The thesis is the most integral component of your introductory paragraph, your essay, and your entire graduate school application. It can be comprised of one or occasionally two sentences and is typically the last sentence in your introduction. It provides your reader with a clear, succinct synopsis of the contents of your essay. Its purpose is threefold: (1) to state the topic, (2) to show your stance or perspective on the topic, and (3) to demonstrate how you will support your perspective. Take a look at the following example:
I grew up the summer that I lived in Ghana; I learned from my foster family that gratitude is the most essential human quality, benefitting every person involved.
The topic in the example above is gratitude. The author’s stance on the subject is that gratitude is one of the most essential human qualities. The way in which he or she will demonstrate this argument is by narrating his or her experience in Ghana. This thesis gives the reader all the tools necessary to continue reading and acts as an excellent transition into the first body paragraph.
Thinking about the Thesis
After you have brainstormed your ideas (see chapter 10), it is a good idea to write down a rough thesis as part of your outline (for more on drafting an outline, see chapter 18) in order to give your paper some direction. However, you should not feel absolutely certain about your thesis until you have finished writing your paper. For this reason, you want to have what’s called a working thesis. Because it is essential for your thesis to properly allude to the contents of your paper, a thesis should constantly change as you develop your argument. While developing your thesis, make sure to take the following questions into account:
- What is the prompt asking?
- What is my opinion?
- How will I support my opinion?
If you have a clear understanding of these questions, then all you have left to worry about is wording.
Structuring Your Thesis
It is essential that your thesis is specific and expresses one clear main idea for your essay. Also, be sure that your thesis is subjective; it cannot be a statement of fact. You need to have a point of view to argue or a fresh new perspective to bring to the table. A thesis should include a topic, your perspective on that topic, and how you plan to support it. While there is no one right way to structure your thesis, we have outlined two of the most popular methods below.
- The most common way is to state an argument and then provide two or three points in support of that argument. These two or three different points will eventually be represented in the topic sentences of your body paragraphs (for more on body paragraphs, see chapter 21). Check out the following example:
My parents’ divorce had a significant impact on my childhood because it forced me to be extremely independent, realistic, and understanding at an early age.
This example clearly states a topic (the influence of his parents’ divorce on his or her childhood), but also gives evidence that support this — three examples of how the divorce affected his or her childhood traits. The author will likely concentrate one body paragraph on each of these qualities.
- Another common approach is to discuss the effects or consequences that your main idea has. Take a look at this example:
My experience on an airplane that almost crashed has changed my perspective on the value of courage and has thus prompted me to make a substantial change in my life: to never be afraid to both show and face my fears.
This example has one specific main idea—that the author’s new perspective on courage has been shaped by his experience on an airplane. The example also demonstrates the outcome of the author’s changed perspective. From here, it is likely that the author will cite examples of this outcome in his or her body paragraphs.
It is very important that you have enough material to support your thesis. This is why it is extremely beneficial to have a working thesis that changes as you develop your argument.
Also, do not expect your thesis to be short. In just one (or sometimes two) sentence(s), you should present a topic, state your perspective, and provide two or three supporting points. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you need to (or should) fluff your thesis.
Keeping it Fluff-less
DO NOT USE FLOWERY LANGUAGE! No imagery, metaphors, allusions, or other fancy rhetorical devices should be used in your college essays. Admissions officers do not want a thesis that needs to be decoded. It is possible and recommended to be articulate and have well-flowing sentences (chapter 14) without including superfluous fluff. Certainly, you may use descriptive adjectives where appropriate, or a three syllable word here or there — but, for the love of Shakespeare, keep it literal. Use appropriate language that will make your thoughts immediately comprehensible to your reader.
- State a topic, your perspective, and how you plan to support your perspective.
- Express one clear main idea.
- Have a working thesis. Continually edit your thesis as you continue working on your essay.
- Write statements of fact.
- Put fluff in your writing that makes your reader have to reread or decode your thesis.
- Restate the prompt in your thesis statement. Rephrasing the prompt in the thesis is a common but harmful mistake, making it look to the reader like the applicant is trying to fill up space with doughy, cookie-cutter writing.
- Have a highly controversial thesis in your college admissions essays.
There you have it—some quick tips to aid you in your thesis-writing and give your essays the initial “oomph” factor they need!