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Developing and Writing a Strong Thesis Statement
Why this isn't a Standard Academic Guide
As an academic, academic guides on how to write are useful, since they let you know how to construct an essay. As a writer, academic guides as a rule, are atrocious, because the last thing a writer wants to do is “construct” an essay. Yes, well written essays are organized, clear, and precise, but the last thing I, as a writer, want to encourage among future writers, is the practice of piecing together an essay based on what you need out of it. Rather, I would prefer if future academic writers enjoy what they are writing, put quality and effort into it, and conform their enjoyment and writing to the standards and rigors of academic writing. Remember, out of all the things that require patience, writing a good essay is one of them, and a thesis is where you start. A good thing must never be rushed.
As this is not an academic guide, please be prepared for some out-of-the-book advice. Anyway, I'd dare say you've had enough of that, haven't you?
I'm no stranger to college students who dread finals week with unrelenting horror. It's the time of year when a student has to wrack his already exhausted brain and come up with new ideas to write about for the numerous final papers assigned. I remember too, sitting in front of an open, blank, Word document and trying to search my mind for a topic that was original, creative, and yet substantial enough to research on. Hopefully, this guide will show you that this process can not only be easy, but enjoyable.
If you don't have a thesis, you don't have an essay. I've been a writer for years, including my college years, and this is one of a writer's maxims. The thesis is perhaps the most important part of the essay. It's what makes your essay meaningful, and it directs the rest of your argument. A good thesis will be clear, well developed, and persuasive. An excellent thesis must be all this, and exceptionally unique or persuasive. For that to happen, you need some good ol' inspiration.
Trouble coming up with ideas? Can't start the thesis? That's okay, don't worry. Whenever I experience this, the first thing I always do is find something to make life enjoyable. It sounds lazy and dumb, but it's my number one writing secret. Let's face it, love writing or hate writing, bottom line is you're going to have to do about 8-10 hours of it before this paper is done. Might as well make it easier for yourself, pal.
Feeling a little thirsty? Go make yourself some lemonade. My personal favorite combination is a cup of hot, dark coffee, and a cigarette. Dark because I'm a writer, and my soul is stained with black. Haha, I'm kidding. Alright, found all your inspirational items? Good. Now, take a sip, dim the lights, have a quick puff, and sit back in your seat. This is very, very important.
Ask yourself questions. I find even simple, “dumb” questions are good questions. One time, I was writing about Camus' The Stranger. It's a very simple book, simple language, simple cover design, simple plot, very complicated literary work. I ended up asking myself questions, such as,
“What is a stranger?”
Thinking a little, I replied to myself that a stranger was one that existed outside the realms of normality. I asked myself,
“What are the realms of normality in the book?”
I then wrote down everything in the book that crossed the line in some way and was “not normal.” I asked myself,
“What is normality?”
Which led to,
“That which is acceptable,”
“Why is only that acceptable?”
This process eventually allowed me to write about how certain literary elements in the book, one being the Sun, affected the characters in the book and thus affected how they behaved within or without the bounds of normality and worked to help explain the theme of the plot, which was the subject of my essay. Asking yourself these really simple questions organizes how you think. Not only that, you start drawing connections to other things that help you write about what you were originally thinking about. The longer and longer you create these chains of thought, and are conscious of them, the more and more you have to write about. A breadth of knowledge is required before writing, even in creative writing. You cannot write a persuasive historical novel if you don't know the details of how, for example, Victorian women put up their hair in the morning. If no research is required, then thought is where you will find your answers. To me, the most enjoyable papers are the ones which require the least references. Those are the ones you have to think the most about.
Writing is How You Think
It's putting down what's in your head on paper. If you can't think clearly, you can't write clearly. The “chain-of-questions method” is far from the only way to get inspired, but it works for me, and works well. You're free to follow the standard a + b + z = essay but finding things to write about that fit into a predetermined criteria is much harder, less enjoyable, and ultimately less meaningful, than simply forcing yourself to think in more depth about the things you already know. In my opinion, writing is the practice of thought, and good writing is good thinking. What is good thinking? Clear thinking, well-worded thinking, and persuasive thinking. Basically, a good essay.
Okay, Writing the Actual Thesis
It's not very hard to write a thesis, or, as a matter of fact, an essay. Following a simple formula, an essay is essentially:
A certain amount of paragraphs of argument and evidence
A page for citation of references or a bibliography
Similarly, a thesis is:
An introduction to the subject material that will be discussed in the paper
An introduction to an argument, or a series of arguments about the subject material in question
Once you can identify which is which, writing a thesis is relatively simple. You could simply reduce it to a recitation of the above list. Here is a very literal example of that:
“Shakespeare's Hamlet presents the character of Hamlet as a hesitant intellectual trapped in the struggle between extremely patriarchal rivalries. I will argue that Hamlet transforms from an intellectual into a warrior to overcome his patriarchal needs, exhibited eventually by the oedipal relationship with his mother, Gertrude.”
As you can see, I just introduce my text, and introduce my argument. Once you have done sufficient research and processed these thoughts well enough them to understand them fully, having good source material from which to derive a thesis is simple, because all a thesis is is making sure people understand what you're talking about. Once you have achieved that, the essay itself falls into place.