How To Make A Thesis Statement For Dummies

Once you've read the story or novel closely, look back over your notes for patterns of questions or ideas that interest you. Have most of your questions been about the characters, how they develop or change?

For example:
If you are reading Conrad's The Secret Agent, do you seem to be most interested in what the author has to say about society? Choose a pattern of ideas and express it in the form of a question and an answer such as the following:

Question: What does Conrad seem to be suggesting about early twentieth-century London society in his novel The Secret Agent?
Answer: Conrad suggests that all classes of society are corrupt.

Pitfalls:
Choosing too many ideas.
Choosing an idea without any support.

Now that you're familiar with the story or novel and have developed a thesis statement, you're ready to choose the evidence you'll use to support your thesis. There are a lot of good ways to do this, but all of them depend on a strong thesis for their direction.

For example:
Here's a student's thesis about Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent.

In his novel, The Secret Agent, Conrad uses beast and cannibal imagery to describe the characters and their relationships to each other. This pattern of images suggests that Conrad saw corruption in every level of early twentieth-century London society.

This thesis focuses on the idea of social corruption and the device of imagery. To support this thesis, you would need to find images of beasts and cannibalism within the text.

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The thesis statement is the center around which the rest of your paper revolves; it is a clear, concise statement of the position you will defend.

Getting Started:

If you’re just beginning to think about a thesis, it may be useful to ask yourself some of the following questions. This list is not exhaustive; anything that helps you consider your text or subject in a complex, unusual, or in-depth manner will get you on the right track:

  • Do I have a gut response to the prompt? Does anything from my reading jump to mind as something that could help me argue one way or another?
  • What is the significance of this text or subject? Why did my professor choose it? How does it fit into the broader themes or goals of the course?
  • How does this text or subject relate to the broader context of the place or time period in which it was written or in which it occurred?
  • Does this text or subject challenge or complicate my ideas about race, class, gender, or religion? About political, carceral, or educational institutions?
  • Does anything in this text seem to not “fit in” with the rest of it? Why could that be?
  • Are there aspects of the text (or two separate texts) which, when I compare and contrast them, can illuminate something about the text(s) that wasn’t clear before?
  • Does the author make any stylistic choices– perspective, word choice, pacing, setting, plot twists, poetic devices– that are crucial to our understanding of the text or subject?

Developing Your Ideas:

At this point you should have some potential ideas, but they don’t have to be pretty yet. Your next goal will be to play with them until you arrive at a single argument that fulfills as many of the above “Components of a Strong Thesis” as possible. See the following examples of weak or unfinished thesis statements:

Setting is an important aspect of Wuthering Heights.

Britain was stable between 1688 and 1783.

The first example is argumentative, but it’s not that argumentative– most critics agree that setting is important to Wuthering Heights. Both examples are too broad. One way to develop them is to consider potential conjunctions that would help you complicate your ideas:
 

See below for examples of stronger or more complete thesis statements. In part due to the addition of conjunctions “because” and “as,” these are more argumentative, more specific, and more complex:

Because the moors in Wuthering Heights are a personification of Heathcliff’s personality, their presence suggests that human emotion and the natural world are intricately entwined in the novel.

Corruption was a major source of stability in Britain between 1688 and 1783, as landed elites controlled every aspect of British government and ensured political stability at the cost of social equality.

I Have a Thesis. Now What?

Once you feel confident about your final thesis statement, you have conquered the most important (and usually, the most difficult) part of writing a paper. Here are two ways your thesis can help you figure out what to do next:

By Sarah Ostrow ’18. Definition of thesis statement adapted from earlier Hamilton College Writing Center Resource “Introductions and Thesis Statements.”
© Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center, Hamilton College

Components of a Strong ThesisComponents of a Weak Thesis
  • Argumentative, debatable
  • Specific
  • Original, goes beyond class discussion
  • Can be supported with textual evidence
  • Answers the prompt
  • Clearly and concisely stated
  • Summarizes, states a fact
  • Broad, makes a generalization
  • Repeats class discussion or other critics
  • Unrelated to or contradicted by the text
  • Unrelated or partial response to prompt
  • Language is vague, wordy

Conjunction

Conjunction’s Purpose

  • Because, so, as
  • But, however, yet, although, despite
  • When, where
  • Unless, except
  • Before, once, until
  • Specifies your reasoning
  • Introduces nuance
  • Confines idea to specific time or place
  • Introduces an exception to your idea
  • Specifies order in which things occur

 

Wuthering Heights Examples

British History
Examples

Gathering evidence: Look back at your text(s) and begin compiling a list of quotations or ideas that would support your thesis statement.

  • Descriptions of the moors
  • Descriptions of Heathcliff, or moments when other characters talk about him
  • Instances of political corruption from 1688-1783 that led to stable government
  • Instances of social inequality from 1688-1783

Considering structure: See if your thesis statement gives you any clues about how to organize your thoughts into body paragraphs.

The moors and Heathcliff can each have their own paragraph. Or separate paragraphs can tackle separate qualities, i.e. the wild nature of both, the morose nature of both, etc.

Political corruption and social inequality can each have their own paragraph. Or, if there are cause-and-effect relationships between specific instances of corruption and inequality, each pair can have its own paragraph.

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