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3 tips for helping students craft stronger thesis statements

June 13, 2022

Every strong argumentative essay centers around a robust thesis statement—and learning how to craft one is a key part of becoming a stronger writer overall. Despite this, many students find it difficult to craft thesis statements that accurately capture their ideas and succinctly summarize their arguments. 

Do your students also struggle to form the foundation of their essays? You’re certainly not alone in experiencing this common issue. Sylvie, a humanities tutor at Paper, shares her step-by-step insights on how to take students from unsure argumentative writers to aspiring masters of the thesis statement craft. 

A strong thesis statement is essential—but many students struggle with them

One of the most common concerns students have with essay writing is about their thesis statements, whether they want to polish them up to be more succinct or simply understand how to write them in the first place.

As a teacher, you might have referred to the thesis statement as the “road map” of an essay—a central argument that guides the student in their writing. With this in mind, delivering a strong argument is essential.

Tutoring here at Paper has helped me understand how to clearly guide students toward creating more effective thesis statements, and this involves segmenting the writing process into digestible chunks. Below, I’ll highlight some of the main features of a strong thesis statement. These include the “what,” the “how,” and the “why.”

The ‘what’

The “what” refers to what, exactly, the student will discuss in their essay. Ideally, the student’s argument is quite specific. Here are some examples of nonspecific and specific theses to better illustrate what I mean:

Nonspecific thesis examples

  • “In this essay, I will argue that characterization, plot, setting, and timeline are used by the author for X purpose.”
  • “This essay will argue that climate change is bad.”

As you can see, the nonspecific thesis statements have too broad a scope. In this scenario, students may speak too vaguely about their essay topic to ever reveal the great insights they’ve discovered, or they could miss out on the opportunity to give readers an expected overview of what their essay will cover. Similarly, if a student’s thesis is too ambitious, they might not be able to cover everything they’d promised due to word count limitations.

Specific thesis examples

  • “In this essay, I will argue that in Chapter 1 of X book, the character Sally is an archetype used by the author for Y purpose.”
  • “This essay will argue that the rising number of wildfires as a result of climate change will lead to X.”
Here, the more specific essay topics better hone their arguments. Narrowing in on a unique topic is a valuable way for students to learn about scope, and it gives them a chance to say something truly thoughtful and incisive in their essays.

Furthermore, students’ arguments must include debatable opinions. It’s crucial that students do not simply tell their audience that a well-known fact is, well, true. To illustrate this point, let’s use the famous Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet” as an example.

Facts

  • “Both Romeo and Juliet die at the end of the play.”
  • “Romeo fights Tybalt.”

These events are explicitly written about in the text. There’s no argument to make here—everyone agrees that they happened.

Opinions

  • “Both Romeo and Juliet die at the end of the play because of X.”
  • “The main reason Romeo fights Tybalt is because of X.”
One could easily argue that the couple died as a result of X, perhaps Y, or even Z. The reasons are not explicitly known to us, which makes for an interesting and complex argument!

The ‘how’

The “how” refers to how the student will make their case—in other words, the method by which the student will support their argument. Some examples include:

  • Textual analysis (e.g., close reading).
  • Interviews.
  • Case studies.
  • Personal experience.
  • Creative writing.
  • Visual analysis.

Here are some examples of how a student might write the “how” of their thesis:

  • “Through close reading, I argue … ”
  • “In this essay, I will discuss the results of an interview I conducted to explore how … ”
  • “By examining three case studies, my essay will … ”

     

It’s important that the student explain what method they will use to convey their argument—this gives the audience an idea of what kinds of examples will be discussed. 

The ‘why’

The “why” refers to why the argument matters. What is significant, important, or valuable about this essay? What are the consequences, effects, or benefits of the student’s research? 

This section is also a place for the student to think about the impact of their work. Who will care about this argument? Does their research just affect themselves? Their classmates? The field of study they are working in (e.g., gender studies, physics)? Their community (e.g., people with disabilities, religious minorities)? Their city, state, or country? Perhaps the whole world? 

It’s helpful for students to think about the importance of their work in this way. For one, it gives their ideas meaning. When students care about a topic, they’re more likely to put extra effort into their essays. What’s more, the student’s writing will become more persuasive and impactful. People are more likely to finish reading an essay when they feel connected to the issues being discussed and when they care about the conclusions being drawn.

Remember these pointers when your students grapple with thesis statements

Again, if you find that your students are struggling when crafting their thesis statements, just know that this is a common concern on the journey toward becoming a great writer. Luckily, it’s actually a rather simple process to guide students toward stronger thesis-writing skills.

Simply reminding students to consider the above three factors when mapping out their essays—the what, the how, and the why—might do the trick. Be sure to share these pointers with the next student you have who’s dealing with thesis statement woes.

Tutor Sylvie

Sylvie, Paper Tutor

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