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If you’re reading this newsletter, you’re most likely in the preparatory stages of writing an academic thesis: a substantial academic paper written on an original topic of research, usually presented as one of the final requirements for the Master’s or Ph.D. degree.
It is important to note that an “academic thesis” should not be confused with a “thesis statement”. A thesis statement is “a basic argument” that clearly articulates what the Master’s thesis/dissertation is expected to demonstrate.
One of the initial building blocks to your immense writing project is to prepare a thesis statement: a sentence or paragraph that summarizes the argument you plan to make in your thesis/dissertation, as well as the supportive evidence you plan to use to back up that argument. In short, it provides a “roadmap” for the reader of where you plan to go with your thesis/dissertation. Most importantly, it must convince the reader that the claim is important to your academic field, and that it is likely to be true based on the evidence provided.
A good thesis statement should:
• Make a knowledge claim that purports to offer a new approach or idea in a particular field, and to explain why it is new. The purpose of any academic thesis/dissertation is to add to the existing pool of knowledge in a particular area, or to “fill in the gaps of knowledge.” As such, your knowledge claim should clearly state why the information/knowledge that you have to offer is new within your field, and should also convince the reader that your claim is likely to be true based on the evidence provided.
• Make an argumentative assertion that summarizes the conclusions you have reached about your topic after reviewing the literature. This assertion should be focused and specific enough to be “proven” within the boundaries of your paper. It should also identify the relationships between the pieces of evidence that you are providing.
• Outline the scope, purpose and direction of your paper. After finishing your thesis statement, the reader should clearly know the essence of your intended project, and also the boundaries you intend to place on it. Your thesis statement should not make the reader expect more than you are prepared to present in your final document.
Keep in mind that your thesis or dissertation topic should address an unresolved problem or knowledge gap in your subject area that needs to be explored and that concerns society as a whole. Your thesis or dissertation topic should be unique in that it should add something new to the existing literature. Merely digging up answers that already exist does nothing to contribute to an academic or professional field of knowledge. Simply put, a thesis or dissertation topic should be based on new knowledge and new solutions to existing problems—not on simply churning up old answers. However, conducting research on questions that have already been answered is considered part of the literature review and is a useful exercise to find out if someone has already conducted research on your proposed research topic.
Types of thesis statements
There are three basic forms that your thesis statement can take:
• Analytical: a statement that breaks down an idea piece by piece and analyzes and evaluates each individual part;
• Expository: a statement that explains an idea or concept to an audience.
• Argumentative: a statement that claims a position that is open to debate and justifies the truth of that position through concrete examples and evidence.
What type of approach you choose to take will depend upon the nature of your research. Analyzing why you are writing this thesis/dissertation can provides important clues regarding the approach you should take. For example, are you proposing a new point of view, or agreeing someone else’s point of view with some disagreement or alternative interpretations? Are you trying to make an existing point of view clearer or better in some way? Or are you criticizing or dismissing an existing point of view because of its inadequacy or irrelevance?
The answers to these questions can help you pinpoint the type of statement you should write.
What is the relationship between a thesis statement and a research question?
The thesis statement is a preliminary answer to the research question you have posed. A strong introductory thesis statement, followed by thorough research in the body of the paper, should convince the reader that you are, indeed, addressing and resolving a pertinent research question. The strategic restatement of the thesis statement in the conclusion should carry a convincing rhetorical effect to the reader that your research problem has been resolved.
You will find that you are able to narrow down your thesis statement by brainstorming a list of responses to your research question. Your task is to turn your working research question into a thesis statement.
The type of questions that can be helpful to ask yourself when drafting your thesis statement are:
• What am I analyzing, explaining or describing, or what am I claiming or asserting?
• What are the reasons/evidence I have to support my claim or assertion?
• What did I discover in my analysis?
• How can I categorize my discoveries or organize my explanations?
• In what order should I present my discoveries, and the different parts of my explanations and reasons?
Where should my thesis statement appear in the document?
The thesis statement is usually, though not always, the last sentence of your paper’s opening paragraph. The thesis can be expressed in several sentences or in an entire paragraph. It tells your readers what to expect and focuses their attention on what is to come.
Because a thesis/dissertation is such a lengthy document, it is important to continually remind the reader of the research question your document is designed to resolve. Hence, each result chapter in your dissertation should have an introduction and a thesis statement. In particular, as in any paper, the last paragraph of the introduction should guide the reader through the material to be presented, and should make the reader aware of the logic, organization, and goals of the text to follow.
Finding a starting point
Getting started is always tough, but the first step to writing an effective thesis statement is to begin with your purpose and audience. What purpose do you wish to achieve? What do you want to describe or explain? What viewpoint do you wish your reader to adopt?
Articulating the answers to these questions is the major part of the battle. Don’t attempt to write anything polished when beginning; just try to get your thoughts down on paper. Once that’s accomplished, the rest will flow much more easily.
My advisor doesn’t really know much about my research topic but he is the one providing my funding. What should I do?
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters’ degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers’ names or e-mail addresses.