Reflection On The Necessity Of Thesis Statements

An informational or argumentative thesis states the theme or central idea of your paper, usually in the first paragraph or page, alerting the reader to both the subject of your paper and what you intend to say about that subject. In explanatory and informational papers, a thesis stated early makes good sense because it tells the reader the nature of the explanation to follow. In this chapter the subject is defined and explained in the first paragraph.

In argumentative and interpretative papers, a good thesis statement asserts the writer's position, telling readers that what follows will support that position. In fact, a good thesis helps the writer as well as the reader by articulating a clear position to defend. For example, consider these three possible theses meant to explain a history paper:

1. The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most interesting battles of the Civil War.

2. Geography played an important role in the Battle of Gettysburg.

3. The North got to the high ground first, and the North won the Battle of Gettysburg.

In my judgment, the first sentence is a weak thesis. To call something "interesting" may be polite, but is not in itself interesting. The second sentence, however, announces one of the specifically interesting aspects of the battle, geography, and so invites the reader to learn more about that. It makes a decent, though unexciting, thesis. The third sentence appeals to me even more. This writer suggests that he or she knows exactly where the essay is going right from the start and promises to do so in a lively prose style.

Sometimes, however, writers of argumentative papers deliberately delay revealing their thesis—their own position on an issue—until they have laid out both sides for the reader to ponder. I will say more about this delayed thesis in the next chapter, but again the business of stating a thesis is a matter of writer judgment, depending on what effect he or she wants to create.

In narrative and reflective essays, such as discussed in the last chapter, an embedded thesis often emerges by the end of the essay, but is never actually stated in so many words. Often in such papers the writer's intention is speculative or exploratory, so that providing a clear statement of purpose actually works against the writer's intention.

Finally, keep in mind that most college instructors expect to find thesis statements in the papers they assign, so check the stated expectations of assignments carefully. If you choose to ignore this expectation, it's

A Reflection on the Necessity of Thesis Statements 97

a good idea to make sure your central point emerges in some other unmistakable manner.


1. What kinds of explanatory papers do you most commonly write now? What kinds have you written in the past? In your own words, explain the procedure for writing one of these forms.

2. Composition books such as this may be considered examples of explanatory writing, trying to give certain advice to writers on all the necessary points of writing the author can think of. Examine this book by comparing it to other composition books you have had in the past. What about it strikes you as different? What's the same?


1. Select a paper you have already written for this or another course and write a summary or an abstract of it. Exchange with another student and help make each other's papers even tighter, shorter, and more precise. Conclude with a note about the difficulty of doing this type of writing.

2. Write a book report of this or another book you are currently using for this course. As a class, compare your results with the brief suggestions you find in this book. Would you modify or expand any of them? Would you add any new ones?


This can be done with any size group—the more the merrier. Agree on a local institution (pizza parlor, drug store, student center, library—the smaller the better). Each of you write individually about this place, focusing on something small and concrete (conversations overheard in a booth, action at the checkout counter, etc.); share your drafts, noting the different approaches each reporter took; finally, select editors and bind the results together as a class book to share with those who own or work in this place (see Postscript Three).

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