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."
This Type of Paper?
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.
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
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
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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The major section of WritingforCollege.org 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
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
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
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
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
Basic Chart: How do you
know if your idea is a good thesis?
the next fifty years, humans will live on the moon.
it a thesis?
It is an argument, one that would make a very good debate, with
very good reasons for and against it.
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
thesise.g., narrow it to twenty years or broaden it to one hundred
yearsso it best fits the size of your research project and the proofs
that you find.
moon averages about 240,000 miles in distance from the earth.
it a thesis?
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.
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.
moon is way cool.
it a thesis?
Sort of. This
is a thesis, but not a very good one.
It is too general and casual.
What can you do?
Make the idea more specific and narrow, or choose a
Humans never have gone to the moon.
it a thesis?
statement is considered a fantasy by all respected academic/scientific sources, even if 5-10% of the American public does believe
What can you do?
Find something that is rationally arguable using
academic and/or scientific reasoning and proofs.
moon is green cheese.
it a thesis?
is fun, but pure fantasy.
What can you do?
Find a real argument.
Developing a Personal-Experience
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
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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organizing a thesis paper, you may want to consider three
practical matters. Be aware of
(1) the typical visual/textual design, (2)
central key to organizing this type of paper, and (3) dangers to
avoid. General principles of organization are described in detail in
chapter. Specific details for this type of paper are below.
already shown you the following organization for a thesis paper:
Visual Plan or Map
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
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.
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
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
First Unique Subtitle***
sentence stating first reason; then explanation and details [2+
Second Unique Subtitle
Topic sentence stating second reason; then explanation and details [2+
Third Unique Subtitle
sentence stating third reason; then explanation and details [2+
Fourth Unique Subtitle)**
Topic sentence stating fourth reason; then explanation and details) [2+
CENTRAL ARGUMENT/SUBJECT and concluding details [1 par.]
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
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
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
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
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
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.)
instructors--and some types of papers or disciplines--require a short
(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
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
about organizing body sections, topic sentences, and subtitles in general,
please go to "Organizing
College Papers." For more about organizing paragraphs, go to the
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Are There Special Revising and Editing Needs?
a thesis paper, the focus techniques
with which you started in the Introduction to this
chapter also can help you finish your paper:
FOUR FOCUSES FOR REVISING:
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?
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.")
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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 OnlineGrammar.org)?
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
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):
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
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
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
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"
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
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.
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"
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:
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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