Developing a thesis statement

When you make an argument you are making a case for a particular point of view that you want your reader to accept. You are taking a particular stance on a subject and often make a claim about it. As we stressed in Chapter 6, and as your tutors will usually tell you, this involves formulating a central idea and organizing your material around this to support it, so that you can justify your claim. A common term for the 'central idea' is a 'thesis statement', which points more to developing an argument to persuade the reader. Writing a simple thesis statement can be a useful way of signalling to the reader - and to yourself - that you have a central argument that the whole essay will build on. It clarifies what you are doing and serves as a guide to the essay. As always, though, there are differences between subjects, and using an explicit thesis statement is more common in some than others. In the last chapter (see, for instance, the section on topic and themes) we look at how your whole piece of writing - and the thinking that goes into it - can all together make up your 'argument'.

Perhaps the greatest advantage to you as a writer in developing a thesis statement is that it puts your own thinking into your essay. Instead of just describing what others have to say, for example, you have put your own thinking to work. You have to make your own sense of your material in order to come to your own conclusion. Having a thesis statement means you are putting your own, unique mark on your essay. By the time you have sorted out your central thesis you will have worked your way through your material to your own conclusion.

Making a thesis statement shows that you have decided on how you want your essay to deal with your chosen topic, or how it is handling a topic that you yourself have chosen. It shows that you have come to see your topic in terms of a problem to be solved or an issue you have to think through; and that you have come to a definite position on it. Once you can get to this point you will have got past simply writing descriptively, and certainly beyond just writing down all you know about a subject. Arriving at a thesis statement is therefore something that is really useful to aim at in your thinking. From your reader's point of view, too, having a thesis statement makes understanding and then assessing your essay much easier. It also suggests that you are making a case for your particular point of view about a topic and that you have managed to channel a mix of material and ideas into this single guiding idea. Once you have your thesis statement, you will be able to think about how each paragraph contributes towards adding to, explaining or proving the thesis.

Usually, a thesis statement is preceded by what we might call a 'statement of intent' - a short introduction. As an example, this is how we could have introduced this chapter on 'Making an argument':

In this chapter we will address the notion of 'argument' in student writing. We will attempt to make the idea of 'argument' more accessible by analysing various ways it is seen in academic writing and we will relate it to the idea of a central 'thesis statement'. To illustrate disciplinary difference we will look at what students on different courses have to say about argument. There are many ways of conceiving argument in student writing, depending on the discipline.

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