Writing Process: Thesis Statement



A clear thesis statement is key to writing a good essay. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.

This is the third entry in a series concerning the writing process. You can review the entire series at this link.

The point I’m going to make about thesis statements is very similar to the point I made about essay topics, but this time I have some fun illustrations.


Writing Process 4 P 1Throwing Paint Balloons at a Target

Many students think that having a broad thesis statement will help them write their paper, because it will be easy to find information that fits under the thesis.

This is kind of like drawing a target for a game. If you draw a very big target, anything you throw at it will stick. It seems failsafe. The problem is that the goal of an essay is to completely cover the thesis statement (i.e.the target). If the target is really big, you either end up with blank space (holes in your information) or you cover everything in very general terms, which is difficult, because you still end up with holes. Also, it’s not interesting to write or read.

Now, if you write a more specific thesis statement (if you draw a smaller target), you have to be more choosy about the information that you include in the essay. However, the amount of information (space) you are trying to cover is much smaller. In addition, specific details, though harder to find, are much more plentiful, more interesting, and easier to write about.

Pouring Sand Through a Sieve Into a Bucket

Here’s another illustration: A thesis statement can be described as a sieve that you use to filter sand into a bucket. A broad thesis statement is like a sieve with really big holes. It lets gravel, even small pebbles through. Now if you have this type of thesis, in theory your job should be easier. You can use pretty much any material (information) to fill your bucket (essay). There are two problems here:
A bigger sieve comes with a bigger bucket. (A bigger topic requires more length.) If you are trying to write a short essay about “pollution”, you won’t be able to fill the bucket.
There will be a lot of air in between your rocks and pebbles. (There will be gaps in your information).

Now, if your sieve is smaller, it’s true it might initially be more difficult to find sand (information) that fits through your grid (thesis statement), but the bucket is also smaller, and you will be able to pack it properly.

Writing a Limiting Thesis

So how can you write a more limited thesis statement? There are a few different ways. I’ll start with the most difficult (and most effective).

  • An enthymeme is a thesis statement with a “because” clause. It forces you to lay out your whole argument in a single sentence. For example, my thesis states, “Smartphones are a pain, because they are expensive, they break easily, and they distract people from their work” tells you everything about my essay. The argument is “smartphones are a pain,” and I will have three body paragraphs with the sub-topics “they are expensive”, “they break easily”, and “they distract people from their work.” The enthymeme is a strict variety of the “essay map thesis”.
  • An essay map thesis specifies exactly what they essay will be about, and includes the main arguments the body paragraphs will make. However, the structure does not necessarily have to include a “because” clause.
  • Limit your thesis statement by the content of your introduction. If your introduction includes mention of the specific arguments you intend to make, this will help keep your thesis clear.
  • Don’t use superfluous phrases like “this essay”, “in this essay”, “I believe”, or “I will explain”.

 Read the fourth installment in this series: Part 5: Outlining

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Writing Process: Outlining and Introduction
Writing Process: Choosing Your Topic and Brainstor...