. If you are having trouble with transitions or with fitting in a certain quote, always look back to your thesis. The thesis also acts as a signpost for your reader, letting them know what you will introduce next or what points you will address in relation to your argument. Theses clarify what you have to say and rid your paper of extraneous information. They do not summarize or make general statements. They are arguments that must be open to debate. All arguments contain two key parts:

1) a Claim and

2) a Support for that claim.

A claim is the point you are arguing. A support answers the WHY and HOW of your claim: I am arguing this (claim) because of this reason (support). Often the words because or since will let you know when you’re about to read a given claim’s support. Sometimes the support isn’t so explicit, but should be clear anyway.

Without these two parts, your sentence isn’t a Thesis Statement. For example, take the sentence:

                        "Gandhi had a better understanding of poverty than Marx."

What is the claim here? Gandhi had a better understanding of poverty than Marx. But what is the support? How or why does Gandhi understand poverty better than Marx? This sentence lacks a support and is merely a statement; not a Thesis Statement.

On the other hand, what if the sentence read as follows:

                        "Gandhi’s understanding of poverty, which takes into account the spiritual side of human nature, is better than that of Marx, whose analysis is solely economic."

This sentence contains the same claim as the previous sentence (Gandhi understands poverty better than Marx), but takes it one step further by saying exactly how Gandhi’s understanding is better than Marx’s: because Gandhi’s understanding of poverty takes into account the spiritual side of humanity, whereas Marx only accounts for the economic aspects. The writer argues that Gandhi’s understanding of poverty is more comprehensive than Marx’s because he includes the spiritual side of things. Not only is this a complete thesis (contains both a claim and support), but it’s arguable: people can disagree and, in the following paper, the writer will have to examine how Gandhi addresses the spiritual side of poverty and make it clear that Marx doesn’t.

Contrast this thesis with another thesis statement:

                        "Machiavelli’s philosophy could never work because he advocates lying and liars always get caught."

This thesis claims that Machiavelli’s philosophy can’t work. The support is that Machiavelli advocates lying and liars get caught. This thesis contains both a claim and support for it. However, both the claim and support are very weak. The claim is too broad: what aspect of his philosophy can’t work? It’s too much to say that all of Machiavelli’s philosophy is wrong because the term philosophy covers so much ground.

The support is also lacking. The key words here are “always” and “never.” If things are always one way, can anyone argue against them? This statement doesn’t open itself to debate. The way it’s presented is not arguable. Also, be wary anytime someone uses ultimatums like “always” or “never” because they are almost always wrong. Not all liars get caught.

Now that you know the two basic ingredients of a thesis, you can use them to check for faulty theses and write your own. One question remains: where should the thesis statement go? To this I would say, the sooner the better. However, not all papers are created equal. You might want to start your paper off with a hook that grabs your readers’ attention or sets up some context of different arguments so that the reader can see where your argument will fit in. A compact and “punchy” Thesis Statement might provide a great opening line. However late your Thesis Statement comes, it needs to stand out. Make it sharp and clear so that you don’t bury it.

More information regarding writing a Thesis or Thesis statement can be found on the Writing Center website handouts along with other strategies for writers. You can also schedule an appointment with our tutors.