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UMGC Effective Writing Center Designing an Effective Thesis

Key Concepts

  • A thesis is a simple sentence that combines your topic and your position on the topic.
  • A thesis provides a roadmap to what follows in the paper.
  • A thesis is like a wheel's hub--everything revolves around it and is attached to it.

After your prewriting activities--such as assignment analysis and outlining--you should be ready to take the next step: writing a thesis statement. Although some of your assignments will provide a focus for you, it is still important for your college career and especially for your professional career to be able to state a satisfactory controlling idea or thesis that unifies your thoughts and materials for the reader.

Characteristics of an Effective Thesis

A thesis consists of two main parts: your overall topic and your position on that topic. Here are some example thesis statements that combine topic and position:

Sample Thesis Statements

TopicThesis Statement = Topic + Your Position on it
Drunk drivingAnyone found guilty of drunk driving should have their licenses revoked for five years.
College internshipsThe college internship program provides important benefits for participants.
City mass transitIn the next ten years, Americans will be forced to embrace mass transit in their cities.

Importance of Tone

Tone is established in the wording of your thesis, which should match the characteristics of your audience. For example, if you are a concerned citizen proposing a new law to your city's board of supervisors about drunk driving, you would not want to write this:

“It’s time to get the filthy drunks off the street and from behind the wheel: I demand that you pass a mandatory five-year license suspension for every drunk who gets caught driving. Do unto them before they do unto us!”

However, if you’re speaking at a concerned citizen’s meeting and you’re trying to rally voter support, such emotional language could help motivate your audience.

Using Your Thesis to Map Your Paper for the Reader

In academic writing, the thesis statement is often used to signal the paper's overall structure to the reader. An effective thesis allows the reader to predict what will be encountered in the support paragraphs. Here are some examples:

Use the Thesis to Map

Thesis StatementSupport Paragraphs
Anyone found guilty of drunk driving should have their licenses revoked for five years. Paragraphs will present reasons why drunk drivers should have their licenses revoked.
The college internship program provides positive consequences for participants.Paragraphs will contain examples of positive consequences.
In the next ten years, Americans will be forced to embrace mass transit in their cities.Paragraphs will show how changes over the next ten years will bring about mass transit.

Three Potential Problems to Avoid

Because your thesis is the hub of your essay, it has to be strong and effective. Here are three common pitfalls to avoid:

1. Don’t confuse an announcement with a thesis.

In an announcement, the writer declares personal intentions about the paper instead stating a thesis with clear point of view or position:

Write a Thesis, Not an Announcement

Proper Thesis StatementAnnouncement (Avoid)
Anyone found guilty of drunk driving should have their licenses revoked for five years. My paper will discuss drunk drivers and when to revoke their licenses.
The college internship program provides positive consequences for participants.The positive consequences of college internships will be shown in this essay..
In the next ten years, Americans will be  forced to embrace mass transit in their cities.My topic in this paper is the future importance of mass transit.

 2. A statement of fact does not provide a point of view and is not a thesis.

An introduction needs a strong, clear position statement. Without one, it will be hard for you to develop your paper with relevant arguments and evidence.

Don't Confuse a Fact with a Thesis

Simple Statement of FactEffective Thesis Statement (expresses a position)
Many businesses pollute the environment.Increased penalties should be levied against businesses that pollute the environment.
Today's movies contain explicit  violence.Today's explicit movie violence provides a safe and healthy outlet for modern aggression.
America's population is aging.The aging of America's population will soon cause a crisis in the social security program.

3. Avoid overly broad thesis statements

Broad statements contain vague, general terms that do not provide a clear focus for the essay.

Use the Thesis to Provide Focus

Too BroadEffective Thesis (narrow focus)
Today, a high school diploma is totally meaningless.High school diplomas have been devalued by grade inflation and social advancement.
Cable news shows cater to the American public.The success of cable news indicates Americans want news that entertains, not informs.
The computer revolution has arrived. The computer revolution has brought clear benefits and dangers directly into our homes.

Practice writing an effective thesis

OK. Time to write a thesis for your paper. What is your topic? What is your position on that topic? State both clearly in a thesis sentence that helps to map your response for the reader.

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