The Thesis Statement Dilemma
On my way out the door, I noticed all the English teachers were busily grading essays. "Hey, Bob," I shouted as I stumbled into his
classroom, "Not done with those essays yet? I finished mine an hour ago."
"How'd you grade them so fast?" he asked.
"It's simple," I responded, "I didn't teach my students how to write a thesis statement, so grading their essays was easy. I just gave them all F's. While you guys waste your time teaching valuable lessons and then having to actually grade their essays, we watch movies.""So, none of your students know anything about writing?"
"You're a disgrace!" Bob shouted. He moved toward me, stapler in hand.
Next thing I remember, I was surrounded by angry tax-payers. Angry tax-payer #1 shouted, "Get up you thief! Our tax dollars pay your salary and you're supposed to teach the children of this great state how to write! I suggest you start doing your job tomorrow morning, or you'll pay dearly!" The angry tax-payer clubbed me with a ruler and knocked me out again. When I awoke, I saw lesson ideas on my desk titled "Writing a Thesis Statement."
I now share these ideas with you.
Understand what a thesis statement in general needs to accomplish. Your thesis needs to express a "considered point of view." Note that a considered point of view is different from an opinion. Anyone can express an opinion. You can say that you prefer chocolate to vanilla ice cream, to which another can either agree or disagree. This kind of exchange, however, neither leads to further conversation about nor investigation of an issue. Blanket opinions are conversation stoppers. A thesis statement is a conversation starter.
Define your point of view. Once given your assignment, take notes or write in a less structured way (this is called "free writing") in order to sort out your thoughts on the issue at hand. You may want to create a table listing the pros and cons of two opposing positions before you make your final decision. This will provide you with clarification and perhaps a line of argumentation for the body of your essay.
- I hate San Francisco weather in the summertime.
- While San Francisco weather in the summer can be variable and unpredictable, once one has mastered “the art of layering,” it can be quite pleasant.
Statement 1 gives a mere opinion, to which one can respond in only one of two ways. One can agree (I hate it, too) or disagree (I love San Francisco weather). Either way, the statement does not begin a conversation, but rather shuts it down from the beginning (as with the chocolate ice cream example). It is a flat, blanket statement.
Statement 2 offers much more to a writer and a reader. Notice first the structure of the sentence. It is a complex sentence with two subordinate clauses in front of the main, independent clause. Looking at the sentence from its structure alone, one can see how much richer it is.
The subordinate clauses in this sentence give the writer room to write. In order to elaborate on the thesis successfully, the writer would have to talk about what s/he means by calling San Francisco weather variable and unpredictable. S/he would have to explain and illustrate with examples. The writer might also give a descriptive narrative about encountering such unpredictable weather (experiencing sudden shifts in temperature, or different weather conditions in different parts of the city).
The writer would then be able to talk about how s/he found a solution (layering) and how s/he has made layering into an “art.” The writer could give examples of this. At this point, the writer is then poised to discuss the conclusion built into the thesis (San Francisco weather can be quite pleasant). S/he could then extend the discussion and further confirm the thesis in the conclusion by comparing San Francisco weather to other climates (for example, the heat and humidity of New Orleans).
Analyze; don't moralize. Avoid using the words "should" or "must." Statements dictating what people should or should not do are off-putting. On the other hand, offering a fresh or interesting way to think about a controversial or complex issue is inviting, even if there are flaws in one's line of thought.
Avoid generalizations. Instead of resorting to terms such as "everyone," "no one," "all," etc., try using "many" or "some." Making universal statements about all of humanity can set your thesis up for easy attack.
Although the topic of this sample thesis sentence is rather trivial and uninteresting, one should be able to see how sentence 2 is superior to sentence 1 when launching a point of view. It not only expresses a richer point of view, but paves the way for the successful execution of the actual essay!