Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to Write a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is the distillation of your central argument into one or two concise sentences. If you must write a paper on a topic of your choice, follow these steps to create a strong thesis statement:

1. Choose a topic. When you get to select your own topic, take advantage of the opportunity to write about something that genuinely interests you. You will have more energy and motivation to work if you are investigating a subject about which you are truly curious. For example, one of my students was assigned a persuasive essay on the topic of his choice. He is an avid follower of financial and investment news, particularly as these pertain to politics and the economy. His topic:
The Recent Credit Crisis

This is not yet a thesis statement. It is a topic.

2. Narrow and focus the topic. For a thesis statement to be both (a) strong and (b) manageable within the scope of your assignment, it is usually necessary to take your general topic and make it more specific. This student decided to consider the relationship between the financial industry and the credit crisis:
Financial Institutions & The Credit Crisis

Looking good. The credit crisis as a whole is probably too large and complex a topic to treat adequately in a brief paper. So this student made his topic more specific by identifying what aspect of the credit crisis he wants to focus on. However, this is still just a topic, not a thesis statement.

3. Assert a position in the topic that you can support with evidence. The next step is to take a stand. Your thesis statement must present your central argument. My student's move from topic to statement looked like this:
Changes in legislation governing financial institutions greatly contributed to the recent credit crisis, and were it not for specific provisions in the legislation, the crisis would have been less severe.

Now, we have a statement that the author can support with evidence. His task will be to persuade readers to adopt his position. However, this statement contains some vague language. Thus, the next step is to...

4. Specify vague terms.
The more concrete and specific you can be, the better. In this student's case, his first attempt at making a statement begs at least a couple of questions: What legislation? Which credit crisis? He made his argument more specific with the following revisions:
Provisions in the Financial Services Modernization Act
of 1999 contributed greatly to both the financial credit
crisis of 2000-2001and current recession and were it not
for specific provisions in the legislation, the crisis
would have been less severe.

5. Provide a road map.
The thesis statement is improving, but it lacks a critical element. Strong thesis statements give readers a clear sense of not only what you will argue, but how you will support your position. Accordingly, I urged this student to enumerate his main points of support. He responded with the following revision:
Provisions in the Financial Services Modernization Act
of 1999 contributed greatly to both the financial credit
crisis of 2000-2001 and current recession because U.S.
lawmakers ignored the lessons from the Great Depression,
failed to promote a competitive business environment,
and allowed several institutions to become too large to fail.

Through a series of thoughtful revisions, this student developed a thesis statement that is focused and specific. The statement takes a clear position and provides the major points of support that will be developed in the essay that follows.

By following these simple steps, you too can write great thesis statements!

Many thanks to Mike for permitting me to use his excellent work as an example in this post.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summertime is a Great Time to Research Colleges

Summertime is an excellent time to research colleges and think about where you might like to apply. Now that school-year activities are on hiatus, why not make the time to give the college search process the time and attention it deserves? Researching colleges is a good idea no matter what grade you are in—there’s no reason to put this off until the summer before your senior year.

Here are a few suggestions to get your summer college search started:
  • Use an online search tool such as The College Board's College Matchmaker
  • Look at school, department, and faculty websites
  • Find schools on Facebook, join affiliated groups, correspond with current students
  • Read school profiles in the Fiske Guide to Colleges
  • Contact Admissions Officers at colleges and ask questions
  • Visit campuses in person
These are only a few of many effective ways you can research colleges. Please visit my website www.tamtastic.org and feel free to contact me for more tips and strategies. Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!