What is a thesis and how can we use it as a learning strategy?

On this page, we are not discussing a thesis as a long document usually a requirement for an advanced degree. We hear people discuss their Master’s Thesis or Doctoral Thesis. If you are a graduate student working on such a document, you might, however, find this helpful. There is, after all a reason one of those documents is called a thesis, and why students are usually required to “defend” their thesis.

I would describe a good thesis as a single sentence about what the writer (or speaker) wants readers (or listeners) to understand, think, believe, or know. The thesis states the purpose of the paper or the talk. 

A good example of a thesis is a political ad. The purpose is extremely clear. The ad doesn’t just discuss the question of who would make the best president or senator. They don’t stop at describing the qualities of a good governor.

Political ads make a clear statement of what they believe and what they want you to believe.  “Mr. X WILL make the best president. They continue to defend their position by giving reasons or examples of Mr. X’s actions or beliefs that make their point.

Writing an intelligent thesis helps you organize an essay, term paper, or talk

A good essay or longer paper should usually begin with a clear statement about

  • what something means
  • what you believe about the subject (such as this book has several problems)
  • what you are convinced is the truth (such as the statement of a lawyer in court)
  • How or why others should behave in a certain way (such as cutting down on sugary drinks)

We might consider a good thesis statement in writing as similar to a good hypothesis in science. The difference is that, with a hypothesis, the real goal is to PROVE that it is true. Actually, most of the time, the best that research can do is to conclude that the current evidence from research with rats and from surveys of people indicate that there is a possibility that ….

But with a thesis, we rarely intend to actually prove that something is true. We usually hope to convince people to consider the evidence and think, believe or act in a particular way.

The structure of the essay or talk will generally include the thesis statement in the introduction. You might begin with a brief summary of the topic so that your thesis makes sense. After the thesis statement, you might organize the rest of the information to form a list of evidence and example that support your thesis. The conclusion might point out how all this information leads to your thesis.

How do we develop a thesis statement?

When I was in high school and even in college, I never heard of a thesis statement. I know I could have written papers that were far better if only I had known. Even when writing a Thesis for my first (of three) Master’s degree, I only had a vague idea that I wa supposed to prove something. But my thinking was based on the idea of a hypothesis.

How did I learn? When my son, Tony, was in tenth grade, his English teacher had the students select a single author and read a series of books by their author. Tony selected H. P. Lovecraft, an early writer or horror stories. Lovecraft lived in RI where we lived at the time so we were able to visit many of the places he wrote about.

After the students completed most of their reading, the teacher asked them to write a list of questions about what they had been reading. Tony must have listed at least ten questions about Lovecraft’s books. Finally the students were asked to choose one question, a question for which they would then suggest an answer and then defend their “Thesis’.

If you would like to know more about Tony’s question, thesis sentence, and the paper he wrote –          Tony’s Thesis

Is it necessary to go through all these steps?

No. You may simply consider the topic that has been assigned or that you have chosen. You mus decide if it would be appropriate to begin by stating your opinion or belief on the topic or on some sort of question related to the topic.

If the topic is “What I did on my summer vacation”, you don’t need a thesis statement. If you are writing about “What makes an outstanding teacher? you should certainly begin with a thesis statement. You might say “Outstanding teachers have many different characteristics, but I believe the most important is they truly care about their students.”

And then there are other topics like “My favorite teacher” where you could go either way. You don’t need to defend that fact that you liked this teacher, but you could “defend” the reasons why this teacher was so excellent.

In history, if asked for the causes of a war, you can repeat the causes listed in the book, or you an add another cause, or select one cause as most important and defend your choice.

In science, it may be difficult to form an opinion about the digestive system. But topics such as Evolution, Global Warming, and the need to protect endangered plants and animals can all lead students to take a clear position.

How is can a thesis be used as a Verbal Processing Strategy?

Instead of simply writing a summary of a chapter or section of a chapter, you could begin by identifying the author’s thesis. You will find a thesis in most good nonfiction, but for some reason, authors of textbooks generally do not take a position. They write as if everything in their book is an accepted fact.

You could also, develop a thesis about a book you have read. You could form an opinion and defend it. You might disagree with the author. You might accept their facts but come to a different conclusion. You might read exciting material and ask yourself why this is important or what it means for your life of for the world.

The steps to using a thesis in these ways include:

1. Listen to a lecture or speech, read a section of your book or read an article.

2. Look for and write the thesis or simply the main ideas.

3. Think about the material. Take a clear position or form an opinion on the topic.

4. Look for facts and examples that will help you defend your thesis.

Writers and speakers generally include their thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph, though not necessarily in the opening sentence. You might also summarize the material in the first several paragraphs before stating your thesis and explaining the reasons why you believe you are correct.

Writing a summary AND TAKING A POSITION ON THE TOPIC requires you to get deeply involved with the ideas. This is clearly an example of mental processing.

You might also want to read Discuss, Debate, Argue

Leave a Reply