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Thesis Evolution: Writing a Strong Thesis Statement

I. Why is the thesis so important and what is its function?

II. What is the difference between a thesis statement and an essay map?

III. What is the purpose of an essay map?

IV. Characteristics of a successful thesis:

V. What is the purpose of a "working" thesis?

The following process shows a student experimenting with different thesis statements and the student's comments about each possible thesis.

Attempts Comments
First Books should not be banned from school libraries. "Yes, that's what I mean. And it is persuasive, so it will fulfill the assignment. But that statement sounds too general for my paper. It doesn't tell anything about the content of the paper, either."
Second The First Amendment rights of students are violated when books are banned from school libraries. "That's more specific. But emphasizing constitutional rights this way in the thesis makes it seem that I'm arguing a case of law, and obviously I'm not qualified to do that. Also, it doesn't express the idea of intellectual freedom that interests me."
Third Removing books from school libraries limits students' intellectual freedom by blocking access to ideas and information. "That sounds better. I like the wording that emphasizes ideas and information because I think that's what students ought to get from schools. If you can't get to ideas, you can never learn to think for yourself, and you can't think clearly about issues that affect everybody. I'll go with this one!"

VI. What a Thesis Statement Is Not:

A.  A promise or a statement of intention cannot serve as a thesis statement. (Note: Some disciplines -- like philosophy -- may want a statement-of-intention thesis.)

Weak In this paper I am going to show how the ancient Egyptians were able to build so many huge temples and tombs.
Strong The ancient Egyptians were able to build so many tombs because their dependence on agriculture left seasons when farmers had time to do other kinds of work, their religion encouraged people to do work that glorified their gods and pharaohs, and busy masses were necessary for political and economic stability.

B. A question cannot serve as a thesis statement.

Question What will Maya Angelou's place in literature be?
Weak Maya Angelou will have a secure place in several genres of literature.
Strong Maya Angelou is an accessible writer whose prose, poetry, and filmscripts will long be read because they deal with human conditions, not just with "black problems."


Roth, Audrey J. The Research Paper: Process, Form, and Content, 6th ed., 1989.
Maurius, Richard. A Writer's Companion, 2nd ed., 1991.
Wyrick, Jean. Steps to Writing Well, 2nd ed., 1993.

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