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Developing A Thesis

Think of yourself as a member of a jury, listening to a lawyer who is presenting an opening argument. You’ll want to know very soon whether the lawyer believes the accused to be guilty or not guilty, and how the lawyer plans to convince you. Readers of academic essays are like jury members: before they have read too far, they want to know what the essay argues as well as how the writer plans to make the argument. After reading your thesis statement, the reader should think, “This essay is going to try to convince me of something. I’m not convinced yet, but I’m interested to see how I might be.”

An effective thesis cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” A thesis is not a topic; nor is it a fact; nor is it an opinion. “Reasons for the fall of communism” is a topic. “Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe” is a fact known by educated people. “The fall of communism is the best thing that ever happened in Europe” is an opinion. (Superlatives like “the best” almost always lead to trouble. It’s impossible to weigh every “thing” that ever happened in Europe. And what about the fall of Hitler? Couldn’t that be “the best thing”?)

A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should “telegraph” how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay.

Steps in Constructing a Thesis

First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Does the author contradict himself or herself? Is a point made and later reversed? What are the deeper implications of the author’s argument? Figuring out the why to one or more of these questions, or to related questions, will put you on the path to developing a working thesis. (Without the why, you probably have only come up with an observation—that there are, for instance, many different metaphors in such-and-such a poem—which is not a thesis.)

Once you have a working thesis, write it down. There is nothing as frustrating as hitting on a great idea for a thesis, then forgetting it when you lose concentration. And by writing down your thesis you will be forced to think of it clearly, logically, and concisely. You probably will not be able to write out a final-draft version of your thesis the first time you try, but you’ll get yourself on the right track by writing down what you have.

Keep your thesis prominent in your introduction. A good, standard place for your thesis statement is at the end of an introductory paragraph, especially in shorter (5-15 page) essays. Readers are used to finding theses there, so they automatically pay more attention when they read the last sentence of your introduction. Although this is not required in all academic essays, it is a good rule of thumb.

Anticipate the counterarguments. Once you have a working thesis, you should think about what might be said against it. This will help you to refine your thesis, and it will also make you think of the arguments that you’ll need to refute later on in your essay. (Every argument has a counterargument. If yours doesn’t, then it’s not an argument—it may be a fact, or an opinion, but it is not an argument.)

Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential election because he failed to campaign vigorously after the Democratic National Convention.

This statement is on its way to being a thesis. However, it is too easy to imagine possible counterarguments. For example, a political observer might believe that Dukakis lost because he suffered from a “soft-on-crime” image. If you complicate your thesis by anticipating the counterargument, you’ll strengthen your argument, as shown in the sentence below.

While Dukakis’ “soft-on-crime” image hurt his chances in the 1988 election, his failure to campaign vigorously after the Democratic National Convention bore a greater responsibility for his defeat.

Some Caveats and Some Examples

A thesis is never a question. Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question (“Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?”) is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.

A thesis is never a list. “For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe” does a good job of “telegraphing” the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However, political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks tension and doesn’t advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics, economics, and culture are important.

A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational. An ineffective thesis would be, “Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil.” This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.

An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim. “While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline” is an effective thesis sentence that “telegraphs,” so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, “Perhaps what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read further to see how the author argues this claim.”

A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible. Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, “Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite’s inability to address the economic concerns of the people” is more powerful than “Communism collapsed due to societal discontent.”

Copyright 1999, Maxine Rodburg and The Tutors of the Writing Center at Harvard University

  • Writing Resources
    • Strategies for Essay Writing
      • How to Read an Assignment
      • Moving from Assignment to Topic
      • How to Do a Close Reading
      • Overview of the Academic Essay
      • Essay Structure
      • Developing A Thesis
      • Beginning the Academic Essay
      • Outlining
      • Counterargument
      • Summary
      • Topic Sentences and Signposting
      • Transitioning: Beware of Velcro
      • How to Write a Comparative Analysis
      • Ending the Essay: Conclusions
      • Revising the Draft
      • Editing the Essay, Part One
      • Editing the Essay, Part Two
      • Tips on Grammar, Punctuation and Style
    • Brief Guides to Writing in the Disciplines

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Developing an Implied Thesis Statement and Topic Sentences 

Learning Objectives:

  • Choose a topic in response to a narrative prompt.
  • Write an implied thesis statement in response to a narrative prompt.
  • Develop topic sentences supporting an implied thesis statement.

LESSON
Different types of writing require different types of thesis statementsA brief statement that identifies a writer’s thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader?. Most academic essaysA formal writing that the author composes using research, a strong thesis, and supporting details in order to advance an idea or demonstrate understanding of a topic. require the writer to include a stated thesis statementA thesis statement that has been explicitly written in an article, essay, or other reading. while other pieces, such as personal narrativesA story or account of events that is written or told. , allow the writer to use an implied thesis statementAn indirect overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis of an essay or dissertation but is never stated directly in the writing., one that is not directly stated but one that the reader can inferTo reach a conclusion based on context and your own knowledge. from reading. Both types of thesis statements tell the reader the authorA person who wrote a text.‘s topicThe subject of a reading. and purposeThe reason the writer is writing about a topic. It is what the writer wants the reader to know, feel, or do after reading the work. for writing about it.

Both an implied and stated thesis in an academic essay may sound like this: Preparing a weekly schedule helps students to be successful because it allows them to structure their class and work schedules, plan ahead for busy periods, and build in some free time for themselves. Both types of thesis statements provide direction for the remainder of the essay. The difference is that as a stated thesis, the statement actually appears in the introductionThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis. of the essay. An implied thesis statement, on the other hand, does not appear in the essay at all.

The introductory paragraphThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis. written for a narrative using the above thesis as an implied thesis statement may sound like this:

My first week in college taught me many things about my new, busy schedule. I got caught up in socializing and missed a few important assignments. I also thought I could work more at my part-time job like I had during high school. I soon learned, however, that I needed to schedule my activities better in order to be successful.

An opening paragraphA selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation. like this one in a narrative does not come out and state the author’s exact thesis. It does, however, provide similar direction for the reader, resulting in an implied thesis.

A narrative is a story that has a purpose for being told. In other words, when a writer chooses a topic for a narrative, he or she must have a reason for writing about it. For example, if you wanted to write about a significant event in your life by telling a story about how you got your first job, you would need to think about your audience reading the narrative and ask yourself, "What do I want my readers to take away from this story?"

Using a variety of starting strategies such as brainstormingA prewriting technique where the author lists multiple ideas as he or she thinks of them, not considering one more than another until all ideas are captured. The objective is to create one great idea, or many ideas, on which to base a writing., listing ideas, freewritingA prewriting technique where the author begins writing without regard to spelling or grammar about ideas, topics, or even characters, descriptions of events, and settings. Often the writer will freewrite for a set period of time. The objective is to develop a storyline through the writing process itself., clusteringA prewriting technique where the author creates an informal visual layout of possible ideas, grouping them together. The objective is to create visual clusters of information on which to base a writing., or webbingA prewriting technique where the author creates an informal visual layout of possible ideas and then draws lines to connect them into a type of "web." The objective is to see connections between events and characters. can help you to begin thinking about a topic. Then, you can ask yourself questions about your topic using the five "Ws and the H – who, what, where, when, why, and how" to gather more ideas to write about. From there, you can begin the writing process by writing one paragraph about your topic, including a clear topic sentenceA group of words, phrases, or clauses that expresses a complete thought. A complete sentence has these characteristics: a capitalized first word, a subject and a predicate, and end punctuation, such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!).. That paragraph should reveal the main pointsThe most important idea in a paragraph. Main points support the main idea of a reading. you would like to expand on in multiple paragraphs. The topic sentence in the paragraph can be used as your implied thesis statement for a narrative essay.

To write an implied thesis statement in response to a narrative promptInstructions for a writing assignment given by an instructor., follow these steps:

Step 1: Brainstorm.

Brainstorm possible ideas from your life experience that could potentially answer or respond to the prompt.

Step 2: Choose a topic and write a paragraph.

Choose one of the topics and write a brief paragraph explaining how that particular topic applies to the prompt.

Step 3: Write an implied thesis statement.

Using the topic sentence of the paragraph as a guide, write an implied thesis statement that explains why the details of the paragraph are important.

Step 4: Develop the topic sentences.

Begin outliningA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. the essay by developing topic sentencesA sentence that contains the controlling idea for an entire paragraph and is typically the first sentence of the paragraph. from the supporting details in the paragraph. This ensures that the implied thesis works as the guiding idea for the narrative.

There are many approaches to writing a narrative essay, but using the steps above can help you respond effectively to a typical narrative prompt in a college class.

+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Sometimes it works better for writers to write an implied thesis statement instead of a stated one because of the nature of the contentThe text in a writing that includes facts, thoughts, and ideas. The information that forms the body of the work.. For example, a report including large amounts of data that seeks to persuade the reader to draw a certain conclusion would be more likely to include a stated thesis. However, a narrative essay that explains certain events in a person’s life is more likely to include an implied thesis statement because the writer wants to engage the reader in a different way. College students are often asked to write narrative essays to make connections between their personal experiences and the content they are studying, and an implied thesis statement helps to organize narratives in the same way a stated thesis statement organizes other essays.

+ EXAMPLE

Let’s examine the process of developing a narrative essay that includes an implied thesis statement.

Prompt from instructor:  Write about an important life lesson you have learned.

Step 1: Brainstorm.

First, create a list of possible narrative essay topics from the prompt given by the instructor.

Ideas:

Step 2: Choose a topic and write a paragraph.

Next, choose one of the ideas related to a life lesson to be your topic.

Topic: How I learned to be a role model in everything I do.

Now, begin to create the implied thesis using this topic. To do this, write a short paragraph describing how you will tell this narrative and what you learned or are trying to explain to the reader.

Narrative: I will tell the story of when I worked at the daycare center last summer. When I worked as a childcare assistant, I learned the children were watching me and would mimic my actions. This taught me to be careful of what I said and did because I learned that children act like those around them.

Step 3: Write an implied thesis statement.

Now, write the implied thesis statement: "My experience at the daycare center taught me to always be a good role model because children are always watching."

Step 4: Develop the topic sentences.

From here, develop topic sentences that support the implied thesis statement for the paragraphs of the essay.

"I learned many lessons when I worked at the community daycare center."

"My first day on the job was the most important of them all."

"Little Johnny taught me what it meant to be a bad role model for children."

"I changed my actions and saw immediate results with the children."

"I’ve worked at the daycare center for three summers now and continue to learn lessons from the children each year."

From here, a draft of the narrative essay can be created using the topic sentences.

+ YOUR TURN

Now, follow the process to choose a topic, write an implied thesis statement, and develop topic sentences that support the implied thesis statement for a potential narrative essay.

Step 1: Brainstorm.

List three potential narrative topics from the following prompt:

Write about an important life lesson that you have learned.

+ 

Potential narrative topics

  • Learning how to benefit from your failures creates success.
  • Patience leads to perfection.
  • Real happiness comes not from things, but from giving and receiving love.

Step 2: Choose a topic and write a paragraph

From the list created in Step 1, choose one as your topic.

+ 

Topic

Patience leads to perfection.

Write a three- to four-sentence paragraph about the topic.

+ 

Paragraph

I learned how to play the piano, but it took many years to develop this skill. I had to be patient to sit down and practice daily. I also had to be patient with myself to realize I would learn how to play the piano in time. Only through repeated practice can a person really perfect a talent. Therefore, patience is essential to perfection.

Step 3: Write an implied thesis statement.

From the short paragraph above, write an implied thesis statement.

+ 

Implied Thesis Statement

I have learned that when developing a skill, patience leads to practice, and practice leads to perfection.

Step 4: Develop the topic sentences.

Develop topic sentences that would be used in a narrative essay to support the implied thesis statement.

+ 

Paragraph 1, Introduction, Topic Sentence

It took many years for me to learn how to play the piano when I was young. 

+ 

Paragraph 2, Topic Sentence

I had to be patient and practice every day, even when there seemed to be better things to do.

+ 

Paragraph 3, Topic Sentence

I also had to be patient with myself because I wanted to learn faster and become a modern-day Beethoven.

+ 

Paragraph 4, Conclusion, Topic Sentence

Repeated practice is how all perfection is achieved, even the perfection of genius.

+ METACOGNITIVE QUESTIONS

How can an implied thesis statement be just as effective as a stated thesis? 

+ 

Sample Answer

Like a stated thesis, an implied thesis will include the topic and purpose of the piece of writing and will help the writer structure his or her supporting details.

Why do implied thesis statements work well in a narrative essay?

+ 

Sample Answer

Narratives are about something personal that is happening to the writer. Sometimes it is more effective for a writer to draw the reader into the narrative. Doing so can create a stronger connection between the writer and the passage and can help the reader find the meaning by becoming personally connected with the piece.

Developed by The NROC Project. Copyright ©2018 Monterey Institute for Technology and Education

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