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Whatshouldwecallgradschool Thesis Statement

A thesis can be found in many places—a debate speech, a lawyer’s closing argument, even an advertisement. But the most common place for a thesis statement (and probably why you’re reading this article) is in an essay.

Whether you’re writing an argumentative paper, an informative essay, or a compare/contrast statement, you need a thesis. Without a thesis, your argument falls flat and your information is unfocused. Since a thesis is so important, it’s probably a good idea to look at some tips on how to put together a strong one.

What is a “thesis statement” anyway?

You may have heard of something called a “thesis.” It’s what seniors commonly refer to as their final paper before graduation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That type of thesis is a long, well-written paper that takes years to piece together.

Instead, we’re talking about a single sentence that ties together the main idea of any argument. In the context of student essays, it’s a statement that summarizes your topic and declares your position on it. This sentence can tell a reader whether your essay is something they want to read.

2 Categories of Thesis Statements: Informative and Persuasive

Just as there are different types of essays, there are different types of thesis statements. The thesis should match the essay.

For example, with an informative essay, you should compose an informative thesis (rather than argumentative). You want to declare your intentions in this essay and guide the reader to the conclusion that you reach.

Example:

To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you must procure the ingredients, find a knife, and spread the condiments.

This thesis showed the reader the topic (a type of sandwich) and the direction the essay will take (describing how the sandwich is made).

Most other types of essays, whether compare/contrast, argumentative, or narrative, have thesis statements that take a position and argue it. In other words, unless your purpose is simply to inform, your thesis is considered persuasive. A persuasive thesis usually contains an opinion and the reason why your opinion is true.

Example:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best type of sandwich because they are versatile, easy to make, and taste good.

In this persuasive thesis statement, you see that I state my opinion (the best type of sandwich), which means I have chosen a stance. Next, I explain that my opinion is correct with several key reasons. This persuasive type of thesis can be used in any essay that contains the writer’s opinion, including, as I mentioned above, compare/contrast essays, narrative essays, and so on.

 2 Styles of Thesis Statements

Just as there are two different types of thesis statements (informative and persuasive), there are two basic styles you can use.

The first style uses a list of two or more points. This style of thesis is perfect for a brief essay that contains only two or three body paragraphs. This basic five-paragraph essay is typical of middle and high school assignments.

Example:

C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is one of the richest works of the 20th century because it offers an escape from reality, teaches readers to have faith even when they don’t understand, and contains a host of vibrant characters.

In the above persuasive thesis, you can see my opinion about Narnia followed by three clear reasons. This thesis is perfect for setting up a tidy five-paragraph essay.

In college, five paragraph essays become few and far between as essay length gets longer. Can you imagine having only five paragraphs in a six-page paper? For a longer essay, you need a thesis statement that is more versatile. Instead of listing two or three distinct points, a thesis can list one overarching point that all body paragraphs tie into.

Example:

Good vs. evil is the main theme of Lewis’s Narnia series, as is made clear through the struggles the main characters face in each book.

In this thesis, I have made a claim about the theme in Narnia followed by my reasoning. The broader scope of this thesis allows me to write about each of the series’ seven novels. I am no longer limited in how many body paragraphs I can logically use.

Formula for a Strong Argumentative Thesis

One thing I find that is helpful for students is having a clear template. While students rarely end up with a thesis that follows this exact wording, the following template creates a good starting point:

___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.

 

Conversely, the formula for a thesis with only one point might follow this template:

___________________ is true because of _____________________.

 

Students usually end up using different terminology than simply “because,” but having a template is always helpful to get the creative juices flowing.

The Qualities of a Solid Thesis Statement

When composing a thesis, you must consider not only the format, but other qualities like length, position in the essay, and how strong the argument is.

Length: A thesis statement can be short or long, depending on how many points it mentions. Typically, however, it is only one concise sentence. It does contain at least two clauses, usually an independent clause (the opinion) and a dependent clause (the reasons). You probably should aim for a single sentence that is at least two lines, or about 30 to 40 words long.

Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.

Strength: Finally, for a persuasive thesis to be strong, it needs to be arguable. This means that the statement is not obvious, and it is not something that everyone agrees is true.

Example of weak thesis:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make because it just takes three ingredients.

Most people would agree that PB&J is one of the easiest sandwiches in the American lunch repertoire.

Example of a stronger thesis:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun to eat because they always slide around.

This is more arguable because there are plenty of folks who might think a PB&J is messy or slimy rather than fun.

Composing a thesis statement does take a bit more thought than many other parts of an essay. However, because a thesis statement can contain an entire argument in just a few words, it is worth taking the extra time to compose this sentence. It can direct your research and your argument so that your essay is tight, focused, and makes readers think.


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Last words are our strongest. That’s why the punchline comes at the end of the joke and the conclusions at the end of a presentation. The conclusion slide is the “take home message” that we want our audience to soak up. So we should leave that message in front of them for as long as possible. Even while people are asking questions—let them stew on your conclusions.

But it has become common to end with an acknowledgements slide, usually that has a long list of funders, advisors, students who helped in the lab, etc. And since speakers are usually running out of time, they often skim over the list, almost dismissively, which does little to honor the contributors. In any case, to borrow a famous quote “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” What we want to learn from your talk is not your assistants’ names, but your science.

A final acknowledgements slide shuts off the conclusions before we’ve had a chance to assimilate them or to write them down—it undermines the message. That is shooting yourself in the foot, or maybe some part of your anatomy higher up and more vital.

The growth of acknowledgements slides is a Powerpoint effect. In the days of slide projectors, slides cost money so no one bothered with acknowledgements. But since images have become free, the tradition from papers of including acknowledgements percolated into presentations. But in a paper, acknowledgements are a postscript that readers can (and usually do) ignore. In a talk, there is no ignorable postscript—the last slide is part of the talk and should be reserved for your concluding take home message.

I argue therefore that you should generally skip an acknowledgements slide entirely. No one will really miss it. If you need to put agency logos somewhere to recognize funders, they comfortably go on the title slide or in the corners. If it is really essential to include acknowledgements in a presentation, either:

A) Make it the first slide following the title. Tell us who was important to the work before you begin the real story. This avoids disrupting the flow of the presentation and shows that recognizing these people is important to you, rather than being an afterthought. This is key in talks within your own Department (e.g. thesis defense seminars) when the people who helped will be in the audience and may actually care that they are recognized. It is also the most appropriate strategy when we give seminars at other Universities. As professors, our job is to produce both science and scientists; it’s our job to advance our students’ and postdocs’ careers and highlighting them for our colleagues is part of that. So highlight them—mention them first, and then weave their names into the talk as you present the strongest possible science story. For example “My student Jane Doe tested that hypothesis in an experiment that…” That’s a real acknowledgement.

B) Alternatively, show us the acknowledgements and then go back to the conclusions slide; leave that hanging on the screen while people ask questions and you discuss the work further. That gives them time to consider your conclusions and to absorb them.

My first principle of writing is that as an author it is your job to make the reader’s job easy. The same is true as a speaker. Help your audience assimilate your core message; that means giving them time with your conclusions. A second principle is to always think about what you are doing and why—does it advance the message? Or are you just doing it because you’ve seen other people do it and so it seems obligatory?

Don’t roll over your conclusions with an unnecessary and meaningless acknowledgements slide, or even worse, a throw-away “Questions?” slide. Your last slide is your take home message; use it for your most important message: your scientific conclusions.

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