WHAT + HOW + WHY The Three-Part Thesis Statement
Purpose of the Thesis • The thesis, usually expressed in one (rarely two) sentences, is the central, organizing claim of your paper. • Because each paragraph’s job is to drive an argument forward by proving the thesis, the thesis largely determines the type of paper you get to write. • If your claim is complex, you have the option of picking the best arguments for your strong paper and having a lot to talk about.
The Thesis Generator • WHAT: Observation; what you noticed in the text • HOW: Complication; how O works/changes • WHY:Significance; how O + C together contribute to the author’s/text’s larger meaning, reveal larger tensions or concerns, etc. X = specific strategy, literary or rhetorical device(s), and/or pattern X shifts from A to B, emphasizes C, functions as a D, dramatizes E… So what? Why is this important? O + C reveal/suggest/undermine etc…
Evolving Thesis Statements: O + C Observation: pattern/device • In Melville’s The Tartarus of Maids, images of dead whiteness, and blankness • emphasize the similarities between female factory workers and the homogenous paper products Complication: creates analogy Significance: MISSING
Evolving Thesis: What + How WHAT: pattern/device • In Melville’s The Tartarus of Maids, images of dead flatness, whiteness, and blankness • emphasize the similarities between female factory workers and homogenous paper products HOW: creates analogy WHY: MISSING
Evolving Thesis : How + Why WHAT: MISSING • Similarities between female factory workers and the homogenous paper products • suggest that industrialization dangerously replaces vital human reproduction with lifeless industrial production. HOW: creates analogy WHY: reveals historical conditions and their hidden effects
Evolving Thesis: What + Why WHAT: pattern/device • In Melville’s The Tartarus of Maids,images of dead flatness, whiteness, and blankness • suggest that industrialization dangerously replaces vital human reproduction with lifeless industrial production. HOW: MISSING WHY: reveals historical conditions and their hidden effects
Three-Part (What How Why) Thesis WHAT: pattern/device • In Melville’s The Tartarus of Maids, images of dead flatness, whiteness, and blankness • emphasize the similarities between female factory workers and the homogenous paper products, • thereby suggesting that industrialization dangerously replaces vital human reproduction with lifeless industrial production. HOW: creates analogy WHY: reveals historical condition and its hidden effects
Six Key Aspects of a Strong Thesis Statement • Thesis statements should be: • CLEAR • STRUCTURED • SPECIFIC • ARGUABLE • RELEVANT • and INSIGHTFUL
Clear & Structured • Clarity: Do not use overly elevated diction just because this is a formal paper. Simple but polished language will get your point across and often appears more sophisticated than language that “tries too hard.” • Structure: This is easy! Use the three-part structure listed above, and you’ll never go astray.
Specific • SPECIFIC means no generalizations or grand claims. Your thesis needs to be grounded in specific details of the text. • “Reading Twain’s Huckleberry Finn alongside Tuan’s work on space and place reveals the importance of home in the 19th century.” • NOT specific: This statement is general, its claim is very big, and it isn’t anchored in particular aspects of either text. You can’t use a two whole texts to make an argument - you have to narrow it down.
Arguable • ARGUABLE means a claim that a reasonable person could disagree with; statements of fact are neither arguable nor compelling. If your thesis is too obvious, you’ll be reduced to paraphrasing the plot because you can’t make an argument. • “On the raft, Twain portrays the power of familiarity in creating place.” • NOT arguable (no one who has read the text would disagree!)
Relevant • RELEVANT means the thesis addresses the significance of the matter at hand. Whatever you’re arguing, you need to explain why the author is doing what you claim he/she is doing, to what end, to what purpose. You also need to think about why YOU are arguing what you’re arguing - what is your end or purpose (other than that you have to write a paper to pass this class)? • “Huckleberry Finn spends his time at the Grangerfords’ attempting to avoid getting embroiled in the feud that structures their daily life.” • NOT relevant. What is your point in making this claim?
Insightful • INSIGHTFUL means taking the time to really think of something that you think is not obvious, that will require the length of the paper for you to prove it. The best papers are ones where you feel like if you don’t explain it, or show the analysis that got you to your claim, your reader will not see it. They are also the most fun to write. Your essay should teach your reader something new about the text they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I encourage you to get weird with this (as long as you can back it up with evidence).
To Sum it Up: Writing as a Process • Thesis statements often evolve as you look more closely at your quotes while writing. This is a good thing, usually leading to a more complex, arguable, and significant central idea. • A thesis with only one or two of the full three is not “bad” or “wrong.” It hasn’t been built up to its optimal level of insight, but that one part is still necessary for later evolutions. • Before you turn your paper in, ALWAYS check to make sure that your thesis matches the argument that you’ve ended up writing! If your essay went in an unexpected direction, revise your thesis to fit the essay that you wrote.