To write a good thesis statement, you must know what a good thesis statement is. Recent research tells us that the most effective way of learning to identify a good thesis statement is to practice discriminating between real thesis statements and non-thesis statements—and, even more importantly, between real thesis statements and near misses, which can look good at first glance but on further inspection fall short.
“Discrimination training” is essential because all composition is a process of writing and revising, and writing and revising again, until you are satisfied with the results. If you cannot readily tell the difference between a good thesis statement and even a close approximation, you will stop work too soon.
These exercises develop your ability to discriminate a genuine thesis statement from a non-thesis, or a stronger thesis from a weaker one, in your own work—to know whether you have arrived at a good thesis statement or whether you need to keep working.
To help you discriminate, consider what distinguishes a Non-Thesis, a Near-Miss, and a genuine Thesis Statement.
- A Non-thesis is a statement of fact that no reasonable person could deny.
Example: The French Revolution was a major political phenomenon.
Explanation: People can argue over what caused the French Revolution, or over whether its outcomes made things better or worse, but it is undeniable that the Revolution constituted a major political phenomenon.
- A Near-miss is statement showing a relationship or correlation between two things, without explaining how and why the connection exists.
Example: The French Revolution led to a series of wars.
Explanation: Here, the writer claims that the revolution and war are connected but does not explain how and why one led to the other.
- A Thesis Statement makes a claim and also says why the claim is true. A thesis statement will often include the word “because.”
Example: The French Revolution led to a series of wars because its republican ideology threatened Europe’s monarchs, who wanted to restore the old regime.
It might help to think of thesis statements in terms of “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and ‘how.” Both a non-thesis and a near-miss will include who, what, when, and/or where, but they lack the all-important why or how. In general, a good thesis statement will answer the questions why or how.
During the 17th century, Europe experienced both a mini ice-age and a large number of political eruptions.
This is a statement of fact. There is no claim that can be justified or disputed.
During the 17th century, Europe experienced a mini ice age that was one of many reasons for the period’s large number of political eruptions.
This statement makes a claim (the mini ice age was related to political eruptions) but fails to explain why the claim is being made. Why was the mini ice age one of the reasons for the large number of political eruptions, and how did the extreme weather patterns shape political developments?
Although many other factors were involved, a key reason Europe experienced a large number of political eruptions during the 17th century was a mini ice age that caused massive hardship and, with it, widespread discontent.
Here, there is a distinct claim about the relationship between the mini ice age and the large number of political eruptions, and there is also an explanation of whyand how the two are related—namely because the mini ice age caused unprecedented hardship, which manifested itself as political strife. A reader who disagreed with this thesis could try to show that hardship and political eruptions were unrelated.