Molly Wright Starkweather, MA, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor
When teaching thesis statements, the standard advice from teaching guides varies depending on the expertise of the student and the content area and level of study of the course. In the Kaplan Guide to Successful Writing, a thesis statement is considered effective if it sticks to one idea, focuses on a reasonably sized aspect of that idea, takes a clear position on the subject, and uses solid support. These are quality goals for students, but how does a student get in the right frame of mind to begin writing a thesis statement after having conducted all the research? A first term student will likely consider the main points to be included and build a thesis statement from there, which works fairly well in shorter assignments, but it can become an unwieldy proposition when it comes to more complex compositions.
Graduate students might not be expected to write the same sort of thesis statement as first year composition students, but they can benefit from considering a focused central argument in a sentence or two for the sake of those reading their papers. One of the reasons it is important to distinguish the type of central argument graduate students will make in their writing is because it might be easy to confuse a thesis statement with a graduate thesis, which is a specific type of original research report described in our Graduate Thesis resource.
A formula I have developed for thesis statements takes into consideration the notion that a thesis statement is often designed to address a situation in a field of study, typically solving a specific problem by offering a specific solution. The first ingredient in an effective thesis statement, then, is to mention the problem briefly. A template for mentioning the problem might look like one of the phrases below.
Considering the challenge of _________
When addressing the situation of __________
Professionals who face the scenario of __________
Here is how one thesis might begin.
Considering the challenge of keeping infants safe on airplane flights
Next, it is always good communication to have a solution in mind when mentioning a problem. Make sure to mention the specific solution for the specific problem being addressed, and consider one of the phrases below as a template for introducing the solution.
… an effective approach might be _________
… one good solution is _________
… the best response is to _________
Now, the effective thesis started earlier might go on to look like this. Considering the challenge of keeping infants safe on airplane flights, the most effective solution is to have the infant ride in a rear-facing car seat secured to the infant’s own airplane seat.
Finally, effective thesis statements can offer the reader a sense of what to expect in the body paragraphs of the paper. One way to incorporate the main points from the body paragraphs is to consider why the solution being offered in the thesis statement is effective or perhaps even the best solution. Adding “because” after naming the solution in the thesis can pave the way for establishing the main points right there within the same sentence. Here is an example of how all three ingredients—mentioning the challenge at hand, the solution, and the main points supporting the solution—can make for an effective thesis statement.
Considering the challenge of protecting infants on flights, the most effective solution is for the infant to be rear-facing in a car seat, because this solution addresses an infant’s physical development, the latest safety guidelines from experts on child travel safety, and the need for parents to protect themselves in a crash.
This is only one model for an effective thesis statement, so I encourage those reading this blog entry to consider other models for thesis statements as well. No matter what, make sure to phrase the central argument or main point or thesis statement based on the assignment instructions and any other supporting material (like a rubric) provided by the professor.