HUNTER COLLEGE READING/WRITING CENTER
The Writing Process
Invention: Developing a Thesis Statement
Everyone has an opinion...well...WHAT DO YOU THINK A THESIS IS?
*What is a thesis?
Answer: A thesis is a substantial generalization that can
stand by itself as the basis of an essay's
development. It is an assertion of what the writer
believes is right or wrong and why, and it is a
statement that can be either true or false.
*Why is there a thesis in an essay?
Answer: A thesis clearly and concisely conveys the writer's
main argument in an essay, and it allows readers to
clearly grasp the focus of the essay, which will
be developed in the body of the essay.
*How does a thesis achieve its purpose?
Answer: A thesis needs to be unified--expressing one main
idea--although it can, and often does, include
secondary concepts as they relate to the main idea.
The thesis statement should be broad enough and
arguable enough to be worth defending in an essay.
How do you develop a thesis?
Answer: A final thesis statement usually evolves only after
considerable reading, writing, and thinking has been
done on your topic. You can begin the writing
process of an essay with a *preliminary or open
thesis, move on to a *tentative thesis, and finally
arrive at your *closed or final thesis. During
your writing, you will become more secure in
advancing your final thesis, which includes the
fundamental reason(s) you have chosen to support
(*Stages of the thesis described below)
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EXAMPLE of a Final Thesis:
Mail order companies use deceptive sales techniques to lure
potential buyers into purchasing their products. They mail
documents that boldly declare: "You have just won 10,000,000"
while a half page down in faint, minuscule print it reads: "...if you
send in your form and order and you have the matching numbers." *This type of advertising and
solicitation constitutes psychological harassment; it misleads
consumers through a fallacious belief that if they buy, they will
win, and it should be made illegal. (*This assertion is
STAGES OF THE THESIS STATEMENT
Stage I. Preliminary or Open Thesis
In the very early stages of your writing or research, or
before you have begun to write, it is advantageous to formulate an
open thesis, which will state your general unifying idea but will
not yet reflect how you intend to support that idea. Let's say you
are writing an essay on the relationship between the United States
criminal court system and the media. You have read one article
related to this topic, but you have not yet begun your research.
Still, it is possible for you to arrive at a very basic and general
opinion without going into detail, secondary topics, or supporting
reason(s) for your assertion.
Broad Topic: The United States criminal court system and the media.
EXAMPLE of Open Thesis:
The media plays a very influential role in criminal court
trials, perhaps too influential.
To assist you in formulating your preliminary thesis, ask
basic "W" questions that are related to your topic: who, what,
when, where and why? This will help you determine your particular
interests and a possible starting point for your essay or research.
Based on the topic above, the following list demonstrates the
different kinds of questions that can be generated.
*Note how the order of questions goes from the more general to
the more specific. It may be easier for you to begin with broader
questions as they may lead you to more narrowed and focused
General: *Why is the media involved in court cases?
*When did the media start reporting court cases?
*What is the media's role in criminal court cases?
Specific: *What aspect of the media am I going to write about?
*What kind of criminal case is it?
*When did the case take place?
*Where did the case take place?
*Who were the people involved in the case?
*If you are writing a research paper and you have come up with
a long list of random questions, select three or four questions
that hold the most interest for you. These questions will narrow
your focus and help you to plan your research strategy.
EXERCISE A: Choose a topic, brainstorm for a few minutes, and come
up with a basic list of questions. Then, write an open thesis.
Stage II. Tentative Thesis Statement: the Hypothesis
A tentative thesis is more specific than the preliminary
thesis, and it is particularly important for a research paper.
After you have brainstormed, written a list of questions, arrived
at an open thesis, and begun your research and reading, you will be
prepared to write a focused question and then a tentative answer to
this question. The tentative answer is your hypothesis because it
represents what you predict you will be able to conclude.
EXAMPLE of a Focused Question:
Does media publicity in a criminal trial influence the
EXAMPLE of a Tentative Thesis or an Answer to a Focused Question:
The media's ubiquitous presence in courtroom trials has made
it impossible to have a jury that is unbiased.
EXERCISE B: Continuing with your open thesis from exercise A,
formulate a focused question and then answer that question with
your tentative thesis or hypothesis.
Stage III. The Closed Thesis Statement
*If you make an assertion and include the reason or reasons
which support your assertion, and it is broad enough in scope, yet
specific enough to be unified and to perform as a substantial
generalization of your essay, you have written a closed thesis
statement. The evidence can take many forms: facts, opinions,
anecdotes, statistics, analogies, etc., but the essential
relationship between the thesis and the major points of support is
one of conclusion to reason: I believe this (thesis) to be true
*Remember: A thesis statement consists of at least one
complete sentence; you cannot use a phrase or sentence fragment.
Usually, the first sentence indicates the general thesis assertion,
and additional sentences indicate the major support for this
assertion. (An assertion is any statement that can be either true
or false.) As readers, we may not know whether it is true or false
or even have any way of determining whether it is true or false,
but the logical response to an assertion is either, "Yes, I believe
that to be true" or "No, I do not believe that to be true." Some
sentences do not make assertions. Commands, exclamations,
intentions, obvious facts, and questions are considered sentences,
but they do not make direct assertions and cannot be used as thesis
*Whether or not your thesis is open, tentative, or closed, it
should be considered flexible while you are still writing and doing
research. Good writing results from a mixture of conviction and
open-mindedness--no matter how diametrical these two qualities
appear to be.
EXAMPLE of a Closed Thesis in an Introduction:
Recently, court trials have received immense notice from the
media. There is now a channel on cable television, dedicated to
showing court trials in progress, and news programs and talk shows
all too frequently publicize and dramatize on going criminal
trials. *This new media monster is generating an environment in
which it is difficult for participants in a case to judge
reasonably and fairly. Once a case is so uncontrollably
publicized, it tends to become a meta-reality in people's minds,
something more akin to a Hollywood construction than an actual
crime with authentic people. In this way, the jurors' perceptions
can be greatly altered.
*Thesis begins here.
IV. A Thesis for a Comparative Essay
In a comparative essay, you will be required to formulate a
thesis that encompasses two or more features that you will be
comparing and analyzing. Therefore, you will be writing a thesis
that looks at multiple perspectives, not necessarily leaning one
way or the other, but bringing out a central comparative idea
between or among the things, issues, authors, etc., that you deem
worthy as the focus of your essay.
EXAMPLE of a Comparative Thesis:
In Kate Chopin's book The Awakening and Charlotte Perkins
Gillman's novella The Yellow Wallpaper, the female protagonists
veer from the collective mainstream of a patriarchal society
because of their pronounced feelings of alienation, frustration,
and emotional and creative repression within this social structure,
marked by the subordination of women. Ultimately, both characters
escape the narrow restraints of this early 20th century mentality
either by suicide--as in The Awakening--or through insanity--as in
The Yellow Wallpaper. However tragic this may appear on the
surface, the implication of deliverance from their restricted
environments is one of liberation and transgression from and of
the dominant culture. In this way, the women's actions are equally
V. A Thesis for a Single Source Essay:
Many times you will be asked to respond in writing to a single
text. Before you begin writing, you must be clear about the
author's intentions and what her/his own thesis is. A good way to
do this is to make annotations while you are reading and after you
are finished reading to briefly summarize the author's main points.
Also, make sure to separate your own ideas and opinions from those
of your source. It would also be beneficial to decide whether you
agree or disagree with what the author is saying. Then, you can
begin the stages, as listed in this handout, of developing your
VI. A Thesis for a Multiple Source Essay:
Most of the guidelines of this handout specifically relate to
writing a thesis for a multiple source essay. Remember, it is best
to keep your thesis open while you are doing your research, and it
is necessary to have a few possible narrow topics in mind before
beginning intensive reading. Also, the questions that you
formulate in the first stage of the thesis are important, as they
will guide you in your research.
VII. A Thesis for a Biographical or Historical Research Paper
Biographical and historical topics have an immediate
advantage: they can be defined and limited by space and time.
Always try to select a specific point in time as the focus of your
essay. As you narrow your topic and begin your reading, watch for
your emerging thesis: a single clear impression of the person or
event should be the controlling idea of your essay. Whether you
are writing about a sequence of events, as in a battle, or a single
event or issue affecting the life of a well-known person, you will
still need both a thesis and a strategy to shape the direction of
*A common strategy for biographical and historical topics is
the cause and effect sequence--why a certain decision was made or
an event turned out one way or another. For example, your strategy
may be to explicate the Zeitgeist of the Weimar republic in Germany
that precipitated the reign of fascism by Hitler or a specific
economic condition that led Franklin Delano Roosevelt to create the
Example of a Tentative Biographical Thesis:
Biographical profile: Virginia Woolf Focus: Woolf's education
Focused Question: In what ways did Woolf receive her education?
Tentative Thesis or Answer:
Virginia Woolf did not receive her academic education from a
university because women were, in that provincial Victorian era,
not deemed worthy of entering those so-called esteemed halls of
academia. In lieu of any formal training, Woolf substantially and
extraordinarily educated herself although it is true that her home
environment was an academic one and she was given guidance from her
father, Leslie Stephen, as well as other relatives.
Written by Lisa Tolhurst
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