By Lily Zhu, 3rd year Concurrent Education, English and French Student
When editing a paper, one of the first things to look at is the thesis statement—for good reason. The thesis statement is the most important component of your essay. It is the MAIN IDEA, which means that everything you argue in your essay should relate back to your thesis.
It’s pretty common for a paper to have a strong, argumentative, well-written thesis, but then end up going in a different direction. While you might want to return to that original statement, it’s important to remember that you can adjust your thesis just as much as the rest of your essay. So after exploring your topic in writing your first draft, there’s a way to make sure that your thesis is “up-to-date” before working on your final draft.
While editing, it can be a bit difficult to figure out if you are talking about the right points from your thesis statement, which is why it’s important to organize your thesis so that it is clear what your argument entails. In some ways, this editing technique is like making a reverse outline, where you write down the main points of each of your paragraphs to get an overview of the individual parts of your paper. Now, we’re going to use a similar approach with the thesis statement below:
“Through their abstract style, the Group of Seven not only revitalized the art of landscape painting but also redefined the Canadian vision of both the landscape and the nation itself.” (from Writing Centre Handout)
Try breaking it down into the main points that will be discussed in the essay. What are the individual components in this sentence?
“Through their abstract style, the Group of Seven not only revitalized the art of landscape painting but also redefined the Canadian vision of both the landscape and the nation itself.”
From here, we can see that there are two main points surrounding the subject, the Group of Seven, and one of which can be broken down into two sub-points:
- Revitalizing the art of landscape painting
- Redefining the Canadian vision of
a) the landscape
b) the nation itself
Hence, the main ideas of your body paragraphs should correspond to each of the points.
The thesis also indicates how the subject achieves these two (or three) things: through their abstract style. The “how” component should be where you draw your evidence from for your arguments and should be present throughout your body paragraphs.
If there are major points in your essay that don’t relate to any of the main points, or if your “how” component is different from what you presented in the thesis, that’s when you know there are “off-track” ideas that deviate from the intended argument of the essay. In this case, you will have to either remove these points from your paper, or adjust the thesis so that it includes these ideas.
Let’s say, after you’ve completed the first draft for this paper, that you realized that your evidence is based on the Group of Seven’s use of colour and shape rather than their abstract style while discussing their artistic legacy. How can you update your thesis so that it reflects this new idea?
From the breakdown, we can see that this new idea is part of the “how” component. So, we will fix only that part of the thesis, which should not compromise the rest of the argument that you want to maintain:
“Through their innovative use of colour and shape, the Group of Seven not only revitalized the art of landscape painting but also redefined the Canadian vision of both the landscape and the nation itself.”
Rather than the thesis being an introduction to your arguments, as we were probably taught in high school, I like to think of it as a CONCLUSION of all your ideas in an essay. As the thesis is probably one of the first parts you write, there are a lot of things later in the writing process that could potentially cause you to lose the focus and specificity of the intended argument, such as adding in new evidence as you move along. Although developing more ideas is a natural and important part of the writing process (it shows that you’re thinking more elaborately!), the new input of information means that the thesis might not sufficiently represent the all the ideas in the body of the essay. Taking apart your thesis and reorganizing it is a way to make sure that it reflects the changes you made in the editing process. So, the next time you’re not sure if your essay makes sense, take a careful look at your thesis!