What is a thesis?
A necessary evil?
A helpful tool for generating writing?
A sentence at the end of the introduction that tells the reader what you will be arguing?
Whatever you call it, a thesis statement, while useful in many ways, can be debilitating to the author if seen as a solid thing that cannot be budged. An author who writes a thesis before writing anything else—maybe even before researching—may feel the need to keep that thesis no matter what other ideas or rabbit trails they wish to discover in their writing process.
This mentality can be stifling. Even a writer who is not so stuck to the rules may struggle with writing a thesis statement in the first place if they haven’t gone through the whole process of discovering their topic—which often comes from research, outlining, and writing.
So how do we counteract this? How do we “loose the chains” of thesis statements?
First, don’t think of thesis statements as your “ball and chain” but as the key to unlocking the rest of your paper. I even like to think about it as “key”—referring to the musical term. The key to a song affects the entire piece and keeps it from falling into chaos. Even key changes must be smoothly transitioned and purposeful. A thesis statement holds a paper together for both the writer and the audience.
The process of writing a thesis is not static. There are many ways (and times) to write a thesis.
For instance one may:
- draft a thesis that states the argument, then narrow and specify (see below) throughout the process.
- draft an entire paper (a very rough draft) to discover what one’s true argument is, then write the thesis and revise accordingly (lots of revision).
- write a complete thesis to guide the rest of the process to keep one on track, only revising if needed (often involves less paper revision).
The last example is the most traditionally taught. I would recommend starting this way and seeing if it works for you.
Moving on, what are some qualities that most thesis statements have, and how can we achieve them?
You’ll want to let the reader know what your argument is early on. This is rather Western, so don’t see this as a universal rule. Most likely, however, this is the type of writing you will be doing.
Let’s say you were writing about genetic engineering. You may write something like:
“Genetic engineering is used to modify foods to increase yields and lessen chemical usage.”
This may sound good, but it is not an argument. It doesn’t say anything controversial. But if you wrote the following—
“Genetic engineering is dangerous.”
—it would be clear what your argument is.
Okay, so we need to dig deeper than that. If you are writing, say, an eight page paper, writing about ALL of the dangers of genetic engineering would be impossible. Let’s narrow this down:
“Genetically modified corn threatens the environment.”
We have now specified the type of genetic engineering as well as what it particularly threats.
As mentioned before, specificity may not come until you have fully outlined—or even written—your paper, but it is important for making sure that all of your paragraphs relate back to the thesis. Again, if a thesis is the “key,” what notes must be played? If you add a new point to your paper, make sure you have included it in your thesis in some way. After some research, you may write the following:
“The production of genetically modified corn over the past few decades has increased harmful chemical pollution and threatened biodiversity.”
This thesis could actually be more specific by listing all of the main points as well as what research the writer will be presenting. This would obviously need to be written after you have done all of your research, note-taking, and maybe outlining/writing (which is why the following thesis is incomplete).
“Studies from…on…show that the production of genetically modified corn over the past few decades has threatened the biodiversity of farmland and increased harmful chemical pollution in food, water, and soil.”
Below is a (very rough) outline that addresses the points in this thesis.
- What is genetically modified corn?
- How has it progressed over the past few decades?
- How has it threatened biodiversity of farmland?
- How has it increased harmful chemical pollution in food?
- In water?
- In soil?
Of course, one might also include a paragraph or so on opposing viewpoints, etc.
The nice thing about a thesis is that it keeps you from covering too many things in one paper by forcing you to narrow down and specify, but that doesn’t mean that The octave may change, the notes may vary, but, in the end, everything must be in sync, which is why revision (throughout the process and at the end) is necessary.
I could go on with the metaphors, but it’s time to let you write.