Refining Thesis Statements
What Makes for an Effective Thesis?
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An effective thesis should be argumentative and controversial (i.e., if you could make a plausible case against your thesis, it is probably an argument), something not immediately obvious which you can persuade a reader to believe through the evidence in the body of your paper.
A strong thesis statement answers a specific question and takes a distinct position on the topic, is focused, and allows the reader to anticipate the organization of the argument to follow.
A weak thesis statement is vague (identifies a topic but does not specify an argument), offers plot summary or is a statement of fact, is un-provable, or does not give the reader a sense of why the argument is important.
Look over the two example thesis statements below. Consider and name how each of the progressively refined versions matches the criteria offered above.
Example Thesis A
Version 1: Marge Simpson is important to the plot of The Simpsons.
Version 2: Marge Simpson is important to The Simpsons because she fulfills a significant family role as a mother and housewife.
Version 3: Marge Simpson is important to The Simpsons because she fulfills a significant family role as a teacher and caregiver to her husband and children.
Version 4: While Marge Simpson may be a model caregiver for her family, she is a different sort of model for her audience.
Version 5: Despite her role as a seemingly submissive housewife and mother, Marge Simpson comes to function for the audience of The Simpsons as a subversive force against “middle class” values.
Example Thesis B
Version 1: Eating disorders are a significant problem among college-aged students.
Version 2: Eating disorders are a significant problem among college-aged men because they negatively affect academic performance, socializing, and overall psychological well-being.
Version 3: Eating disorders among college-aged men are overshadowed by a focus on eating disorders among college-aged women.
Version 4: Eating disorders among college-aged men are overshadowed by a focus on eating disorders among college-aged women; people don’t notice this because an eating disorder is typically considered a women’s disease and is stigmatized as such.
Version 5: Lack of attention to eating disorders among college-aged men not only leaves this group of students untreated, but also exacerbates feelings of isolation associated with this disease.
This handout was originally produced by Jane Wanninger, Graduate Student, Department of English, Vanderbilt University
Last revised: 07/2009 | Adapted for web delivery: 04/2021
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