A thesis statement is a short, direct sentence -- or sometimes 1-3 concise sentences -- that summarize the main point or claim of an essay or research paper. In a thesis statement, the author is making a specific claim or assertion about a topic that can be debated or challenged.
A thesis statement is developed, supported, and explained in the body of the essay or research report by means of examples and evidence. Student essays and papers should contain a thesis statement.
Example of weak thesis statement:
- Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the best American authors in the last half century.
Example of a strong thesis statement:
- Ursula K. Le Guin's ability to subvert cultural and social expectations makes her one of the best authors of the last century.
A research question indicates the direction of your research. It is an open-ended query, not a final claim or conclusion about an idea. A good research question should act as the focus of a study. It helps the author decide on the methodology she will use as well as guide all subsequent stages of inquiry, analysis, and reporting.
Example of a weak research question:
- How does science fiction literature affect our understanding of other cultures?
Example of a strong research question:
- Can science fiction literature that focuses on fundamental issues such as gender and race deepen our ability to empathize with cultures different from our own?
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As you begin to formulate a thesis for your essay, think about the following distinction between topic and thesis. A topic is a general area of inquiry; derived from the Greek topos (place), "topic" designates the general subject of your essay. For instance, "Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo (2000) and A. Redfield's Mr. His (1939) both show how unions give workers a collective power that they lack as individuals" would be a weak thesis but a very good a topic for an essay. From a topic, many specific theses can be extracted and developed. A thesis is more specific and delimited; it exists "within" your topic. In your essay, you need to use an argumentative thesis.
In argumentative writing, the writer takes a stance and offers reasons in support of it. Crucial to any piece of argumentative writing is its thesis. The thesis arises from the topic, or subject, on which the writing focuses, and may be defined as follows:
A thesis is an idea, stated as an assertion, which represents a reasoned response to a question at issue and which will serve as the central idea of a unified composition.
If we've selected as a topic the notion that these books show the power of unions we need to ask, "So what?" Do both stories make exactly the same argument in exactly the same way? How do they differ? How are they similar? In each tale, what are the workers' demands? With what degree of sympathy are those demands presented? In sum, what does focusing on this theme tells about what the books might mean? One possible thesis is:
Although both Doreen Cronin's Click, Clack, Moo (2000) and A. Redfield's Mr. His (1939) demonstrate the collective power to be gained by organizing, Redfield offers a more radical claim: Mr. His argues that workers need to replace the capitalist system, where Click, Clack Moo suggests that they need only collective bargaining, leaving the capitalist system intact.
When you compose a thesis statement, think about how it satisfies the following tests:
1. Is it an idea? Does it state, in a complete sentence, an assertion?
2. Does it make a claim that is truly contestable and therefore engaging?
(Yes, because one could also argue that the central difference between these two tales resides less the degree of radicalism and more in the degree of humor.)
3. Are the terms you are using precise and clear?
(Key terms here seem to be: "radical," "workers," "capitalist system," and "collective bargaining.")
4. Has the thesis developed out of a process of reasoning?
Once these questions have been satisfactorily answered, use the resulting thesis to organize your evidence and begin the actual writing. As you do so, bear in mind the following questions:
1. What is my purpose in writing? What do I want to prove?
(Notice the explicit purpose in the thesis statement: it does not merely point out that both books show the power of organizing. Instead, the thesis takes a position on this topic, and then answers the question "So what?")
2. What question(s) does my writing answer?
3. Why do I think this question is important? Will other people think it equally important?
4. What are my specific reasons, my pieces of evidence? Does each piece of evidence support the claim I make in my thesis?
5. Where does my reasoning weaken or even stop? Am I merely offering opinions without reasoned evidence?
6. How can I best persuade my reader?
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