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SSI2-121: American Songs: Developing a Thesis

Argumentative Paper Thesis

  • Proposed answer to a research question
  • Should make a claim and argue it
  • Thesis = Topic + a claim (attitude or opinion) + major points (specifics about the points you will use to explain your claim)
  • A good thesis has a definable, debatable claim
  • Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.
  • The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic, how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to a simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.
  • Analyze your sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Does the author contradict himself or herself? Is a point made and later reversed? What are the deeper implications of the author's argument? Figuring out the why to one or more of these questions, or to related questions, will put you on the path to developing a working thesis. (Without the why, you probably have only come up with an observation—which is not a thesis.)
  • Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

Good Thesis Tips

  • Ensure your thesis is provable. Do not come up with your thesis and then look it up later. The thesis is the end point of your research, not the beginning. You need to use a thesis you can actually back up with evidence.
  • First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Ask questions about the sources.
  • Anticipate the counterarguments. Every argument has a counterargument; if yours doesn't, it's not an argument (may be a fact or an opinion). If there are too many arguments against it, find another thesis.
  • Communicate a single, overarching point rather than multiple points that may be too difficult or broad to support

How to Write a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is not a statement of fact. It is an assertive statement that states your claims and that you can prove with evidence. It should be the product of research and your own critical thinking. There are different ways and different approaches to write a thesis statement. Here are some steps you can try to create a thesis statement:

 

1. Start out with the main topic and focus of your essay.

Example: youth gangs + prevention and intervention programs

 

2. Make a claim or argument in one sentence.

Example: Prevention and intervention programs can stop youth gang activities.

 

3. Revise the sentence by using specific terms.

Example: Early prevention programs in schools are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement.

 

4. Further revise the sentence to cover the scope of your essay and make a strong statement.

Example: Among various prevention and intervention efforts that have been made to deal with the rapid growth of youth gangs, early school-based prevention programs are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement.

Examples of Non-Debatable and Debatable Thesis Statements

Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:

Pollution is bad for the environment.

 

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

At least 25 percent of the federal budget should be spent on limiting pollution.

 

Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:

The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some of which were the same and some different.

 

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

While both Northerners and Southerners believed they fought against tyranny and oppression, Northerners focused on the oppression of slaves while Southerners defended their own right to self-government.

Revising Your Thesis

Thesis Statement Revision

Your thesis will probably change as you write, so you will need to modify it to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your essay. Remember from Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” that your thesis statement begins as a working thesis statement, an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing.

Working thesis statements often become stronger as you gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.

Tip

The best way to revise your thesis statement is to ask questions about it and then examine the answers to those questions. By challenging your own ideas and forming definite reasons for those ideas, you grow closer to a more precise point of view, which you can then incorporate into your thesis statement.

 

You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:

1. Pinpoint and replace all nonspecific words, such as peopleeverythingsociety, or life, with more precise words in order to reduce any vagueness.

Working thesis: Young people have to work hard to succeed in life.

Revised thesis: Recent college graduates must have discipline and persistence in order to find and maintain a stable job in which they can use and be appreciated for their talents.

The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard. The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words like people and work hard, the writer can better focus his or her research and gain more direction in his or her writing.

 

2. Clarify ideas that need explanation by asking yourself questions that narrow your thesis.

Working thesis: The welfare system is a joke.

Revised thesis: The welfare system keeps a socioeconomic class from gaining employment by alluring members of that class with unearned income, instead of programs to improve their education and skill sets.

A joke means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience. By asking questions, the writer can devise a more precise and appropriate explanation for joke. The writer should ask himself or herself questions similar to the 5WH questions. (See Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” for more information on the 5WH questions.) By incorporating the answers to these questions into a thesis statement, the writer more accurately defines his or her stance, which will better guide the writing of the essay.

 

3. Replace any linking verbs with action verbs. Linking verbs are forms of the verb to be, a verb that simply states that a situation exists.

Working thesis: Kansas City schoolteachers are not paid enough.

Revised thesis: The Kansas City legislature cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers.

The linking verb in this working thesis statement is the word are. Linking verbs often make thesis statements weak because they do not express action. Rather, they connect words and phrases to the second half of the sentence. Readers might wonder, “Why are they not paid enough?” But this statement does not compel them to ask many more questions. The writer should ask himself or herself questions in order to replace the linking verb with an action verb, thus forming a stronger thesis statement, one that takes a more definitive stance on the issue:

  • Who is not paying the teachers enough?
  • What is considered “enough”?
  • What is the problem?
  • What are the results‚Äč?

 

4. Omit any general claims that are hard to support.

Working thesis: Today’s teenage girls are too sexualized.

Revised thesis: Teenage girls who are captivated by the sexual images on MTV are conditioned to believe that a woman’s worth depends on her sensuality, a feeling that harms their self-esteem and behavior.

It is true that some young women in today’s society are more sexualized than in the past, but that is not true for all girls. Many girls have strict parents, dress appropriately, and do not engage in sexual activity while in middle school and high school. The writer of this thesis should ask the following questions:

  • Which teenage girls?
  • What constitutes “too” sexualized?
  • Why are they behaving that way?
  • Where does this behavior show up?
  • What are the repercussions?

 

from "Developing a Strong, Clear Thesis Statement," Writing for Success, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 2015.