Thesis Statement Interactive Practice Studios

Writing Thesis Statements for Argumentative Essays

Introduction

University writing often requires students to use persuasion: they need to convince readers of a logical viewpoint on a debatable subject. The thesis statement is usually one sentence in the essay’s introduction that clearly states the writer's opinion and it often appears after some general background information about the issue. The thesis statement acts as a short summary of the writer’s stance in the debate, helping readers understand what will appear in the rest of the paper. Assignments may not state clearly whether a thesis statement is necessary, but if it asks you to take a position on an issue, analyze, interpret, compare and contrast or show cause and effect, you are probably expected to develop a persuasive thesis. (If you are not sure, it is wise to ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement.)

Developing a Thesis

Before you write a thesis statement, it is important to spend time reading academic articles to gather general background information about the issue. You need to evaluate the findings and arguments of different writers and decide which ones you think are the strongest and most convincing, which ones have the most credibility and which ones will help you write persuasively. Reading recent research will help you to decide your position and write a stronger, well-informed argument. Understanding and critically weighing others’ ideas will guide you towards developing a clear, logical and convincing thesis statement.

Thesis Statements: 4 points to remember

1. MAKE IT DEBATABLE

The first important point is that thesis statements must be debatable. (There is no point writing a persuasive argument if everyone already agrees!)

Example of an un-debatable thesis statement:

'Drinking too much alcohol may cause health problems.'

This is weak because it would be very difficult to build a persuasive argument that drinking too much alcohol would not cause health problems: most people (and doctors) already agree that it would.

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

'Alcohol should contain warning labels about the possible dangers of over-drinking.'

This is debatable because people can agree or disagree with the proposal. Some might agree that alcohol labels should contain warnings about the dangers of drinking while others may feel that warning labels would be ineffective as they would not stop people from drinking. Therefore, it is a good thesis statement.
The first point to remember then is that thesis statements must provide room for disagreement and debate.

2. MAKE IT SPECIFIC

Thesis statements should be specific, not general. The following thesis statement is too general:

'Drinking alcohol is harmful.'

This statement is too broad and unfocused because it does not specify:

*Who drinking alcohol harms
*What drinking alcohol harms
*What the main reasons are that make drinking alcohol harmful

Asking specific 'Wh' questions can help narrow your focus and make your paper more manageable.

The following thesis statement is more persuasive because it is focused:

'Alcohol consumption may negatively impact university students’ GPA.'

As this statement provides specific answers to the questions above, it significantly narrows the possibilities that the writer can write about and provides a clear focus for the entire argument.

Here are two more examples of focused thesis statements:

'A four-year university programme is better than a three-year one because students have more time for deeper learning.'
'Hong Kong will not become a world class city until it tackles its air pollution problem.'

The second point to remember then is that a thesis statement should be specific.'

3. HAVE ONLY ONE CONTROLLING ARGUMENT

As you can see from the examples above, a good thesis statement has only one controlling (main) argument:

'Alcohol should contain warning labels about the possible dangers of over-drinking.'
'Alcohol consumption may negatively impact amongst university students’ GPA.'
'A four-year university programme is better than a three-year one because students have more time for deeper learning.'
'Hong Kong will not become a world class city until it tackles its air pollution problem.

It is important that your thesis statements also contain only one controlling argument. Supporting details can be discussed in depth later in the essay's body paragraphs that follow the introduction.

4. MAKE IT CLEAR AND CONCISE

As you can see, good thesis statements use clear language and not too many words. It is important that your thesis be clear so that your readers know exactly what your position is. There should be no confusion, such as in the following poor example:

'Many people from around the world have different opinions about whether teenagers under eighteen years of age should be able to get a driving license and drive a vehicle or not and I tend to agree with some of them but not with others.'

This example is poor for a number of reasons. First, it is too long and ‘wordy’ (it uses too many unnecessary words which can be omitted). Second, the opinion of the writer is not clear to the reader. A better example of a thesis would be:

'Teenagers under eighteen years of age should not have driving licenses as most are not mature enough to handle the responsibility of driving.'

This thesis statement is much better as the writer’s position is very clear, and uses a minimal number of words. Clear and concise should be your goal in all writing, but it is especially important when writing a thesis statement.

Summary

Remember! When you include a thesis statement in your introduction that is…

1. debatable
2. specific
3. has only one main argument
4. is clear and concise

…your essay will be focused and your reader will know exactly what to expect in the body paragraphs that follow your introduction. With a little practice, you can write high quality thesis statements that bring focus to all of your argumentative essays.

More information and practice with thesis statements:

http://create.arizona.edu/content/weak-thesis-statements-recognizing-and-fixing-them
http://www.uark.edu/campus-resources/qwrtcntr/resources/handouts/thesis.html
https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/01/
http://depts.washington.edu/owrc/Handouts/How%20to%20Structure%20and%20Organize%20Your%20Paper.pdf

Now do the interactive activities on the right.

In-Class Workshops

In-Class Workshops must be scheduled at least two weeks prior to your desired visit date. Given that the workshops are intended to facilitate conversation among students and instructors, primary course instructors must be present in class on the day the workshop is delivered. Course instructors should review the workshop script and be prepared to provide necessary materials.

Our workshops are meant to be highly collaborative, and involve significant individual student and small group participation. Because of this, we ask that there be no more than 35 students per workshop consultant. If you would like to schedule for a class larger than 35, please contact our workshop coordinator directly at wsworkshops@vanderbilt.edu. Specific arrangements for all workshops will be made by email correspondence.

In-Class Workshop Request Form

In-Class Workshop List

40-45 minutes

Writing Studio workshops are designed by our consultants for use in the classroom. These workshops focus on different elements of academic writing and have the following goals in mind:

  • to encourage students to reflect upon their writing habits
  • to introduce students to writing exercises and strategies that they can use in courses across the curriculum, and
  • to enhance discussion of discipline-specific writing practices among students and faculty.

Each workshop runs approximately 45 minutes and includes a discussion of writing strategies, a consultant-facilitated conversation with the instructor and students about writing conventions relevant to the course, and at least one writing activity. We are happy to present up to two workshops per class, per semester.

Instructors are important participants in the workshop conversations, and should plan to contribute relevant materials and be present on the day of the workshop. Several of the workshops are designed to work in conjunction with a class assignment.

Please click on the links below to see the script and required materials for each workshop.

Writing Studio Workshops

Transitioning to College Writing Script— This workshop is designed mainly for 100-level courses.  It is most appropriate toward the beginning of the semester shortly after students have received the prompt for their first formal writing assignment.  The workshop encourages students to be aware of the conventions of academic argument. With the assistance of the instructor, we discuss both the nature of academic discourse as a conversation with the ideas of others and the demands of the course for which the students are writing.

The course instructor will need to provide a paper prompt.

Brainstorming Script— This workshop assists students to find traction and focus during the brainstorming phase of the writing process. Using a prompt provided by the instructor, we work through several exercises designed to help students generate new ideas and then sharpen and develop the most promising.

The course instructor will need to provide a paper prompt.

Revision Script— This workshop assists students with the revision of a paper they have already drafted, focusing on large-scale concerns like argument, analysis, and structure. We work through three revision activities, beginning with a brief exercise in which students rearticulate the main claims of their papers, followed by an exercise designed to identify organizational problems.  For the third activity, the instructor may choose one of four exercises, allowing the instructor to tailor the workshop depending on the nature of the assignment or goals of the course.

The course instructor will need to be sure students bring an essay draft to class.

Thesis Statements Script— This workshop focuses on understanding the characteristics of a strong thesis and how to write one, as well as the conventions of academic argument more broadly.  Using a prompt from the class or a sample prompt, students will begin drafting their own thesis statements.  A discussion about how to argue for one’s thesis rounds out the workshop.

The course instructor will need to provide a paper prompt and sample bad thesis statements for that assignment.

Using Textual Evidence Script— This workshop discusses the ways analysis of quotations can be used as support for argumentative claims.  Students will evaluate, discuss, and revise their own use of textual evidence in a draft.  The instructor plays an important role here in helping the students understand what constitutes good evidence, and use thereof, in his or her discipline and course.

The course instructor will need to be sure students bring an essay draft to class.

Organizing Research Papers Script— This workshop is designed to be implemented after students have already gathered most of the materials they will require to write their research papers.  The workshop helps students impose order on their materials and formulate a plan for integrating the research into their papers.  Using an organizational grid, students will focus on meaningfully categorizing and evaluating their research in light of a focused research question.

The course instructor will need to be sure students bring their research materials to class.

Writing Case Studies and Ethnographies Script— This workshop focuses on two parts of writing case studies and ethnographies. First, students discuss the importance of neutral and detailed description when conducting field work, taking time to practice writing or revising their own field notes. Second, following a discussion of how ethnographies and case studies drawn upon field notes as evidence, students will begin drafting sentences that use their observations to warrant claims and tie their notes to course concepts.

Course instructors may request this workshop either before or after students have conducted fieldwork.

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