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Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions



Chapter 34. THESIS PAPER

Basics of Arguing a Thesis











& Editing




This section explains the basics of writing and revising a thesis paper--why a thesis paper exists and how to start, organize, and edit it.  You may want to first see the "Introduction" before reading this page.  Be sure, before or after reading this "Basics Page," to see "Sample Papers" by students.  For more advanced information, go to "Advanced Methods."       


   Why This Type of Paper?   

The heart of a thesis essay is an argument, opinion, or one side of a debate. It is never a fact.  It may use facts to support its opinions, but at its heart it is nonfactual.

Thesis writing has many uses in school and work. In school, one of the highest levels of academic thinking you can do is to argue intelligently. Whether orally or in papers, you will be called upon in a number of courses--especially in your chosen field or area--to present intelligent opinions backed up by sound reasoning and information. Therefore thesis writing--the ability to argue intelligently--is one of the most important skills you must learn in college.

In the professional world--the world of work-- thesis writing also is important. Sooner or later you will have a position of authority in which you must do more than simply obey orders or instructions: good employees in far-seeing businesses are people able to examine data and make decisions. To do this, one must learn to consider different possible positions or options, find the strengths and weaknesses of each, and then make a thoughtful decision. This kind of thoughtful decision-making requires the ability to argue different options fairly and make logical choices. For this reason, thesis writing also is one of the most important skills you must learn to rise in the world of work.

First, we should define terms. "Thesis" means "argument."  The word "thesis" can mean either an argument paper or the main argument of a paper. If I say, for example, that I have written a thesis paper, then my overall paper is some kind of traditional thesis paper.  

However, if I say that I am writing an editorial, a proposal, or perhaps a recommendation report (a type of business paper) and that my thesis is the need for a new product, then I am NOT writing a thesis paper.  I am writing a different kind of paper, and the main argument in it--the need for the new product--is the "thesis" of the paper.  This thesis of the paper usually will occur at least twice in the paper--in the introduction and in the conclusion--and sometimes more often.  It is written in the form of a "thesis sentence."

To summarize the difference, then, a "thesis sentence" occurs in any kind of paper trying to prove something or take a position.  However, a "thesis paper" is a very specific type of paper, usually academic, that argues a position.  This chapter discusses how to write a thesis paper.

Because many of you may start on this chapter when you are reading this Web book, you might also find it useful to have another term, "essay," defined.  "Essay" is a broad term for writing papers that can mean a number of things.  Usually "essay" implies academic papers.  However, in school, an essay can mean almost anything, so whenever you are asked to write an "essay," be sure you get an exact definition of what is expected of you.  If the instructor is not sure, however, then, probably he or she expects you to write a thesis essay--a paper that presents some kind of opinion, argument, judgment, or criticism. (The opposite of this would be a "report," which usually means you are supposed to write a factual paper, one that presents only facts and does not come to any kind of conclusion or make any kind of argument.)


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   How Will You Start?   

The major section of called "Starting" offers a number of useful ways to start thinking, speaking, and writing about a subject. The advice here, which follows, is for this chapter's type of paper in particular. 

When brainstorming a thesis essay, imagine you are part of a debate or are watching one. Imagining a debate sometimes is one of the best ways to start because a thesis must be an argument, opinion, belief, option, or position--something debatable. If you have chosen an idea that is not debatable, it is not a thesis: for example, "The moon creates the tides" is not debatable--it is a fact, not an argument, and therefore cannot be a thesis. However, "The full moon leads to romance" is debatable--it is an argument that can be debated by someone taking the opposite position; therefore it can be a thesis.

You can brainstorm by writing down a long list of opinions or beliefs and then choosing one.  Simply let out your thoughts and feelings about it on paper, or if you are more comfortable outlining, then write an outline.

You also can write down outrageous arguments or several silly, made-up arguments--or perhaps even a list of ideas which are exactly opposite of what you really believe. Then choose the one that seems most interesting to you, and write about that.

In addition, you can practice imaging. Stretch, then sit back, relax, breathe, clear your mind, and hold an image for a few minutes. Ask yourself, "What argument or belief does this image make me think of?" Then examine it with that in mind. When you are done examining it, write about it and what it makes you think of.

Is your subject assigned or open?  If your subject has already been chosen for you, then you can use the activities above to discover what you know about the subject or how you feel about it.  However, if the subject is open, you need to choose your subject not only by writing as above, but also by what the instructor expects.  What ranges and limits of subject matter is the instructor willing to allow?  Is your paper supposed to be based on personal experience, other people's experience, or research?  How much do you know about the subject, or how much can you find out easily?  Can you avoid arguments with which the instructor is sure to disagree?  Sometimes it is better to choose a subject in which the instructor is interested but knows little, so that you can help him or her expand her knowledge.  It also is a good idea to avoid choosing for your main argument something that seems too general or too obvious to an instructor: for example, the argument "Love is beautiful" might be considered way too general by some instructors, impractical to others, and yet to some it would be sufficient. 

For these reasons it often is wise to ask an instructor if the thesis of your paper--the main argument--you have chosen is acceptable and reasonable.  In general, the more detailed you are, the better:  for example, the thesis "War is hell" is so general as to be almost non-argumentative, whereas the similar thesis "War causes psychological damage" is better, and better yet is the thesis "War psychologically damages more than half of armed combatants."

The style, tone, and voice you use in your early drafting can, of course, be anything you want.  However, if you are the type of person who writes early drafts better if you know what tone of voice to use, then you should choose one--for a thesis paper, as in most academic papers--of confidence, fairness, and logical thought.  You may express yourself in a strong, authoritative tone if you wish, but you should not do so too strongly--in short, you need to have the tone or voice of someone who listens carefully to what others say and is simply offering his or her own objectively given opinion in a moderate, thoughtful, but confident manner.  The style you choose should be academic--not chatty, too personal, or newsy.  You also should avoid sounding like a know-it-all, a bully, an orator trying to beat his or her opponent into submission emotionally, a person who is scared or hyperactive, or in any other way emotionally upset or angry. 

In short, a thesis paper is the occasion for you to offer your own thoughts to the general body of academic thought that occurs in a classroom.  It is your turn to offer a sound, logical, thoughtful opinion.  

As with many other types of papers, it can be difficult to balance your own need for finding a subject that is authentic or real to you with what your instructor considers authentic.  For this reason, you may have to brainstorm more than once and develop a good (even if perhaps brief) dialogue with the instructor about your subject matter.

Be sure, too, before you spend a large amount of time writing and/or researching, that you can make a central argument that is not a fact, as a thesis can never be a fact.  You can tell that an idea is an argument, not a fact, if a number of people could possibly support the opposite opinion in a debate.

For example, "Sunshine causes warmth" is a fact and could never be a thesis: not only is it factually established, but no one would logically try to argue the opposite.  A similar idea, "Sunshine is good," is a bit better, perhaps: it is, after all, debatable because some people could argue that sunshine can be bad for your skin."  However, "Sunshine is good" still is so obvious in so many ways that most people would agree with you most of the time; hence what you have is so close to being factual that it is hardly worth arguing.  On the other hand, the statement "Sunshine causes happiness biochemically" is a worthwhile thesis: it is debatable, as many would argue that the cause is psychological, not physical, and you could support it in detail with quotations, paraphrases, and charts from scientific studies.  Again, if you have any doubt that your thesis is not really an argument, but a fact, write it down and show it to your instructor.

Basic Chart: How do you know if your idea is a good thesis?

1. Main Idea: 
In the next fifty years, humans will live on the moon.

2. Is it a thesis?

.  Why?  It is an argument, one that would make a very good debate, with very good reasons for and against it.

3. What can you do?
Use it as the main sentence of a thesis paper.  You'll need to be sure you can find enough proofs.  You'll also need to consider whether to narrow or broaden the thesis—e.g., narrow it to twenty years or broaden it to one hundred years—so it best fits the size of your research project and the proofs that you find.

1. Main Idea:
The moon averages about 240,000 miles in distance from the earth.

2. Is it a thesis?
No.  It is a fact.  A fact cannot be a thesis.  Only an argument can be a thesis.  "Thesis" means "argument."  The whole idea of a thesis is to choose a debatable issue and support one side of it against the other side.

3. What can you do?
Find a debatable argument.
  This fact might work as one of your proofs of an argument, but you need to find an argument, first.

1. Main Idea:
The moon is way cool.

2. Is it a thesis?
Sort of.  This is a thesis, but not a very good one.  It is too general and casual. 

3. What can you do?
Make the idea more specific and narrow
, or choose a different subject.

1. Main Idea:
Humans never have gone to the moon.

2. Is it a thesis?
No.  This statement is considered a fantasy by all respected academic/scientific sources, even if 5-10% of the American public does believe it.

3. What can you do?
Find something that is rationally arguable
using academic and/or scientific reasoning and proofs.

1. Main Idea:
The moon is green cheese.

2. Is it a thesis?
No.  This is fun, but pure fantasy.

3. What can you do?  
Find a real argument.

Developing a Personal-Experience Essay

            If you are learning to write a thesis--or to develop methods of adding your own experience to arguments--you may be asked to write what is sometimes called a "personal-experience" or "experience-based" essay.  When you write a thesis essay (or any other kind of paper, with or without an argument) using personal experience, you are depending on your own experience, or sometimes the experiences of others you know or have interviewed, to develop supporting explanations for your paper's main point.  Sometimes people say that they cannot write a paper offering their own point of view because they are not experts on anything.  However, in a personal-experience paper, everyone is his or her own expert: there is some part of your life in which you have much more experience than do some other people.  Were you brought up in an unusual or unique situation?  What main argument or important points or facts can you offer?  Were you, instead, brought up in a very normal, average situation?  What can you argue or state about the strengths or weaknesses of being brought up this way?  What central argument or overall point can you make in this regard?  

            There are a number of ways you can start writing from personal experience (see "How to Start First Drafts").  The important activity is to place some of them on paper or discuss them with a friend while you take a few notes.  The next step is to examine your experiences and ask yourself, "What is the main point I want to make?"  If you are trying to develop a main argument, then ask yourself what it is, exactly, that you can prove from your own experiences, and then list several of your most important experiences that help support this argument.  If you are trying to make a point or showcase interesting facts, ask yourself what it is, exactly, that you wish to prove or showcase, and which of your experiences most clearly do so.  

            One way to develop such experiences is to tell them as brief stories.  If you do this, you should use as much detail as you can.  See the "Writing a Story" chapter for help in developing good details.  Another way to develop experiences is to take a large number of them, place two to four of them at a time in a related cluster that becomes a topic section, and then mention each of these two to four experiences in brief detail to help develop the reason or point you are making in that topic section.  In general,  it often is a good idea to recall and write about more experiences than you may need to prove your argument or make your main point.  As you further develop your paper, you are then free to decide exactly which of your experiences will best fit into your paper, keep the strongest ones, and drop the less useful ones.  There is an excellent example of a personal-experience essay, "The Undervalued Second Language," in the "Samples" part of this chapter.  

Also be sure--as you build your paper--that you have plenty of quotations and/or paraphrases from your research sources so that the reader can see exactly how you are supporting your thinking. Because you, yourself, are not a professional expert, you are depending--in a research paper--on quotations and paraphrases from the professional experts. 


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  What Are Some Organizing Methods?   

When organizing a thesis paper, you may want to consider three practical matters.  Be aware of (1) the typical visual/textual design, (2) the central key to organizing this type of paper, and (3) dangers to avoid.  General principles of organization are described in detail in the "Organizing" chapter.  Specific details for this type of paper are below.  

The "Introduction" has already shown you the following organization for a thesis paper:

The Visual Plan or Map

Unique Title 


and introductory details


Body Section 1: first reason and supporting details

Body Section 2: second reason and supporting details

Body Section 3: third reason and supporting details

(Optional Body Section 4: fourth reason and supporting details)


and concluding details



Jones, A.J. Book One, et al.

Smith, B.K. Book Two, et al.


Next is a more detailed view of this structure.  This view is a visual and textual plan of how this type of paper generally looks when it is finished.

More Detailed Visual Plan or Map

Unique Title*


          THESIS SENTENCE, statement of the type of paper you are writing, and introductory details (Optional: statement of three supporting reasons why the thesis sentence is true) [1 par.]


First Unique Subtitle***
          Topic sentence stating first reason; then explanation and details  [2+ par.]   

Second Unique Subtitle
          Topic sentence stating second reason; then explanation and details  [2+ par.] 

Third Unique Subtitle
          Topic sentence stating third reason; then explanation and details  [2+ par.] 

(Optional Fourth Unique Subtitle)**
          (Optional: Topic sentence stating fourth reason; then explanation and details)  [2+ par.] 


          CENTRAL ARGUMENT/SUBJECT and concluding details  [1 par.]


Works Cited/References/Bibliography

Jones, A.J. Book One, et al.

Smith, B.K. Book Two, et al.

Create an alphabetized bibliography on a separate page, according to the requirements of your discipline/instructor.  Formats vary among differing disciplines.  (See the chapter in Section G. "Quoting/Paraphrasing" for more detail.)


The Key to Building a Thesis Essay: 1 Argument and 3-4 Reasons

The key to the overall organization of a thesis essay is to have the basic thesis structure of 

one main argument
3-4 reasons why it is true.

This may seem simple on the surface, but in actual practice, many people struggle with it.  

First, you need to distill your overall opinion into just one thesis sentence: for example, "Taxes should be lowered," "Santa Claus exists," or "Mars will be colonized in the next fifty years."  This sentence is called a "thesis sentence."  Sometimes, if you are not clear enough about the argument, you may need to revise the thesis sentence after you write the supporting arguments, so allow yourself the chance to revise your thesis sentence later, if need be.

The next step is to brainstorm various reasons why this thesis sentence is true--the more reasons, the better. If you already have developed a first draft, you now can draw your supporting ideas from it.  You should gather your supporting reasons into just three or four main groups that fit together, and then develop a descriptive statement for each group, one that states how this particular group of supporting ideas proves the thesis:

Three Examples of a Thesis and Its Supporting Reasons

Federal taxes should be lowered.
First, this is true because individual states should have most of the power to tax.

Second, it is true because lowering taxes may stimulate the economy.

Third, it is true because assistance to the poor, the unhealthy, and the elderly should be the burden of families and private organizations, not the states.

Santa Claus exists in one or more forms.
One reason he exists is that an historical saint was the original Santa Claus.
Another is that he is alive in the imaginations of hundreds of millions of children.
Finally, if spirits can exist, then there must be a spirit Santa Claus.

Mars will be colonized in the next one hundred years.
To begin, we soon will be technologically capable of colonizing it.

In addition, culturally we need colonization to create a milestone in human achievement.
Last, at some point in the coming decades, political leaders will consider colonization necessary for their reelection.

The final step in organizing your thesis essay in this way is to develop several paragraphs proving, detailing, or exemplifying your supporting sentence.  If you do a good job of exemplifying or detailing each supporting sentence, this will take care of much of your proof of your thesis sentence:  in large part, you prove your thesis by proving your supports.  Make paragraphs that contain quotations, paraphrases, story and event examples, numbers, figures, and/or other specific proofs.  Use the writing from your first draft--your brainstorming draft--and develop it further, adding and reorganizing as you go.  To see how to develop each paragraph individually, see the "Paragraphing" chapter in the "Revising and Editing" section.

Often, starting with a thesis-sentence building worksheet is helpful.  the chapter in this "Arguing" section called "Thesis Worksheet" offers a complete, step-by-step worksheet to help you develop a strong thesis sentence.


Dangers to Avoid as You Organize

There are several dangers to avoid as you write a thesis essay.  One of the dangers is choosing an issue or argument too broad, general, or overwhelming to you.  Narrow the subject or choose a different one.  Instructors generally also prefer a narrow argument to a broad one because there is better development of detail in such a paper.  For example, if you were to choose the issue "The United States Civil War" and the thesis "The Civil War was unnecessary," you could research and write on this argument for weeks, months, or even years, and your quotations and other details might be rather vague or general.  However, if you were to narrow your argument to 'In the Civil War, the second day of the Battle of Appomattox was unnecessary," you not only might find this narrower argument easier to research and write, but you also could use more specific quotations and other details.

How do you narrow an argument or subject?  Narrowing means focusing on just one corner, part, or niche of the larger subject or argument. One way to do this is to look at your supporting reasons. Often, when you have started with a too-broad or too-general argument, one of your supporting reasons is an argument itself and is narrow enough to use as a thesis subject.  For example, if you were to start with a broad thesis such as "Love is good"--certainly a very general and vague argument--and your three supporting reasons were "It makes people feel nice," "It makes people more healthy," and "It brings nations together," then you might choose just one of these reasons and turn it into a thesis sentence.  For example, you could write a thesis paper about the argument "Love makes people more healthy."  If you wanted to narrow it even further, you could create three supporting reasons (for example, "Love is good for the heart," "It improves longevity," and "It calms and soothes people").  Then you could use one of them as an even narrower thesis sentence: for example, "Being in love improves heart health."

A second danger is having an argument that is too narrow. In such a case, you need to broaden your subject or choose a different one. For example, the thesis "Skipping stones on water is fun" is too narrow?  Not only is there little too argue about it, but also it is insufficiently academic, and so you probably could not find quotations and other necessary details to help support your argument.  However, if you were to broaden your subject to "Rocks at a beach can provide a number of enjoyable activities," then you might, at the least, have a sufficient argument for supporting it with a number of personal experiences (yours and others'): for example, you could argue that skipping rocks, rock hunting, and rock climbing all are enjoyable.  And if you were to further broaden your subject to something for which there are serious supporting quotations--something scientific like "The relative hardness and softness of rocks determines their value for various forms of recreation," or something literary like "Rocks are an important symbol of strength and durability in Mark Twain's Huck Finn"--then you will have broadened your argument sufficiently to develop it into an interesting academic thesis paper.

A third danger is writing an argument outside of the parameters of what your instructor wants.  This is true, of course, of many general writing assignments.  However, this danger can develop easily when you are assigned an argument paper.  The simple solution to this is that when you are in doubt, ask.  Almost all instructors in composition classes are committed to trying to help their students, and generally it is better to be noticed somewhat negatively than to not be noticed at all: if an instructor comes to know you, he or she generally will work harder to give you useful responses and be as fair as possible in grading your work.  Best of all, get sample papers of what your own instructor wants by asking her for them or by finding papers with high marks by students in a previous term's section of the same course.  

A fourth danger is to think that both your thesis sentence and your three supporting reasons all must be nonfactual opinion. This is not true. Certainly your central thesis sentence must be nonfactual, debatable opinion. However, your supporting reasons may be either argument or fact: both are acceptable as supporting reasons.  The first and the third thesis arguments in the light yellow-gold box above--about taxes and about colonizing Mars--have supporting reasons that are, for the most part, additional arguments.  However, the middle thesis argument--about Santa Claus--uses facts for its first two supporting reasons.  In general--as in the Santa Claus argument--a thesis statement supported by factual supporting reasons will have at least one supporting reason that is an opinion (like the third supporting reason in the Santa Claus argument).  Otherwise--if all three supporting reasons are facts--your thesis itself may be in danger of being a fact.


As you complete your later drafts, look carefully at the visual map above and the sample papers in this chapter.  Rearrange the order of your body sections and of your paragraphs as needed.  Consider your use of major organizing devices: for example, have you placed the correct key sentences in your introduction and conclusion, and have you developed a subtitle and topic sentence at the beginning of each major body section?

Asterisks *, **, and *** for the organizational plan or map above (advice given in most chapters):

*In most academic disciplines, the title is typed simply: no quotation marks, underlining, or bold marking.  It is centered, and the font size and style are those used in the rest of the paper--normally a 12-point font in a style such as Times New Roman, Garamond, or CG Times.  In a professional situation, you may use academic style or whatever is commonly acceptable in your workplace.

** In some disciplines, the "Introduction" subtitle may be optional or even forbidden.  (Most social sciences and psychology papers, for example, should not have an "Introduction" subtitle.) 

***Some instructors--and some types of papers or disciplines--require a short summary (see) of a text  before you begin responding to it.  Ask your instructor.  Such a summary generally should have no quotations within it and should be fair and balanced (even if the text is not).         

***Some instructors may allow--or even, occasionally, prefer--your paper to be completely free of subtitles.  (Some literature, history, and philosophy instructors, for example, consider subtitles inappropriate.)  If you use no subtitles at all, consider using an extra space break at the beginning of each body section and/or an especially strong, clear topic sentence.  In addition, some instructors may prefer you to have a series of more than four body sections.  If so, pay attention especially to the paper's flow by using good transitions.

For more about organizing body sections, topic sentences, and subtitles in general, please go to "Organizing College Papers."  For more about organizing paragraphs, go to the "Paragraphing" chapter.


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 Are There Special Revising and Editing Needs?

In revising a thesis paper,
the focus techniques with which you started in the Introduction to this chapter also can help you finish your paper:

Subject, Drafts, Style, & Authenticity


Have you stayed on the subject throughout?  In a thesis essay, this means being sure, first, that everything ties together logically--not just in your own mind but also in the minds of readers.  You also should, in a thesis essay, avoid adding quotations, paraphrases, stories, or your own ideas just because they are interesting.  They do not belong in your essay unless they tie in directly to what you are arguing.  (If you have a really helpful or interesting idea or quotation that is indirectly related, place it in a footnote.)

Be sure, in addition, to introduce, explain, or connect each quotation at least briefly (see the "Quoting & Paraphrasing" chapter in the "Researching" section) to the content of your discussion.  Have you also considered what kind of problem the author of your text presents and how each theory or viewpoint you use represents some kind of solution?  Can you help your readers perceive it in this way?  

FIRST & SECOND DRAFTS: Have you used all of the needed steps to write and revise your drafts?

  1. Free-write: After you have added quotations, try reading your paper aloud to see if it is choppy or has missing ideas.  If either is the case, trying rewriting the choppy parts freely, without copying what you've already written, or freewriting new paragraphs to complete your missing ideas. (To help cure choppy sentences, see "Using Mixed-Length Sentences" in "Editing.")  For general freewriting, see "How to Start First Drafts.")  

  2. Gather details: Do you have sufficient details?  The typical thesis essay often has, depending on your assignment, several supporting details per page: e.g., quotations, paraphrases, and/or well developed story examples.  Are your details specific and concrete?  If they are quotations or paraphrases, their content should clearly go to the heart of what you are saying, and you should, if necessary, help the reader after each one by explaining what it means and how it fits with what you are saying.  If you are writing story examples, they should be detailed, using the five W's of journalism and the five senses of storytelling.  You also should, if possible, place your very best two quotations and/or stories in the introduction and conclusion, and the next best in the first and last body sections.  If research is required, see the "Research" section.
    It also means deleting too much explanation that is exclusively your own.  Some explanation of your ideas is good, but you must develop external supports--quotations, paraphrases, stories, facts, figures, etc.--rather than go on at length explaining your own viewpoint on the issue.  It is your external proofs that validate what you are saying.  In addition, you will need to get rid of quotations or other materials from other sources that you have heard secondhand, unless you can find the source and add it to your bibliography.

  3. Write for your audience: is your audience an instructor, your professional coordinator, or your own peers?  Have you visualized your audience?  Have you read your paper aloud as if reading to this audience?  Have you tried reading your paper aloud to a friend or family member, pretending he or she is your audience?  Will each step of your paper, idea by idea, sound logical, unbiased, and interesting to your audience?  At what points might your audience have trouble understanding what the various viewpoints--yours and others--mean, or how they apply to your text?  

  4. Organize: Have you carefully chosen what to keep and what to delete from your first-draft writing, and fully organized all that you decided to keep?  In a thesis essay, this means keeping your central thesis and the major reasons in support of it, any interesting or useful details that you have, such as story examples, facts, quotations, etc., and--if they will fit in--any particularly original ideas you have or that you have found or heard. 
    A thesis essay should have good transitions to help move readers between the various types of thought: the major thesis and reasons on the one hand and, on the other, your own general explanations and the quotations, paraphrases, and/or stories you use as supporting ideas. 
    Good transitions become especially important because of the complex interweaving of all these different types of thought: the transitions act as road maps through the byways of your essay.  A thesis essay should not have a background section, unless it is brief (most background information can be placed in individual paragraphs or body sections as needed).  Any kind of academic paper should not have an excessively long introduction and conclusion: if you find your introduction continues on at great length, you are writing your body sections in the introduction.  Simply move large parts of this material into the appropriate body sections.  

  5. Research: iF you need to support your points and/or others' points with research, do you have a sufficient number of high-quality sources?  Have you fully integrated them with your paper by adding quotations and/or paraphrases from them?  If you are using non-print sources such as interviews, videos, or television, will they be considered appropriate and representative (well representing a viewpoint or theory) by your audience?  If you are using online sources, have you checked them carefully to verify their quality and accuracy (see "Evaluating Web Sites" in

STYLE, TONE, AUDIENCE, & CRITICAL THINKING: Have you converted all parts of your writing to the appropriate style and tone?  A thesis essay should have an academic writing style, which means sentences and words of some length and complexity (but nothing you cannot easily understand yourself!) and paragraphs that often are medium to long, though a mixing of lengths and an occasional short paragraph are desirable.  To create a more academic style, set your grammar check in MS Word.  The tone or voice in a thesis essay should be one of balance, fairness, and confidence in one's argument.  Try reading your thesis essay aloud to hear whether your tone/voice and style sound as you want them to.

Have you developed a visual image of your audience?  For a thesis essay, your primary audience is your instructor.  However, you also can imagine your class--or a class at the next higher level--as your audience, and develop a visual image of the entire class or of one intelligent member in the group.  As a thesis essay is a written form of one side of a debate, you can imagine you are participating in a debate, if you wish, or you can simply read your paper to the person or group you have picked.  For professional, workplace argument, your primary audience is your immediate supervisor, but you should assume--and even perhaps visualize--a workgroup, committee, or several higher levels of supervisors who may also see your paper.  However, whomever you have visualized as your audience, it is very helpful to actually read the paper aloud, as if to that audience.  As you do so, ask yourself, "What wording, organization, or details sound like they should be changed?"    

Problem Solving (Critical Thinking): Most papers represent all or part of what is called a "problem-solving process."  In its simplest form, it involves (1) a problem, (2) one or more solutions, and (3) a method of reaching the solution.  Which of these three does your paper exemplify?  Which could you add to improve the paper?  In a thesis essay, your main argument is one solution.  People who oppose you are offering other solutions.  The "problem" part can be expressed as a question about the subject--a question that causes you and others to develop opposing answers. 

For example, if your thesis is "War is moral" and someone else's thesis is "War is immoral," then the original question or problem would be "Is war ethical?"  If your thesis is "Science always helps the human race advance" and someone else's thesis is "Science can hinder people's personal development," then the question or problem would be something like "Does science help people?"  What are two or more ideas that oppose your own thesis essay?  What is the problem or question?  If you can determine these, you then might ask yourself whether your main thesis and your arguments accurately reflect the question or problem you are trying to solve or answer. 

In addition, a classic method of starting a thesis essay is, in the introduction, to start with a question and provide a little bit of background (briefly!) on the question or problem itself, including a relevant quotation.  Then, at the end of the introduction, you provide your own answer--your main thesis statement.


Have you tried to go to the heart of the matter you are discussing?  Is there some way in which you can make your paper more authentic--more real and original to yourself, your content, or your audience? 

In a thesis essay, you can establish personal authenticity by adding story examples from your own experience or by quoting someone you have personally interviewed who is an expert by virtue of their experience, education, or training.  You can establish authenticity toward your audience sometimes by reaching conclusions with which it agrees using reasons or details of which it was previously unaware. 

You also can establish authenticity of content by finding what you believe is the very heart of your issue and writing simply, directly, and clearly about that core.  However, pursuing authenticity may make you more sensitive about how you are graded: if you have doubts about your subject or treatment of it, ask your instructor if what you are doing is appropriate.  

In addition, have you written respectfully to your audience?  Have you brought interesting, vivid, and even unusual details into the paper's contents? 

Final Advice Given in Most Chapters

For specific, line-by-line editing, your paper needs proper development of both your particular points that you are making and points or places in the text to which you are referring.  In other words, you need to explain not only yourself, but also your sources/readings.  Your sources/readings must be absolutely clear to your reader in a fair, balanced, logical way.  You must, therefore, not just use quotations and paraphrases.  You also explain them.  (See the "Quoting & Paraphrasing" chapter for how to do this.) 

Remember that the typical quotation should, in many disciplines, have a statement of a source--a name or title--at its beginning; and, after it, there should be a page number (if the source is printed).  The typical paraphrase should have a source--a name or title--either before or after it, along with a page number (if any) afterwards.  In addition, quotations, paraphrases, and stories should not just be tossed into your paper: rather, they should be introduced by having a statement before and/or after each of its connection to what you are saying. 

In most papers, you should use the third-person pronoun: "he," "she," "it," and "they."  You should not use "you" unless you are giving directions, or writing a diary or personal reflection, or a less formal magazine or newsletter article or other specific advice (as in this chapter). 

In most formal writing situations, instructors and supervisors also often dislike the use "I" at any time (unless you are referring to yourself in a story example).  However, some forms of academic and professional writing--especially if a specific instructor or supervisor allows it--are starting to allow the use of the "I" pronoun.  If in doubt, ask your instructor or supervisor.

Paragraphing in most academic papers follows some relatively standard guidelines.  You are working with a lot of information when you write a formal paper.  For this reason, clear, consistent paragraphing becomes even more important. 

Your paragraphs should help you logically divide your body sections into smaller sub-parts, ideas, or sub-ideas--just for the sake of clarity and ease of reading, if for no other reason.  Also, generally, for a short- to medium-length paper, you should have one paragraph each for your introduction, conclusion, and--if you have it--your summary. 

You should, as a matter of habit, have at least two or three paragraphs per page in your final draft.  On the other hand, be careful not to have too many paragraphs per page.  If you have a lot of short, choppy paragraphs, combine them.  The goal, graphically speaking, is to provide your audience with a variety of paragraph lengths--an occasional short one for emphasis or change of pace added to a mix of varying medium and long paragraphs.  The goal in terms of content is to make your ideas flow so well that your audience can easily keep them clear and separate without ever even noticing your paragraphing (or, for that matter, any other mechanical aspect of your paper).  For more advice, go to the "Paragraphing" chapter.  

Several other common, useful strategies of efficient, thorough editing are in the several chapters of the "Revising and Editing" section.  Some of these strategies also are summarized in the following very-brief web page:  

Very Brief Review of How to Edit Your Final Draft


Good luck with writing this type of paper.  For more advanced and/or interesting information on this type of paper, please see the "Advanced" section of the chapter.


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Section F. Argument


Chapter 34. Thesis:







Student Response


Related Chapters:


Disagreement w/Reading 

Literary Thesis

Professional Proposal

Magazine/Nwsltr. Article

IMRaD/Science Report

Case Study

 Related Links in

Prizewinning Student Papers

12. How to Write Theses

14. Online Readings

16. Research Writing

20. Major/Work Writing



Updated 1 Aug. 2013

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