Thesis statements are hard to write. There, I said it. As an English major people usually assume that I have some sort of internal thesis generator that spits out finely tuned arguments instantly. This is not true. I often spend an embarrassing amount of time wading through poorly drafted theses (yes, that is the plural) before I finally land on something that works. That being said, your thesis is important and it deserves a lot of time and attention. It can be difficult to figure out exactly what a good thesis looks like, especially because many professors seem to be unable to present a good definition of what a thesis is. Basically, a thesis statement is a sentence (or several sentences) that outlines the argument you will be defending in your paper. This can seem like a bit of a vague definition, but if you break up the goals of your thesis, it becomes a lot more manageable.

1. It introduces the topic at hand and gives a reader an idea of what to expect out of the paper. 2. It presents your argument. 3. It demonstrates the importance of your argument, giving the reader more reason to be invested in your essay. Let’s look at some examples of possible thesis statements, and see whether or not they accomplish these goals. This is a paper about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions. This thesis accomplishes goal number 1, but it doesn’t accomplish the other two goals. For a thesis to successfully present the argument of your paper, someone needs to be able to disagree with it. Because there is no opposing viewpoint to this statement, it does not function as a successful thesis. Your thesis should be a strong argument, which the reader can choose to agree or disagree with. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions introduced several conventions to the field of autobiography, which helped to create and define the genre of the confessional.

This thesis is better, in that it does present an argument. A potential reader could disagree with the idea that Confessions defined the confessional genre, so this thesis accomplishes both of the first two goals of a successful thesis. However, this thesis does not accomplish the third goal. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions introduced several conventions to the field of autobiography, which helped to create and define the genre of the confessional. Because many of these conventions persist within the confessional genre to this day, gaining an understanding of the devices used within Confessions can provide valuable context to contemporary confessional novels. Although this thesis is a bit wordy, it does accomplish all three of the goals of a successful thesis. The reader knows what you plan to discuss in the paper, what you are going to argue about your topic, and why it is important. Presenting a fully developed thesis, such as this one, will allow you to write a strong essay. Writing a thesis with this much depth is tricky. Personally, I find it extremely difficult to break through to a thesis that accomplishes more than the first two goals right away. Thesis statements are hard, but they are important, and they are certainly writeable. If you have a good understanding of your topic and its importance, your thesis is in there somewhere. The only real obstacle is teasing it out and refining it so that it best reflects your thoughts.

So, the simple rule is to hand draw elaborate tables and graphs for the early draft of your dissertation. Make sure your data are presented accurately so your supervisor can clearly understand your graph/table, but don’t waste time trying to make it look word processor perfect at this time. Once you and your supervisor agree upon how the data should be graphically represented it is time to prepare “perfect” looking graphs and tables. Dissertation writing should be clear and unambiguous. To do this well, you should prepare a list of key words that are important to your research, and then use that set of key words throughout. There is nothing so frustrating to a reader as a manuscript that uses alternate words to refer to the same thing. Review two or three high quality, well organized dissertations produced by other students in your department or group. Examine their use of headings, style, typeface and organization.

They should assist you to begin writing with a clear idea of what the final product should look like. A simple rule — if you are presenting information in the form of a table or graph make sure you introduce the table or graph in your text. Following the insertion of the table/graph, make sure you discuss it. If there is nothing to discuss, then you may want to question even inserting it. Another simple rule — if you have a series of similar tables, use similar words to describe each one. If each introduction and discussion uses similar wording then the reader can easily spot the important features in each table. We are all familiar with how helpful the Table of Contents is to the reader. What we sometimes don’t realize is that it is also valuable to the writer. Use the Table of Contents to help you improve your manuscript. Use it to see if you’ve left something out, if you are presenting your sections in the most logical order, or if you need to clarify your wording.

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