Formulating Thesis Statement

Have you ever been to a different province or a foreign country? Recall a time you traveled to an unfamiliar destination with your family or friends. How did you prepare for such an excursion? 

There are many ways to plan for a trip to a new place. First, you can do some research on the Internet about things to do and places to see. Next, you can also consult a guidebook. Also, you can ask a friend about their experience of going to that particular location. Whatever it is you decide to do, your goal is to get information about that destination so that you will not get lost on your way there and you can make the most of your time traveling. 

In a similar way, a thesis statement prepares you for writing your essay. It serves as a guide and a roadmap to your destination. The process of pre-writing that you studied in the previous lesson helps you get ready to create a thesis statement for your paper. This lesson explains what a thesis statement is, how it functions in your writing, and how to write an effective one.

A thesis statement is the central idea of an essay, around which all other ideas revolve. It is not just the most important idea; it also controls the essay by determining what you should or should not include in your work. In one sentence, it reveals and summarizes the argument you intend to develop and defend. 

The thesis statement reflects your purpose for writing. It is a constant reminder of your main point and your stand, directing the entire flow of your writing. 

It should be clear that the thesis statement is not the subject or topic itself, but an interpretation of the topic. For example, if you were asked, to write an essay on Noli Me Tangere or Martial Law during President Marcos’ time, your thesis statement would inform the reader of how you understand such a topic and what you deem to be important or debatable about it.

The thesis statement comes as a result of pre-writing. It is the product of thinking about your ideas, seeking evidence, and looking for relationships between these. At times a potential thesis statement may become clear to you, especially if an interesting angle on an issue catches your attention. Other times, you may need to ask the following questions to help you find out a thesis statement:

  • What main idea does most of my pre-writing support?
  • What are the relationships that exist among my ideas?
  • Which aspect of the topic seems to be given the most detail?
  • Where does my stand seem to be the most consistent?
  • What is the focus of the most interesting and significant points of my pre-writing?
  • What ideas should I do more research on?

Whatever thesis statement you come up with initially is called a working thesis statement, an argument containing your stand and that you intend to prove with evidence in the essay. It is called such because you may have to adjust your thesis statement depending on your research and writing.

Let us say you are writing a reaction paper about your school’s Reserve OfficersTraining Corps program for your fellow high school students. After going over your pre-writing, you come up with the following working thesis statement: “High school seniors become more responsible because of joining the Reserve Officers Training Corps program.”

However, while writing the essay, you discover that you need to specify exactly what part of the program causes them to be more responsible. You also remember that not all high school seniors are officers—some are cadets. After doing some more research, you decide to revise the working thesis statement as follows. “High school seniors who join the Reserve Officers Training Corps program develop better leadership skills because of the discipline instilled in them by the program.” 

As you can see, creating a thesis statement results from looking at your paper’s general subject and narrowing it down to something specific. In the previous example, the general subject could be the school’s extracurricular activities. A narrower subject is the Reserve Officers Training Corps program. Because a thesis statement should contain your opinion on the topic, you could mention your belief that the program is beneficial for students because it teaches them discipline. 

A helpful way to decide if your thesis statement is too broad or too narrow would be to go back to your pre-writing and draft a list of the contents of your essay. Adjust your thesis statement accordingly to reflect majority of the contents and the requirements of the essay. 

You can also look at your general subject and ask a specific question about it. In the previous example, if the general topic were”high school extracurricular activities,”you might narrow it down by asking, “Which program best instills discipline in high school students?” This will give you the idea of the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Now that you have learned how to formulate a thesis statement, how will you know if your thesis statement is strong? Below are the characteristics of an effective thesis statement:

  • Responds to the assignment by following instructions. Going back to the instructions can assure you that your thesis statement is relevant and addresses what your teacher has prescribed. It can also refocus your argument if needed.
  • Expresses the main idea in one to two sentences. A thesis statement should be comprehensive yet concise because you will be spending the rest of the paper proving your point.
  • Focuses on a specific issue. Your thesis statement should be sufficiently narrowed based on the boundaries of the assignment, and should only discuss one or a few related issues so that your paper remains focused and you do not ramble or leave some parts undeveloped.
  • States a stand on the topic. A thesis statement must reveal your attitude toward the topic. Your attitude will show how you intend to interpret or discuss the issue, and this is what differentiates you from other writers who may be writing about the same topic. Your attitude also is what helps you elaborate on a topic, because there is only so much that can be said about something factual.
  • Says something meaningful by answering the questions: “So what?” “How?” “Why?”. A good thesis statement shows why the reader should care about your work. The significance of your paper is clear to the reader if your thesis statement is able to answer the question, “So what?” Next, your thesis statement should be able to substantiate your claims by providing the reader evidence, or an idea of how you intend to support your stand. This is usually answerable by addressing “how” and “why.”
  • Previews the rest of the essay by being placed in the introduction. A thesis statement is usually placed in the introduction so that the reader knows what to expect in reading your essay.
  • Reflects a tone and point-of-view appropriate to the identified purpose and audience. Your thesis statement should consider the writing situation you find yourself in. This requires thinking about why you are writing and who you are writing for. Does the way your thesis statement is written, reflect these concerns adequately? 

Guidelines for Writing an Effective Thesis Statement

You can make your thesis statements more effective if you keep the following guidelines in mind:

1. Avoid making overly-opinionated stands

While a thesis statement needs to reveal your attitude toward the topic, be careful not to go to the extremes and write a thesis statement with an exaggerated claim. This is because you need to prove your thesis statement first, and avoid imposing your opinion on the reader, lest you affect their disposition toward you. For example, instead of saying, “The officers of the Reserve Officers Training Corps are merciless slave drivers who abuse their fellow students,” you might say, “The officers of the Reserve Officers Training Corps should exercise more responsibility toward their authority by being sensitive to how they lead their fellow students.” The way this statement is worded makes the same point without coming on too strongly.

2. Avoid making announcements

Sometimes, it is easier just to tell your reader what you intend to write about. You might say, “In this essay, I will be discussing the benefits of joining the Reserve Officers Training Corps.” The problem with this statement is that it does not specify what those benefits are or what your attitude toward the subject is.

3. Avoid stating only facts

As previously mentioned, your thesis statement must reveal your attitude toward the topic. This is what allows your topic to be developed. if you rely only on facts in your thesis statements, you will not have much room for discussion, because facts are generally not as debatable as opinions. Your thesis statement must contain a position that your readers can oppose. Thus, a thesis statement like ‘The Reserve Officers Training Corps is a program that prepares students to serve in the military” does not invite much debate from a reader because that statement is generally accepted.