by Abby Ponder
If you’ve ever taken any English class ever–or if you’ve written a paper in general, really–then you’ve probably heard of thesis statements. In fact, you’ve probably used them. Several times. And perhaps you’ve felt a sense of dread building in your stomach upon seeing those words in crisp, clean ink at the top of an assignment. The butterflies are a-fluttering and the tummy is a-rumbling.
Trepidation when it comes to thesis statements is not an unusual phenomenon.
This uneasiness stems from somewhere, certainly, but sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why thesis statements cause all the organized thoughts in your head to fly out the window.
For some people, thesis statements are simply overwhelming. Ideally, according to the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, “every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message […] A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also a comment about your position in relation to the topic.”
In laymen’s terms, a thesis statement is the paper’s roadmap. It highlights what the paper is going to be about and informs the reader on how they’re going to get there.
With that in mind, writing the statement seems like a lot of pressure. It’s got to contain a whole lot of information that you, as the writer, might not know yet. And that’s okay!
So, you know what you should do?
You should save it for last.
When you’re writing an essay, it can be really tempting to write in chronological order. It makes sense, after all: it’s a natural progression of thoughts, exposition, and explanation. However, just because you write the bulk of your paper in chronological order, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the introduction last.
See, sometimes as you write your ideas change. Though you may have started in a structured, “I’m going to talk about this, this, and this,” mind frame, your ideas can evolve the more you put words on paper. Wait until the paper’s finished, examine the main ideas you address, and then construct your thesis.
It helps tremendously–I promise.
However, if you like a little bit more structure before you start writing, the value of an outline in indisputable. If you use an outline, the chances are pretty good that it’ll come into play again when you’re writing your actual thesis statement, too.
And, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to break away from the traditional “3-point thesis.” The content of the statement is arguably more important than the structure. So, as you write your statement, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it answer the assignment’s primary question? (If there is one.)
- Do you reference specific points?
- Does it answer the “so what?” question? (i.e., if I’m reading your paper with absolutely no context, am I going to understand why this paper is important?)
- Does it, ultimately, say something? Sometimes writers get caught in a trap of wandering in circles, using words without really ever saying something. Your thesis doesn’t exist to expand on a word count. Instead, it is there to expand on an idea. Use it to your advantage.
You can even find more questions to ask yourself, along with examples, by visiting the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s webpage devoted to the topic.
So, take a deep breath. Writing thesis statements takes practice and, ultimately, confidence. The more faith you have in your statement, the more likely you’ll say something worth saying. Write with your shoulders back and your thinking cap in place.