Possibly the most difficult part of writing a paper is coming up with a solid thesis. Without it, you paper is based off a weak idea, and even if you produced the most beautiful, eloquent prose ever written, it’s not making much of a point. It’s all too easy to be paralyzed with indecision, and spend more time wondering “What should I write about? ” than you would just writing the paper. There are four main traits of a good paper topic, and keeping them in mind will help you write a better thesis. I have a mild obsession with planning essays on purple legal pads. They help me think my best. Get what you need to do your best thinking – and maybe consult my post on writing a college paper for some general tips – before thinking about your thesis. The obvious starting point is your prompt or rubric. Think about the question your paper needs to answer or stance it needs to take, and brainstorm some ideas on your position.

This is so unique to your paper that I can’t tell you how to do it, exactly, but the basic first step of writing a thesis or essay is having something to say. So find your voice. Once you know where you stand and what you want to write about, you’re ready to craft your thesis. So let’s tackle them one at a time. The point of a real thesis is not to point out that there is a conflict, or that there are multiple solutions. The point of a real thesis is to choose a side of an issue, a method for problem solving, or a perspective for interpretation and prove that stance’s validity. Use your introduction to show your reader that there are multiple methods or viewpoints, if needed. And then use your thesis to stake out a position in that controversy and inform your reader what you’ll be arguing for.

But I don’t mean in the terrible four square way. Did anyone else have to do four square writing as a kid? We’re college students. We’ve progressed past this dark time in our lives. And basically you had to put your main topic in the middle – for example, “social media” – and then in the squares around it, write a reason for or against it with some examples or evidence. Then the last square relisted your three reasons and added why they were important. Don’t think of your grown-up thesis the same way. Instead of using your thesis as a list of your arguments, you should consider it a one sentence summary of your paper’s argument. Isn’t that a better thesis? Your readers now know that they’re looking for connections and behaviors that are supposed to be good, without you having to list “family connections, reading, and news” already.

Also, it sounds less like a third grader wrote it, but I did that on purpose. I know, I know, it’s me telling people to say fewer words, which is hypocritical. But hear me out. So many people try to do the two sentence thesis, but it’s almost never necessary. A good way to test this is to write a full intro paragraph with your two-sentence thesis embedded in. Then, without telling them it’s two sentences, ask a friend who’s not familiar with the topic to read it and pull out the thesis. If they only choose one sentence, your other sentence isn’t needed – work any essential points into the one they chose and move forward. I say this not because I’m a crazy lady who hates two-sentence theses, but because readers – including whoever’s grading you – are looking for a one-sentence thesis to tell them what to expect in the paper.

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