Materials for Students: Writing the Academic Paper: Developing Your Thesis

Despite the differences from discipline to discipline, a good thesis will generally have the following characteristics:

  1. A good thesis sentence will make a claim. This doesn’t mean that you have to reduce an idea to an “either/or” proposition and then take a stand. Rather, you need to develop an interesting perspective that you can support and defend. This perspective must be more than an observation. “America is violent” is an observation. “Americans are violent because they are fearful” (the position that Michael Moore takes in Bowling for Columbine) is an argument. Why? Because it posits a perspective. It makes a claim.

    Put another way, a good thesis sentence will inspire (rather than quiet) other points of view. One might argue that America is violent because of its violent entertainment industry. Or because of the proliferation of guns. Or because of the disintegration of the family. In short, if your thesis is positing something that no one can (or would wish to) argue with, then it’s not a very good thesis.

  2. A good thesis sentences will control the entire argument. Your thesis sentence determines what you are required to say in a paper. It also determines what you cannot say. Every paragraph in your paper exists in order to support your thesis. Accordingly, if one of your paragraphs seems irrelevant to your thesis you have two choices: get rid of the paragraph, or rewrite your thesis.

    Understand that you don’t have a third option: you can’t simply stick the idea in without preparing the reader for it in your thesis. The thesis is like a contract between you and your reader. If you introduce ideas that the reader isn’t prepared for, you’ve violated that contract.

  3. A good thesis will provide a structure for your argument. A good thesis not only signals to the reader what your argument is, but how your argument will be presented. In other words, your thesis sentence should either directly or indirectly suggest the structure of your argument to your reader.

    Say, for example, that you are going to argue that “American fearfulness expresses itself in three curious ways: A, B, and C.” In this case, the reader understands that you are going to have three important points to cover, and that these points will appear in a certain order. If you suggest a particular ordering principle and then abandon it, the reader will feel betrayed, irritated, and confused.

via Materials for Students: Writing the Academic Paper: Developing Your Thesis.