To complete this module, read the explanation; take notes as directed; and complete the exercises. Submit them as directed by your classroom or Writing Center instructor.
What is a thesis?
College writers often feel like they have to make many different points to write a long paper. Yes, you do: but all these points are explanations for one big idea. Whether it's a paragraph or a 900-page book, all expository writing ultimately can be captured in a single statement. That statement, the assertion that constitutes the whole point of your paper, is your thesis. The difference between a book and a paragraph lies in the development. Here are some typical thesis statements:
Arranged marriages are often more successful than love-matches.
Where does the thesis appear in your paper?
Writers typically put the thesis at the beginning of the paper, and most conventionally in the closing lines of the introduction:
Example: In America, almost every boy's dream is to become a professional athlete: to be among the elite, to feel the thrill of catching the winning touchdown in the Superbowl, or to hit the winning home run in the last game of the World Series. Unfortunately, this idealism is a thing of the past. Granted there are a few dreamers left, but there is a new incentive in going pro: money - lots of it. Today in professional sports, athletes are paid in the millions. Even the lesser players in pro sports can expect annual salaries in the millions of dollars. As salaries have risen, we have seen more unsportsmanlike behavior, drug use, and cheating. If we want to restore the good name of professional sports, we need to begin by rethinking the gross overpayment of athletes.
But note -- as with any convention, you can play with this. There are many ways to use the introduction. Some writers offer a long preliminary discussion and produce their main point half-way through; some lay out the evidence then make their thesis statement at the end. Some writers leave out the thesis statement altogether, implying it rather than stating it aloud (though even when a writer doesn't actually state his point aloud, he must know precisely what it is or the paper loses shape). You can decide where your thesis works best. However, don't be afraid to stick to convention and put it towards the end of the introduction. This does not make your paper unoriginal or boring. It just makes it easier to follow.
What does a thesis sound like?
It sounds assertive. It makes a claim, puts forward an opinion, proposes an explanation. Compare the thesis to the kinds of statements that often take its place in essays, and you can hear the difference:
It is NOT a vague statement of the topic. The topic is what you are writing about: the thesis is what you are saying about it. A thesis is a complete sentence, never a phrase. It needs to be justified.
It is NOT a note to yourself about what you plan to think about (signaled often by the unnecessary phrase "In this paper, I will discuss..." or "In this paper, I will show that...").
NOTE TO SELF: In this paper, I'm going to talk about three aspects of arranged marriages.
The college-level thesis
In high school, it's acceptable to write papers with a bland, general thesis. But in college, your paper should represent more than just a review of assigned reading or digested facts: it should show your ability to review evidence, and to draw conclusions from it to make a point. Thus, your thesis should present an opinion or argument, not just a general statement. Ideally, it should narrow down your opinion to something more specific -- some reason, or cause, or insight.
Remember: a college thesis is something you come up with after a lot of thinking, talking, writing and reading. Developing a college-level thesis requires a complex writing process. Quite often, it only takes shape after you've written a fairly complete draft and reviewed it with others.
HIGH-SCHOOL STYLE THESIS: Arranged marriage is a complex issue.
Writing the college-level thesis
There is no mystery to coming up with a college-level thesis. But it is a lot of work! The following steps should take you there, even when you are bored or completely stuck.
(More about this when you look at developing your writing process).
Take notes on the following:
1. Write down the important points in this module for future reference.
Which of these statements could be a college-level thesis?
1. The debate over same-sex marriage is really a debate over states' rights.