Thesis statement vs. topic sentence
First, it’s good to know what a thesis statement is and what it’s not. A thesis statement is not a topic sentence, although, in some cases it may well be your first sentence. Confused yet? Hopefully not! A topic sentence is the main sentence that outlines what each paragraph in an essay is about, but the thesis statement is the MASTER topic sentence for the entire essay.
Good writers understand how important a well-defined thesis statement is and how it helps shape their topic sentences. The topic sentence is the sentence that expresses the main idea in a paragraph. So a topic sentence can appear more than one time in an essay (of course it should be different each time) depending on the number of paragraphs and main ideas presented.
A thesis statement is the heart of an essay. It is a single sentence (or two depending on whether you’re writing your first university level essay or a PhD level thesis) that tells the reader exactly what your essay will focus on.
A Debatable Thesis Statement
You should only ever have one thesis statement per essay and it should be a debatable claim. The reason your thesis statement must be debatable in some form is that if you are asking your reader to spend time reading your entire justification and explanation in support of your thesis statement, it had better not be a truism.
Example of a Bad Thesis Statement
"There are many factors that can influence a person's career choice."
This isn't a thesis statement as it's not all that debatable. It reads as a truism. Why would your instructor read a whole essay that argues for something that seems so obvious???
But just because your thesis statement needs to be debatable, doesn't mean that it has to be framed as an "either/or" scenario in which one side or the other must win. It may be that what makes your thesis debatable, is that you are raising a specific, nuanced point.
Example of a Better Thesis Statement
"A person's career choice must not be considered a sole source of their sense of self-worth."
What makes this a better thesis statement is that it is raising a point to be proven - that one's job shouldn't determine one's worth. While this is better than the first thesis statement because it is debatable, it can be improved by being more specific.
Example of an Even Better Thesis Statement
"While prestige and a high salary are important, a person's career should not be considered as the most important source of their sense of self-worth."
What makes this thesis statement even better is that it is more specific. In addition to being debatable, it has zoomed in to focus on prestige and salary as elements that will come to play in the discussion of self-worth as it relates to a career.
Tips for Constructing Good Thesis Statements
The following tips can help you construct good thesis statements. Ask yourself the following questions:
One thing to consider as you craft your thesis is whether or not you are proposing an entirely new view on a well-known topic or whether you are refining a view or offering something more nuanced. In the examples above, the topic has to do with career choices and the debatable thesis is about the relationship between our careers and our sense of self-worth. The example of the best thesis statement alludes to a commonly held belief (a good job with lots of money would make us feel good about ourselves) but indicates that the essay will argue against this belief.
So you can always think about whether or not you want to argue something surprising or different than usual, and craft a thesis statement around that. Whatever the case may be, ensure that you are arguing something worth arguing! No one wants to read a whole essay that argues a truism...we all know that the sky is blue!
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