Moving from a Question to a Thesis

A little background

Pretty much everything you write is an answer to some sort of question—or should be. The papers which can be summed up as "Here is a bunch of stuff I thought of" are guaranteed to get poor grades. The trick is to find a good, appropriate question, then craft a good, appropriate answer. If you can put the answer in one sentence, you have a thesis.

Some assignments just ask the question

Your most direct route to a working thesis is to simply answer the question (and at this point merely rephrasing the question into an answer works very well):

How might you argue that TV is not a glass teat but a source of information about the world, as well as a place where good writing can also be found?
TV is not a glass teat but a source of information about the world because thoughtful productions such as 60 Minutes and NBC Nightly News present well-written, unbiased programming that is useful to a beginning writer.

I'm aware that some people would disagree with that statement. Great! That makes it a thesis statement which would require some defense and some data!

Some assignments bombard you with a bunch of questions

This isn't asking you for a bulleted list; it's asking you to dig out the central question and craft an answer.

What can I learn from Professor Agassiz's strategy that I can apply to my own studies?
The main thing I can learn from Professor Agassiz is that a curious, inquiring mind and careful observation are the most important assets in my college education.

Often you just have to make up your own question and then answer it

That's pretty vague, so you need to focus your question:

How did Gloria Anzaldúa use the different varieties of Spanish to discuss self-identity and membership in a community?
Anzaldúa's essay focuses on the way specific dialects of American Spanish define the speaker and either include or exclude her from community with other Spanish-speakers.

Once we have something that focused, we are halfway home.

OR

Did Frederick Douglass see literacy as a larger issue than merely learning to read and write?
For Douglass, learning to read and write was the ticket out of the mental and physical confines imposed upon him by slavery.

Now we have good thesis statements for our essays:

In this essay, I say “_____.”

That subhead is a good test for a thesis sentence. It's also a good filter for thesis attempts that don't really work, for example:

In this essay, I say "First I will talk about Douglass learning his ABCs from his Mistress, then I will talk about him learning to read from the neighborhood boys, and finally I will talk about him reading The Columbian Orator."
(So you are going to talk about your strategy for the whole essay? And you are never going to draw any conclusions or try to show us anything?)
In this essay, I say "What is the main thing I can learn from Professor Agassiz?"
(Really? You are just going to keep asking the question without giving an answer?)

Of course, "In this essay, I say" is just a test; it's not really part of your thesis, so don't put it in your final copy.


The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.

Revised 10/1/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.