Characteristics of an
An effective thesis is a
generalization; it is not a fact. Facts, by
definition, have already been proven, so a factual thesis statement requires
no proof—which renders the body of the paper superfluous (a paper with a
fact for a thesis is a very short paper indeed). Generalizations, on the
other hand, require support, thus providing a purpose for the paper's body.
(For an exception to this rule, please see Claims
of Fact below.)
The first polygraph was
developed by Dr. John A. Larson in 1921.
"Revised: Because the polygraph has not
been proved reliable, even under the most controlled conditions, its use
by private employers should be banned." (Hacker 33)
An effective thesis is
limited; it is not too broad. Breadth is largely a
function of scope. In other words, while the sample thesis below might
function perfectly well for a 500-page paper, but it requires too much proof
for a short paper. Avoid sweeping modifiers like all,
always, never, everyone, best, worst, and most.
Many drugs are now being used successfully to
treat mental illnesses" (Hacker 33).
Despite its risks and side effects, lithium is
an effective treatment for depression"
An effective thesis is
sharply focused; it is not too vague. A thesis
statement is no place for words whose connotations vary wildly. My
definition of disgusting, for instance, might vary widely from
my readers'. Prefer the concrete, the specific.
Many songs played on station
WXQP are disgusting" (Hacker 34).
Of the songs played on
station WXQP, all too many depict sex crudely, sanction the beating or
rape of women, or foster gang violence"
statements typically fall into one of three categories--or claims:
Claims of Fact argue that a condition has
existed, exists, or will exist (an inference: a statement about the unknown
based on the known). Claims of fact are supported by factual
information: verifiable statistics, examples, and testimony. Although I
caution, above, that facts make poor thesis statements, some facts and all
inferences require proof and explanation. For instance, at one time, the
general population required proof of ozone-layer depletion because the proof
was available only to a specialized group of scientists.
Claims of Value argue that one view is
better or more valuable than another view. Claims of value ultimately
involve a comparison (explicit or implicit) and express approval or
disapproval of standards. To fashion a sound claim of value, employ standards with
which your audience agrees. For example, if I were to argue that
graffiti is art and, therefore, valuable, I would need to prove that
graffiti fits the criteria most readers would employ to define art. In
this way, claims of value incorporate elements pertinent to claims of fact
(testimony, examples, etc.).
Claims of Policy argue that certain
conditions should exist. These claims advocate adopting or changing policies
or courses of action because current policy is either inadequate or under
fire. To fashion a sound claim of policy, include in your claim (either implicitly or explicitly) the
words should, ought to, or must, and establish that a problem exists. In this way, claims of policy include elements of factual claims (to prove that present conditions are unsatisfactory) and value claims (to prove that the existing
situation is bad, to prove that change is in order, and to prove that your
solution is beneficial). In short, claims of policy involve several
steps: prove that a problem exists (and, by extension, address the problem's
negative consequences), offer a solution (in appropriate detail), and
address the benefits of adopting that solution.
Advice about Thesis Statements
Tattoo on the inside of your eyelids the
following definition: "[A
thesis] is a debatable point, one about which reasonable persons can
disagree. It is not merely a fact [. . .]. Nor is it a statement of
belief [or faith] [. . .]. Neither facts nor beliefs can be
substantiated by reasons, so they cannot serve as a thesis for an
argument" (Hacker 574).
Know that your thesis statement serves as the crux of the argument that is your
paper; it is your informed opinion about
your paper's subject.
Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook for Writers. 4th
ed. Boston: Bedford, 1994.
Rottenberg, Annette T. Elements of
Argument: A Text and Reader. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford, 1994.