Five Tests for a Good Thesis
- Does the thesis inspire a reasonable reader to ask, "How?" or Why?"
- Would a reasonable reader NOT respond with "Duh!" or "So what?" or "Gee, no kidding!" or "Who cares?"
- Does the thesis avoid general phrasing and/or sweeping words such as "all" or "none" or "every"?
- Does the thesis lead the reader toward the topic sentences (the subtopics needed to prove the thesis)?
- Can the thesis be adequately developed in the required length of the paper or project?
Developing the thesis
What is a thesis?
A thesis statement declares what you believe and what you intend to prove. A good thesis statement makes the difference between a thoughtful research project and a simple retelling of facts. A good tentative thesis will help you focus your search for information. But don't rush! You must do a lot of background reading before you know enough about a subject to identify key or essential questions. You may not know how you stand on an issue until you have examined the evidence. You will likely begin your research with a working, preliminary or tentative thesis which you will continue to refine until you are certain of where the evidence leads. The thesis statement is typically located at the end of your opening paragraph. (The opening paragraph serves to set the context for the thesis.) Remember, your reader will be looking for your thesis. Make it clear, strong, and easy to find.
- It should be contestable, proposing an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree. A strong thesis is provocative; it takes a stand and justifies the discussion you will present.
- It tackles a subject that could be adequately covered in the format of the project assigned.
- It is specific and focused. A strong thesis proves a point without discussing “everything about …” Instead of music, think "American jazz in the 1930s" and your argument about it.
- It clearly asserts your own conclusion based on evidence. Note: Be flexible. The evidence may lead you to a conclusion you didn't think you'd reach. It is perfectly okay to change your thesis!
- It provides the reader with a map to guide him/her through your work.
- It anticipates and refutes the counter-arguments
- It avoids vague language (like "it seems").
- It avoids the first person. ("I believe," "In my opinion")
- It should pass the (Would your most honest friend ask why he should care or respond with "but everyone knows that"?) For instance, "people should avoid driving under the influence of alcohol," would be unlikely to evoke any opposition.
Thesis as equation:
Specific topic + Attitude/Angle/Argument = Thesis
What you plan to argue + How you plan to argue it = Thesis
Proficient: Inspires the reasonable reader to ask “How?” or “Why?”
Advanced: Inspires the reasonable reader to ask “How?” or “Why?” and to exclaim “Wow!” This thesis engages the student in challenging or provocative research and displays a level of thought that breaks new ground.
Remember: Reading and coaching can significantly improve the tentative thesis.
How will you discover a thesis?
As you read look for:
- Interesting contrasts or comparisons or patterns emerging in the information
- Is there something about the topic that surprises you?
- Do you encounter ideas that make you wonder why?
- Does something an "expert" says make you respond, "no way! That can be right!" or "Yes, absolutely. I agree!"
Example of brainstorming a thesis:
Select a topic: television violence and children
Ask an interesting question: What are the effects of television violence on children?
Revise the question into a thesis: Violence on television increases aggressive behavior in preschool children.
Remember this argument is your “preliminary” or “working” thesis. As you read you may discover evidence that may affect your stance. It is okay to revise your thesis!
For more ideas on brainstorming visit Purdue's
Create a list of sample questions to guide your research:
- How many hours of television does the average young child watch per week?
- How do we identify a "violent" program?
- Which types of programs are most violent?
- Are there scientific research studies that have observed children before and after watching violent programs?
- Are there experts you might contact?
- Which major groups are involved in investigating this question?