student writing thesis statementWriting a thesis statement is always challenging to our students, even if they are strong writers. Why? Well, because writing a thesis statement involves more than simply figuring out what the writer’s response is to a particular topic. It also means that she understands that response, has refined the intellectual rigor of that response based on research, and put that informed and critical response into writing. That’s quite a challenge!

Now that your students know what a thesis statement is—and what it isn’t—it’s time for them to take a shot at writing their own. To make the process less intimidating (hopefully!), we’ve put together the following exercise. It’s not perfect, but it does break down the process of writing a thesis statement into 8 digestible steps.

Writing a Thesis Statement in 8 Steps

In this exercise, you will work toward developing a draft of your preliminary thesis. This exercise is modeled on techniques outlined at http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/Thesis.html.

Step

Task

Example*

 

1

 

Identify your topic

 

 

The television program American Idol

 

 

2

 

Write a short statement of purpose

 

 

I propose to explore how American Idol exposes some issues about American identity.

 

 

3

 

List 3 or 4 (maybe more) guiding questions that your paper will address

 

 

1. Is American Idol “reality” TV?

2. What does that mean, anyway?

3. Why does reality TV matter to me, the world, our culture?

4. Why do people—even those who detest the show—find themselves fascinated by it?

5. What does AI say about America or American identity today?

 

 

4

 

Turn one or more of those questions into an assertion.

 

 

“Appealing to Marines, Mormons, African Americans and Latinos, and to every region of the country, American Idol has a legitimate claim to its label of reality TV” (Showalter).

 

 

 

5

 

List other ideas that you want to include in your analysis; if there are many of them, find a way to categorize them.

 

 

Multiculturalism, diversity, the show’s format (voting for the winner, etc.), the emphasis on the nation “American” Idol.

 

6

 

Try using a template as you construct the tentative, working thesis.

 

 

Although many people who watch ________ believe that it is ____________ , a closer inspection reveals that _______________.

 

 

 

7

 

The working thesis

We are riveted to American Idol because it shows us the vast diversity in America.

 

 

8

 

The final thesis (this comes after many, many stages of revision)

“At once a competition, a talent show, a soap opera, a make-over fest, a patriotic celebration and an election, American Idol showed how post-millennial United States is changing with regard to race, class, national identity and politics” (Showalter).

*The source of this example comes from Elaine Showalter’s essay “Window on Reality: American Idol and the Search for Identity.” The American Prospect 14.7 (July-August 2003).  Please note that Showalter is not a student writer. She is an acclaimed academic and professional writer.  You don’t have to match her level of eloquence and dexterity, but why not aim high?  I have worked backwards from her thesis (imagining a writer’s process on this topic) in order to demonstrate how to use the steps outlined above.

And now, it’s your turn…

Step

Task

Write it out…

 

1

 

Identify your topic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

Write a short statement of purpose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

List 3 or 4 (maybe more) guiding questions that your paper will address’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

Turn one or more of those questions into an assertion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

 

List other ideas that you want to include in your analysis; if there are many of them, find a way to categorize them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6

 

Try using a template as you construct the tentative, working thesis.

 

 

Although many people who watch ________ believe that it is ____________ , a closer inspection reveals that _______________.

 

 

 

7

 

The working thesis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8

 

The final thesis (this comes after many, many stages of revision)

 

 

 

You probably can’t fill this one in just yet…

 

 

 

If you are looking to supplement your writing curriculum with a few more writing exercises, you might be interested in a few of our other blogs:

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