Lots of high school and college students struggle with writing a thesis for their essays. I know because I also tutor online... Expository writing isn't the only kind out there, but it happens a lot for academic writing. The thesis statement probably boggles more people than anything else. So let's simplify that now, in a few easy steps.
First, what is a thesis statement? It's the controlling idea for the entire essay. It's the claim that you write the rest of the essay to support, explain, persuade, or convince your audience of. If you're doing research, it's the answer to your guiding question. And it's what you really want to say about your topic.
Find a topic. For example, animal rights. When you can, choose a topic that interests you.
Narrow your topic. If you make a claim about animal rights, you're going to need to write a book to support it. Big topic = long, long essay. So get more specific. For example, animal rights vs medical experimentation and training. OK, getting there. It may still turn out to be too big for the assignment, but I can adjust later if I want to.
Read for background. Keep track of those sources, so you can cite them. Wikipedia, while not academically credible in many cases, is good for background. If you read about JFK, it will tell you about the Apollo mission, the Cuban missile crisis, and the assassination, among other things. If you're very familiar with your topic or the assignment should use no outside sources, you can skip this.
Answer this question. What do you really want to say about your topic? You can also fill in the blank. “What I really want to say about my topic is __________________.” For example, what I really want to say about animal rights vs medical experimentation and training is... Although we should avoid any unnecessary animal cruelty, the only way we have medicine or trained doctors and surgeons is by experimenting and practicing on animals. Saving human lives outweighs saving animal lives.
Reword (sometimes this ends up writing part of the introduction as well).
Although we should avoid any unnecessary animal cruelty, we must allow animal experimentation and practice as necessary, controlled parts of the development of medicine and training of doctors.
No one wants to see animals suffer. Sometimes we imagine medical labs as Dr. Frankenstein's lair, but the truth is far from that and carefully monitored with ethical oversight. The only way to test a new medicine is to try it...and saving human lives outweighs saving animal lives. [huh, maybe I need to pick just medicine or just doctors?]
Thesis: Although we should avoid any unnecessary animal cruelty, we must allow animal experimentation as necessary, controlled parts of the development of medicine to save human lives.
Intro so far:
No one wants to see animals suffer. Sometimes we imagine medical labs as Dr. Frankenstein's lair, but the truth is far from that and carefully monitored with ethical oversight. The only way to test a new medicine or vaccine is to try it...and saving human lives outweighs saving animal lives. Although we should avoid any unnecessary animal cruelty, we must allow animal experimentation as a necessary, controlled part of the development of medicine to save human lives. Research regulations help keep it ethical, lab animals are raised and cared for specifically for research, and many dangerous and deadly health threats have been studied and counteracted thorough sensible research.
The next to last sentence is my working thesis, and the last sentence gives the main points I'll cover. Sometimes you can get all the reasons/main points into the thesis sentence, but sometimes it's too big of a sentence.
There it is, from topic to thesis in five steps. I often skip the intro and start drafting with a body paragraph. I find that I keep less of first draft that way, but that it's often much easier and faster to get started. That's well worth it. Also, you can see that I kept playing with the wording of my example thesis. It's still not necessarily the exact wording that it would be for a final draft, but playing around with the ideas also got me a decent draft of the entire introduction. That doesn't always happen, but it's a nice bonus.
Take away: The thesis is what you really want to say about your topic, or your opinion on your topic. Then the rest of the essay supports it. If you research at all, you'll probably learn a lot. Sometimes new knowledge changes or modifies our original opinion... that's growing, wisdom, and strength.
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Gregory Hanks has taught community college for upwards of 17 years. He's helped thousands of students achieve more of their potential, write better, and earn their degrees. In 2017, he left a traditional teaching role to help more people like you get better results, faster.
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