Thesis Statements Aren’t Complicated

Too many times students make thesis statements much harder than they should. Students seem to think that complexity equals clarity which is about as far from truth as they can venture. What students need is a clear, concise thesis statement that leads the reader where the student writer wants that reader to go.

I see thesis statements as a multi-stage process. First, we have to remember the reason a thesis statement is being written: a student or writer has something to say to someone else. Usually, students encounter these in school contexts although if we really think about it, thesis statements are everywhere.

If we consider that the first stage is the writer having something to say, then we have to consider what the base of information is. If a student has been reading various texts in class or doing research, these sources form a basis upon which a thesis will be constructed. If my base of information is a particular novel like Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, then the thesis I write will carve out a particular section of information (an idea) from that text (perhaps a concept) that I want to focus on.

Once I have that concept or section down (it’s likely kinda general still), I need to figure out exactly what it is I want to say about this concept. I need that specific focus or target so that my reader and I can share the same common ground as the writing moves from sentence to sentence. A great thesis creates a clear and specific structure.

I like to teach high school students to use a two-section approach to writing a thesis statement. The first part (or half) of the thesis should be about overall concept. The second part (or half) of the thesis should be a specific angle that carves out a space of existence where the writer will explain what’s important they want to say. This second part should answer the questions “why” and or “how” for the reader.

Below, I’ve worked through the process for you. I’ve used Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird as my base (since my paper is going to be an analysis of something from this novel).

Concept Area: I really like how Harper Lee made this point about putting oneself in the position of another in order to truly understand that other person.

First Part of Thesis: Considering things from the viewpoint of other characters…

Second Part of Thesis: allows Scout to sympathize with those characters’ motivations and connect with her own emotions.

Put Together: Considering things from the viewpoint of other characters allows Scout to sympathize with those characters’ and connect with her own emotions.

Let’s carefully sift this now. My overall concept area is understanding how other characters see things. This in itself wouldn’t be enough to establish a thesis. If this was the thesis, I’d only be telling the reader what things various characters see — making a list. I still need the active or action part of the thesis (the second half) to angle in on exactly what about, how/why it matters. In the second half, I state Scout can sympathize with other characters and use that to connect with her own emotions. The discussion I have in the body paragraphs of the paper will then be spent bringing up situations where Scout could sympathize with others and then use what she saw to help her better understand herself. The reader will get to see how I (the writer) viewed why/how Scout became a better person through seeing things from the eyes of others.

Be patient with yourself. At the beginning of the process, any kind of thesis someone writes is called a working thesis meaning the thesis is still in process and can be altered. However, as a writer, you need some sort of pathway to get things organized or the process will skid off in confusing and random directions.

If you have further ideas on developing thesis statements, feel free to leave them here in the comments so others can gain from your angle.


You’ll also enjoy reading: Academic Paper Rubric For Serious Students


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