It’s amazing how a two syllable word, the-sis, can cause such terror and fright to a student. But this is the result of years of stress and study being put on what generally amounts to one sentence at the end of an introduction. Here’s what students want: a formula. They want to take a set template and plug in the words that are relevant to the topic at hand. Currently, no such template exists. And it most likely never will. However, there are ways to think of a thesis to make it feel less overwhelming.
My freshman year in college, a professor of mine told his first-year writing class to think of the thesis statement as a question that your paper will answer. I found this extremely helpful. What question is my paper facing?
Let’s take Milton as an example. (Yes, students everywhere have just shuttered at the thought of writing a paper on Milton.) In Paradise Lost , it can be argued that Milton is portraying Satan in a positive light. In fact, it has been debated for years whether or not Milton was actually secretly engaging in some sort of devil worship in his personal time. So, for my paper I wanted to use the piece to show whether or not Milton was really just trying to show the devil some love, or if there were other forces at work.
So, here was the question I posed: By first painting Satan in an attractive and relating light, is Milton simply putting the reader through a sense of temptation as a part of helping us to reach his understanding of God? Now, luck would have it that my professor felt having the thesis as a literal questions (as opposed to a statement) was perfectly acceptable. I’ve found that in other classes, this was not always the case. Many professors are purists when it comes to the thesis statement, and they want it to be a statement. That in mind, I can create a traditional thesis statement with just a few minimal changes. Essentially I remove the first “is” and make the question mark a period. Now my thesis reads: By first painting Satan in an attractive and relating light, Milton is putting the reader through a sense of temptation as a part of helping us to reach his understanding of God. It is a statement. It is commanding. It is arguable.
Next time you write a thesis, think about the question posed by the topic. Write yourself a physical question. Finally, turn your question into a statement, giving your essay a great establishment of authority.