Note. This lesson is part of an advanced course. To start from the beginning, go to the table of contents.
Stage 1. Think (Step 3)
So far, you have generated a good idea for writing and started planning how you are going to tackle the topic. You are getting close to actually writing your paragraphs; however, you still need to define exactly what you will write about. You need a thesis statement, which will guide you for the rest of the writing process.
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Creating a Thesis Statement
All the prewriting and planning up to this point helped you select a manageable topic and plan a strategy. Now you must decide what you will say about the topic and the ideas you selected. You need a thesis statement.
A thesis statement is the controlling idea of a passage. It is the central point you want to make. Everything you write must support the thesis.
Think of it this way: After someone has read your product, how would they summarize what they read in one sentence? That sentence, or statement, is the central idea that you set out to describe, support, defend, or clarify. It is your thesis statement.
Before you start writing, you should have a clear idea what it is. A thesis statement usually appears in your first paragraph. It prepares the reader for what you are about to develop in writing. It narrows the subject or area into two parts: a narrow topic on the subject and your idea about that narrow topic.
In Figure 1 below, you can see how you can start with a broad subject (e.g., “friendships”) and narrow that topic to something more manageable (“online friendships”). What you want to say about it is the controlling idea about the topic (e.g., “are lacking” or “are beneficial” or whatever you want to say about “online friendships”).
Adding the topic and the controlling idea together gives you the thesis statement. That is a sentence stating what your topic is (online friendships) and what you are going to say about the topic.
Defining a thesis statement | Example A
||Online friendships offer three main benefits.
Defining a thesis statement | Example B
||Online friendships provide inadequate support for three reasons.
Figure 1: Defining a thesis statement (what you will actually write about the topic) from a broad topic (friendship).
Here is a description of Figure 1 for screen readers.
Using the topic of friendships, you can narrow the topic to “online friendships only.” Then you add a controlling idea, that is, that online friendships are beneficial.
Next, you define a thesis statement as follows: Online friendships offer three main benefits.
Using the same topic of friendships, you can narrow the topic again to “online friendships only.” But now you add a different controlling idea, that is, that online friendships are lacking.
Then, you define a thesis statement as follows: Online friendships provide inadequate support for three reasons.
The Working Thesis Statement
When you first write a thesis statement, it can be a working thesis—that is, it is subject to change as you complete your paragraphs. Do not wait to have “the perfect thesis statement” to start writing your paragraphs.
For example, your working thesis can be
Online friendships provide inadequate social support for several reasons.
”Several reasons” is not specific enough. Perhaps you have several reasons, but still need to decide on the main ones. As you write, you may decide on your final thesis statement as
Online friendships provide inadequate social support because they offer limited emotional connection, lack physical support, and provide no consistency.
Outlining Your Writing
Whether your thesis statement is “Online friendships provide inadequate social support for three reasons” or “Online friendships offer three main benefits,” it is important to note that it summarizes your central idea for the reader. For the first thesis statement, your job as the writer is to defend a position. At the core of the thesis about online friendships is that they “provide inadequate support.” It further lets the reader know that you will provide three reasons to make that point.
There are many ways you could develop that thesis statement into writing. One way would be to introduce it in an opening paragraph, develop each reason in a paragraph, and concluding it in a final paragraph. (We will see more about that in the next section about writing paragraphs.
Figure 2 shows a possible way to structure an essay for “Online friendships provide inadequate social support for three reasons:”
- Paragraph 1 - Introduction: Some background information and the thesis statement “Online friendships provide inadequate social support for three reasons:”
- Paragraph 2 - Reason 1: one reason online friendships are inadequate and some supporting details.
- Paragraph 3 - Reason 2: another reason and some supporting details.
- Paragraph 4 - Reason 3: the other reason and some supporting details.
- Paragraph 5 - Concluding paragraph. (Ye will see concluding paragraphs in more detail in another portion of this course.)
Figure 2: Possible structure for a 5-paragraph essay based on a thesis statement that calls for reasons to be listed.
Note about 5-paragraph essays
Five-paragraph essays, sometimes referred to as the emphatic method, are often assigned for instructional purposes. The goal is to get novice writers to practice organizing persuasive essays around an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Do not take that to mean that all essays must have five 5 paragraphs. Effective writers write as many paragraphs as needed to support their theses.
Up Next: Stage 2. Writing Paragraphs (Part 1)
Continue the lesson to learn about writing paragraphs.