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MISST Subject Guide: Topics & Thesis

This guide provides resources on writing papers, using databases, and citing sources.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis is the central idea of a piece of writing with the entire work developing and supporting the idea.  Though sometimes unstated, a thesis should always govern a paper.  It usually appears as a thesis statement somewhere in the paper, primarily in the opening paragraph.

What is a strong thesis statement?

1.  A strong thesis statement should be specific covering only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.
 
2.  A strong thesis statement will make a claim.  This does not mean that you have to reduce an idea to an "either/or" position and then take a stand. Rather, you need to develop an interesting perspective that you can support and defend. This perspective must be more than an observation.  It should inspire other points of view from your reader.
 
3.  A strong thesis statement will control your paper’s argument.  This sentence determines what you are required to say in a paper. It also determines what you cannot say. Every paragraph in your paper exists in order to support your thesis.  If it seems like your paper is supporting something other than your thesis, you need to change your thesis or edit your paper.
 
4.  A strong thesis statement will provide structure for your paper.  It will show how you will present your position.  For instance, your thesis may say, “American fearfulness expresses itself in three curious ways: A, B, and C."  Your paper should then make those arguments in that order.  If you start discussing point C first, your reader may be confused.

Tips for Choosing a Topic

  • Make sure you understand the assignment. Ask questions if you are unsure.
  • Choose a topic that interests you.
  • Brainstorm. On a sheet of paper, write down every idea that comes to mind. Even ideas that seem ridiculous can spark a great paper topic.
  • Once you have selected a topic, write a summary of it in three or four sentences or explain it to a friend or classmate. If it takes you less than three sentences, then your topic may be too narrow. If it takes you more than three or four sentences, your topic may be too broad.
  • Use graphic organizers to develop your topic.
    1. Bubbl.us
    2.Text 2 Mind Map

            

Building a Thesis Statement

Example thesis statements

Bad Thesis 1: In his article Stanley Fish shows that we don't really have the right to free speech.

Problems: 

  • Does not make a claim. This does not mean that you have to reduce an idea to an "either/or" position and then take a stand. Rather, you need to develop an interesting perspective that you can support and defend. This perspective must be more than an observation.  It should inspire other points of view from your reader. 
  • Does not provide a structure for the paper. The thesis statement is a roadmap for what will be in your paper.

Better Thesis 1: Stanley Fish's argument that free speech exists more as a political prize than as a legal reality ignores the fact that even as a political prize it still serves the social end of creating a general cultural atmosphere of tolerance that may ultimately promote free speech in our nation just as effectively as any binding law.

Bad Thesis 2: This paper will consider the advantages and disadvantages of certain restrictions on free speech.

Problems:

  • Refers to the writer or the paper. Academic writing rarely uses the first person. Using statements like "I will show" or "Thie paper will prove" is too casual for most academic papers.
  • Too vague. The thesis statement should give the reader an idea of what advantages and disadvantages the paper will discuss.

Better Thesis 2: Even though there may be considerable advantages to restricting hate speech, the possibility of chilling open dialogue on crucial racial issues is too great and too high a price to pay.