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The Writing Center

Thesis/Purpose Statement

Probably the most daunting task for any writer is to generate an effective thesis statement.  In college, academic writing follows a specific pattern— after a brief opening, you state your position in one clear sentence. Whether your essay is explanatory or argumentative, a strong thesis statement will provide the map, guiding the entire essay. Confusion arises, however, over the difference between a purpose statement and a thesis.

What is the function of a purpose statement?

  • It gives the paper a focus: scope and direction.
  • It foreshadows the development of the argument

Used in many of the sciences for research proposals, in some disciplines, a purpose statement is too blunt or direct, so check with your instructor about using a purpose statement.

Sample purpose statement
This paper will examine the ecological damage caused by Katrina on the Gulf Coast. The focus will be on the economic, political and social relationships effected by the environmental problems.

What is the function of a thesis statement?
A thesis statement:

  • Gives the writer’s declaration of the purpose of the paper.
  • Makes an assertion directly answering the question the paper asks.
  • Offers a provable claim that reasonable people could argue.
  • Provides a map of the arrangement of ideas presented in the essay.

(Note that the thesis statement is more complex than the purpose statement)

Sample thesis statement
      The ecological damage produced by Katrina on the Gulf Coast was caused by the political and social environment of the region.

What are the characteristics of a good thesis statement?

  • It answers a specific question.
  • It is narrow or broad enough to be covered within the assignment parameters.
  • It focuses on one main idea.
  • It is controversial enough that a reasonable person could disagree.

How do I generate a good thesis statement?
After you have completed your research for evidence, you will need to analyze the material to find the possible connections— both similarities and contrasts. Once you have analyzed your evidence, you will have a main idea or a working thesis. Think of the process of creating a thesis like a funnel, beginning with a general subject, narrowed by the purpose, and ending with a specific assertion, claim, or thesis.

How do I generate a thesis if the topic is assigned?
Any assignment can be narrowed down to a single question. Your first task is to select the focal question that your essay will answer. If the assignment is a request for information, such as “Write a report on the benefits of expanding the Marina District in Downtown Toledo,” turn the request into a question— “What are the benefits of building the Marina District in Downtown Toledo?” After you have established the focal question, compose a one- to- two-sentence response based on your educated opinion.

Q: What are the benefits of the Marina District in Toledo?

A: The potential benefits of the development of the Marina District are....

How do I generate a thesis if the topic is not assigned?

Even if your instructor has not posed a specific question, you will need to create a question about the issue you plan to investigate. It is best if you first establish your subject; next consider the purpose of the essay. From this point you should be able to ask a question about the topic to then state a position or thesis.

Brainstorm the topic
What are your concerns? What concerns are facing your field of study?
For example, you are in construction and you are concerned with the slow recovery in New Orleans after Katrina. You begin the thought process like this:

Construction reform.

This is not a thesis; it is a fragment. This is a general subject from which you could take your paper in many directions. Perhaps from your research you have found that there were oversights in the codes for homes constructed in hurricane and flood zones. While everyone will agree that rebuilding flimsy homes is a bad idea, narrowing your topic to who should make the reform and what specific types are needed will assert your position.

Because a majority of the damage caused by Katrina was due to inadequate construction, the federal government needs to establish more stringent building codes before financing reconstruction.

Test your thesis

  1. Does it take a stand and capture the subject?
  2. Does it invite a discussion or can a simple statement respond it to?
  3. Is it specific to your paper?
  4. Is your claim significant?
  5. Are the words and phrases a unified by a single idea?

Test the sample thesis
 Because a majority of the damage caused by Katrina was due to inadequate construction, the federal government needs to establish more stringent building codes before financing reconstruction.

  1. Does it take a stand? Yes, the damage was due to inadequate construction and the federal government needs to step in.
  2. Does it invite discussion? Yes, some reasonable people may feel that it is not the government’s responsibility to enforce codes and that no building could withstand the force of Katrina.
  3. Is the thesis specific? Yes, it focuses on the aftermath of one storm and the steps to be taken before more federal funds should be used.
  4. Is the claim significant? Yes, rebuilding still needs to take place.
  5. Are the words focused on a single idea? Yes, not all issues are being addressed, just one aspect of a condition for rebuilding. Yet the thesis is still broad enough to allow the paper to explore examples of the types of destruction, building codes, and financial needs facing those devastated by Katrina.

 For any further questions or more a detailed explanation refer to your instructor, The Little Brown Compact Handbook, or the Writing Center.


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