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6.1 Forming a Thesis

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand what a thesis is.
  2. Know the relationship between a topic, your opinion, and your thesis.
  3. Understand techniques for discovering how you are personally related to a topic.

Most academic writing includes a thesis, which is the main stance you decide to take toward your topic. Your thesis tells readers what your paper will be about. It also serves as a target you must ultimately hit as you write, though that target may move around quite a bit as you go through the drafting process. You might have an idea about your thesis early on, or you might only decide upon it once you have worked with your topic and plan for a while. You might continually tweak your thesis as you learn more and develop your opinions about your topic. This table shows how topics and personal stances relate:

Topic Personal Stance
College students’ schedules College students’ schedules should be set by the students, not by their parents.
Fallen logs in national parks Fallen logs in national parks should be harvested rather than left to decay and increase the likelihood of forest fires.

Developing your personal stance is critical for several reasons. It narrows your topic to a final manageable level, and it makes the written work uniquely yours. Taking a personal stance gives you a point of view to develop, support, and defend. When you present your stance, it ultimately awakens emotions in your readers as they determine for themselves whether they agree or disagree with your stance.

If you have trouble deciding on a thesis, keep in mind that your thesis ties directly to the main purpose and audience of your writing project. It is the main point you want to make to your audience. Ask yourself how you personally relate to the topic. Take the college students’ schedules topic, for example. Your response to how you are personally related to the topic could be one of the following:

  1. I am a person with knowledge to share since my mother always set my college schedules for me resulting in me having little understanding about designing a schedule that works.
  2. I am an angry student since my father insisted on setting up my schedule, and my classes are all spread out in a way that will make my year miserable.
  3. I am an interested observer since my roommate’s mother always set her schedules and almost always ruined our plans to have some common free blocks of time.
  4. I have an opinion that I would like to share about “helicopter parents,” and this is a particularly good example of the phenomenon.
  5. This semester, after talking with an advisor, I sketched out the rest of the coursework in my major, and I see for the first time how everything’s going to fit together.

Once you see how you personally relate to your topic, you can then more clearly see what stance you want to take. Once you take a stance, work on wording it effectively, and you will have a working thesis.

Key Takeaways

  • A thesis is your personal stance toward the topic that you are writing about.
  • The difference between a topic and a thesis is that a thesis involves taking a personal stance.
  • You can determine your personal stance about a topic by asking yourself how you are personally related to it.

Exercise

  1. For each of the following topics, think of a personal stance that might work for a thesis:

    1. Student housing
    2. Healthy food in restaurants
    3. Online classes (and/or partially online or hybrid classes)
    4. The future of hard-copy newspapers
    5. Minimum age for college students