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  • Bethune Writing Centre
  • Theses and thesis-statements
  • Most academic essay assignments require you to come up with and defend a thesis. How well this is done has a profound effect on the grade the essay receives. You should be clear about the answers to the following questions before starting a thesis-based assignment:
  • What is a thesis?
  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • What is a thesis statement?

What is a thesis?

  • What is a thesis?
  • A sentence that makes a claim about something
  • (usually about an assigned topic or issue) could
  • be turned into a thesis. Here are some examples
  • of sentences that make a claim about something:
  • there should be a worldwide ban on DDT use
  • pre-planned violence is not the cause of football hooliganism
  • even very small networks of neurons are capable of learning and memory.

What is a thesis?

  • What is a thesis?
  • However, a sentence that makes a claim about
  • something is not a well-supported thesis until
  • reasons or evidence are provided to persuade
  • the reader that the claim is true or probable.
  • Hence, a well-supported thesis is essentially
  • the conclusion of an argument. An assignment
  • that requires you to come up with a thesis is
  • an assignment that requires you to argue for a
  • claim about something.

What is a thesis?

  • What is a thesis?
  • Reasons/evidence
  • Claim about something (thesis)
  • Support

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • A thesis-based essay assignment has two
  • purposes:
  • to give you the opportunity to demonstrate your academic skills and talents
  • to add to the body of knowledge about the
  • topic or issue explored in the essay.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Academic skills and talents
  • A thesis shows how well (or not!) you understand the topic
  • It is hard to come up with a thesis that is
  • relevant to a topic or issue that you do not
  • fully understand!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • A thesis shows how well (or not!) you understand the topic
  • A thesis that misses the crux of a topic or issue
  • is a sign to the grader that you have failed to
  • grasp the topic or issue fully!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • A thesis shows how well (or not!) you understand the topic
  • A thesis that goes to the crux of the matter
  • indicates to the grader that you have
  • understood the topic or issue.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • A thesis can fail to be relevant to the topic
  • or issue in a number of ways:
  • the thesis could simply have no logical connection to the topic or issue
  • the thesis could be trivial
  • the thesis could be too wide
  • the thesis could be too narrow

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • No logical connection!
  • Suppose you have an assignment that asks you
  • to write a thesis-based essay on the issue of
  • whether mandatory physical education at all
  • high school grades would significantly impact
  • on adult obesity rates in Canada. You come up
  • with the thesis: eating disorders among
  • high school students contributes significantly to
  • obesity in adult life.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • The thesis: eating disorders among
  • high school students contributes significantly to
  • obesity in adult life is interesting, but it has
  • nothing to do with the assigned issue, which
  • concerned mandatory physical education at all
  • high school grades, not eating disorders at high
  • school!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Arguing for a thesis that has nothing to do with the
  • assigned topic is sometimes called going off topic.
  • Another way of going off topic is to discuss evidence
  • that has no logical connection to the thesis you
  • indicate in your thesis-statement! If your thesis is that
  • there should be mandatory physical education at all
  • high school grades, don’t spend your essay discussing
  • evidence for the thesis that eating disorders at high
  • school contribute to adult obesity!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • To help avoid going off topic, read and re-read
  • the assignment instructions until you
  • completely understand what you have to do. If
  • anything is unclear, ask the professor or TA.
  • When you are arranging the body of your
  • essay, check that the evidence is relevant to
  • the thesis you state in the introduction!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Trivial theses!
  • A thesis that everyone already agrees with
  • is a trivial thesis.
  • Suppose you had an assignment that required
  • you to write a thesis-based essay on the
  • problem of homelessness in Toronto. You did
  • your research and came up with the thesis:
  • homelessness is a real problem in Toronto.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • This thesis is trivial because everyone would
  • agree with it.
  • Everybody thinks that homelessness is a
  • problem in Toronto. So it is a waste of time
  • writing an essay that argues for the thesis that
  • homelessness is a real problem in Toronto!
  • D+
  • F

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • It is also a trivial thesis vis-à-vis the
  • assignment because it is assumed to be true
  • in the assignment instructions…
  • If you are asked to write on the problem of
  • homelessness in Toronto, then it is fair to say
  • that it is a given that homelessness is a
  • problem in Toronto!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • To avoid trivial theses:
  • be thorough in your reading and research, and truly reflect on what you discover
  • make sure that your thesis is more detailed and specific than assumptions in the assignment instructions (unless the thesis itself is an assigned one)
  • try to come up with an original thesis – but remember that the more controversial the thesis, the harder it will be to argue for it effectively!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Some theses more detailed than the assumption that
  • homelessness is a problem in Toronto:
  • creating more inner-city shelters will not alleviate the problem of homelessness in Toronto
  • the problem of homelessness in Toronto is made worse by the lack of investment in affordable housing
  • to help ease the problem of homelessness in Toronto, more resources need to be channeled into support for those living with mental disabilities.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • A thesis-based assignment might give the
  • thesis to you directly, or indirectly via a
  • question or statement that you must agree or
  • disagree with.
  • Here, you do not have to worry about trivial
  • theses, but be concerned about the
  • effectiveness of your supporting argument!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Theses that are too wide!
  • A thesis is too wide if it claims more than is
  • necessary.
  • If you were asked to write a thesis-based assignment
  • on the problem of urban sprawl in the GTA, and you
  • came up with the thesis: the root causes of urban
  • sprawl are the same in the Atlantic and Central
  • Canadian provinces, you would have a thesis that was
  • too wide!

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • This thesis does bear a logical connection to
  • the assigned topic, but it includes more than
  • was assigned (urban sprawl in the GTA). This
  • results in a lower grade, not a higher grade!!
  • D+
  • F

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Wide theses should be avoided because they:
  • leave you open to the charge of having gone off topic
  • are much harder to argue for effectively – the more your thesis includes, the more reasons you must supply in order to support it. Why create the extra work for yourself?!
  • typically result in essays that are superficial and lacking in detailed argument.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • The best ways to avoid a wide thesis are to:
  • make sure that you fully understand the assignment instructions
  • allow yourself time to research the topic thoroughly
  • check to make sure that your thesis is focused on the assigned topic – if you are unsure, check with the professor or TA.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Theses that are too narrow!
  • A thesis is too narrow if it claims less than is
  • necessary.
  • If you were asked to write a thesis-based essay
  • on the likelihood of manned exploration of our
  • solar-system, and you came up with the thesis:
  • renewed manned exploration of the Moon is
  • likely, you would have a thesis that was too
  • narrow!

What is the purpose of a thesis? (ctd.)

  • What is the purpose of a thesis? (ctd.)
  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • This thesis does bear a logical connection to
  • the assigned topic, but it includes less than
  • was assigned (manned exploration of our
  • solar-system…not just the Moon). This results
  • in a lower grade!!
  • D+
  • F

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Narrow theses should be avoided as they:
  • leave you open to the charge of having gone off topic
  • leave you open to the criticism of having failed to take into account a variety of important and crucial points.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • The best ways to avoid a narrow thesis are to:
  • make sure that you fully understand the assignment instructions
  • allow yourself time to research the topic thoroughly
  • check to make sure that your thesis is focused on the assigned topic – if you are unsure, check with the professor or TA.

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • Academic skills and talents
  • How well you argue for your thesis shows how good (or bad!) you are at critical thinking
  • An essay with a thesis that is not well-argued
  • for will not get the best grade, no matter
  • how interesting the thesis is.
  • F

What is the purpose of a thesis?

  • What is the purpose of a thesis?
  • For your supporting argument to be effective:
  • it should include trustworthy evidence
  • the evidence should be relevant to the thesis.
  • For more on this, see the
  • BWC presentation on how
  • to argue for a thesis.

What is a thesis-statement?

  • What is a thesis-statement?
  • A thesis-statement is simply a sentence, or a
  • couple of sentences that tell the reader what
  • the thesis of your essay is. Thesis-statements
  • are easy to write. They are factual sentences
  • like any other factual sentence!

What is a thesis-statement?

  • What is a thesis-statement?
  • Some examples of possible thesis-statements:
  • there should be a phased-in worldwide ban on the use of DDT
  • pre-planned violence is not the cause of football hooliganism
  • memory and learning can be caused by simple mechanisms

What is a thesis-statement?

  • What is a thesis-statement?
  • A thesis-statement typically appears in an
  • essay’s introduction, and is repeated in the
  • essay’s conclusion. A thesis-statement appears
  • in an essay’s introduction so that the reader
  • can know what thesis is argued for in the body
  • of the essay. The next few slides provide
  • examples of thesis-statements (in blue) within
  • the context of essay introductions.

What is a thesis-statement?

  • What is a thesis-statement?
  • The question of whether there should be a worldwide
  • ban on the use of DDT is a complex one, to be sure.
  • The harmful effects of DDT are well-documented and
  • the evidence is incontrovertible. However, it is also
  • undeniable that DDT has saved millions of lives in
  • sub-Saharan Africa. New, less environmentally harmful
  • methods of controlling malaria are being developed,
  • but they are not yet ready for widespread use.
  • Clearly, DDT should be banned worldwide, but the
  • ban should be phased-in as these new methods
  • become available to take its place.

What is a thesis-statement?

  • What is a thesis-statement?
  • The troubling phenomenon of football hooliganism has
  • been with us for several decades, but the recent,
  • vicious clashes between rival fans has fuelled the
  • debate over its causes. One commonly held belief is
  • that football hooliganism is caused by violence which
  • has been pre-planned by itinerant fans. However, all
  • available scientific research shows quite clearly that
  • pre-planned violence is not the cause of football
  • hooliganism.

What is a thesis-statement?

  • What is a thesis-statement?
  • To many, learning and memory are astonishing abilities
  • that must obviously be caused by complex
  • mechanisms. This view was attacked by behaviourism
  • in the early twentieth century, but by the end of the
  • century behaviourism, as a distinct philosophical
  • position, had become unpopular. More recently,
  • research in connectionism has shown convincingly that
  • even very small networks of neurons are capable of
  • learning and memory, thus vindicating behaviourism’s
  • original insight.

What is a thesis-statement?

  • What is a thesis-statement?
  • Writing a thesis-statement is as easy as
  • writing any other factual sentence.
  • The challenging part is coming up with a good thesis and supporting it with an effective argument!!!

Frequently asked questions

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Why am I finding it hard to come up
  • with a thesis?
  • The most common reason is that you are trying
  • to come up with a thesis before you have done
  • sufficient reading and research. You can’t come
  • up with a thesis about an issue until you have
  • researched that issue! Do the research first and
  • then it will be possible to come up with a
  • thesis.

Frequently asked questions

  • Frequently asked questions
  • I’m having trouble coming up with a
  • thesis-statement – help!
  • The most common reason for this is that you
  • are doing things in the wrong order. Do the
  • reading and research first – make sure that you
  • understand the issue. Then come up with
  • a thesis. Then write your thesis-statement. If
  • you do things in this order, you should find it
  • easier to write your thesis-statement.

Frequently asked questions

  • Frequently asked questions
  • I’ve done the reading and research,
  • but I’m still having trouble coming up
  • with a thesis!
  • Are there differing viewpoints on the issue you
  • have researched? If so, you could argue that a
  • particular viewpoint is more plausible than
  • others. If no claim seems worth arguing for,
  • then you may have failed to understand the
  • material you have read and need to read it
  • again.

Frequently asked questions

  • Frequently asked questions
  • I’ve done the reading and research,
  • but I’m still having trouble coming up with a
  • thesis! (continued)
  • Check over the assignment instructions to make sure
  • that your expectations for the assignment are
  • realistic. For example, if you are asked to write a
  • short thesis-based essay on women in sport, and the
  • research includes lots of statistical data, you would
  • obviously not be expected to include all that data in
  • your essay – just come up with and defend a thesis
  • pertaining to the main ideas supported by the data.

Frequently asked questions

  • Frequently asked questions
  • I’ve done the reading and research,
  • but I’m still having trouble coming up
  • with a thesis! (continued)
  • Think about the reading and research that you
  • have done in relation to the main themes and
  • messages of the course. These may give
  • you a clue about what sort of claim would be
  • good to use as a thesis.

Frequently asked questions

  • Frequently asked questions
  • How long should my thesis-statement
  • be?
  • In a typical academic essay, a thesis-statement
  • should be no more than one or two sentences
  • long. Your thesis-statement needs to be clear
  • for the reader, who will encounter it in the
  • introductory paragraph of your essay. So
  • when you write your thesis-statement, keep it
  • clear and straightforward – avoid complicating
  • details.

Frequently asked questions

  • Frequently asked questions
  • I have come up with several theses,
  • but I can’t decide which one to use.
  • Select a thesis according to interest and
  • academic suitability. Choose the thesis that
  • most interests you. Select your thesis, bearing
  • in mind that it must have relevance to the
  • assigned topic or issue, must not be trivial, too
  • wide or too narrow, and that it must be
  • possible to support it with relevant, trustworthy
  • evidence.

Other sources and resources

  • Other sources and resources
  • Make an appointment for the Bethune Writing Centre
  • (go to Master’s office at 205 Bethune to book a slot,
  • or call 416 736 2100 ext. 22035 )
  • Visit York Centre for Academic Writing online resources at:
  • http://www.arts.yorku.ca/caw/resources.html
  • The following books may be useful:
  • Hacker, D. (2003). A Canadian writer’s reference
  • (2nd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Nelson Thomson
  • Learning. Call number: PE 1408 H293
  • Troyka, L. Q. (2002). Simon & Schuster handbook
  • for writers (3rd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall.
  • Call number: PE 1408 T697

Other sources and resources

  • Other sources and resources
  • For science students writing a scientific report, the requirements for a thesis are different from those stated here. The following book will be particularly useful:
  • Day, Robert A. (1998). How to write & publish a scientific
  • paper (5th ed.). Phoenix, Arizona: The Oryx Press.
  • Call number: T11 D33


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