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You have your assignment and you’ve chosen your topic. Once you’ve spent some time exploring the material you want to use and organizing your observations, you will need to start developing your thesis – the central argument of your paper.
What is a thesis?
The thesis is the central point or argument of an essay. The thesis statement, in one or two sentences, expresses that central point or argument.
A good thesis statement is NOT a statement of fact:
×“Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal system of parliamentary government.”
It is also NOT a statement of intent:
× “This essay will examine the settings in Jane Eyre in order to discuss the theme of orphanhood.”
A good thesis statement is a statement of position that requires the evidence in the body of the essay for support.
Taking a stance
Don’t confuse your topic with your thesis. The assignment topic outlines the general scope of your project. Your thesis focuses your discussion of that topic. A thesis is a statement that takes a position or offers an interpretation of the subject. It is not simply a description or a statement of fact.
“The artists in the Group of Seven focused on the Canadian landscape”
is not a thesis but a statement of fact. There is no position to argue. Try again.
“Through their use of vibrant colour and bold shapes, the Group of Seven revitalized the art of landscape painting in Canada.”
This is better. The statement not only refers to certain facts but also interprets them. The writer implies that the visual style of these paintings is the source of their influence. Another essay might view the influence of these artists from a completely different angle, arguing that the ethnicity and gender of the artists – all white males of European descent – had more to do with the Group of Seven’s influence than did any of their innovations in style. As long as the points are clear and convincingly argued, either of these approaches would be fair game as a thesis.
One way to develop a concise thesis is to organize your thoughts around a What/How/Why strategy. This method can help you move from a descriptive position to an interpretive one.
|WHAT||the topic or incident to be examined||Influence of the Group of Seven on Canadian art and culture|
|HOW||the means by which the topic will be examined – examples, themes, key images, etc., i.e., the major discussion points of your essay||Innovations in style (colour, shape);
Influence on other artists;
Prevalence of Group of Seven images in Canadian iconography, national symbols, etc.
|WHY||your interpretation of the events, topic, etc.; the significance of examining the topic from the angle you have chosen; conclusions to be dawn (i.e., the “SO WHAT?” of your argument)||The Group of Seven’s paintings redefined Canada’s sense of national identity.|
With these factors in mind, a more fully developed thesis statement might look like this:
“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.”
When using a what/how/why breakdown, the heart of the thesis usually rests in the why statement. A thesis that only addresses what and how usually ends up being merely descriptive. The why component foregrounds your interpretation of the data presented, which is the core of your paper. What your reader is most interested in is your take on the information – your interpretation or approach to the matter at hand – not just a summary of the details involved.
A thesis statement that answers what/how/why in one to two sentences gives your paper a precise focus. It shows your reader that you know where you’re going and why it is worthwhile to get there.
- The simple statement of position
“As a democracy, Canada offers only limited rights and privileges to its citizens.”
“In Jane Eyre, the settings function primarily to support the theme of orphanhood.”
- The roadmap thesis statement includes supporting points in the order they will appear:
“Canada offers only limited rights and privileges to its citizens because of the persistence of a class structure and limited accessibility to both the political process and higher education.”
“In Jane Eyre, the settings function primarily to support the theme of orphanhood by emphasizing Jane’s alienation, loneliness, and poverty.”
- The complex thesis statement can accommodate two sides of an issue.
“Although Canada affords its citizens many democratic rights and privileges, those rights and privileges are limited by the persistence of a class structure and limited accessibility to both the political process and higher education.”
“Canada affords its citizens many democratic rights and privileges. However, those rights and privileges are limited by the persistence of a class structure and limited accessibility to both the political process and higher education.”
“Although the settings in Jane Eyre can be seen to place the novel in the Victorian gothic tradition, they serve primarily to support the theme of orphanhood by emphasizing Jane’s alienation, loneliness, and poverty.”