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Thesis Development: Steps and Instructions

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  • 0:01 What Is a Thesis Statement?
  • 0:56 Constructing a Thesis
  • 4:59 Addressing Your Thesis
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

One of the most important components of a successful academic essay is a strong thesis statement. Learn how to construct an effective thesis statement for a persuasive essay by watching this lesson.

What Is a Thesis Statement?

You've no doubt heard about thesis statements, and you may have a decent idea of what one is. Or you may be confused about the concept and completely unsure of how to construct one. Fear not. While it is true that an effective thesis statement is essential for a good essay, it's also the case that there are some clear-cut steps for you to follow to come up with a good one.

A thesis statement communicates the main point of an essay and expresses the writer's position. For many academic essays, a thesis statement should be one sentence long. You'll usually place your thesis at the end of your first paragraph, which will be your introductory paragraph.

Having a good thesis statement is useful for you, as it will help you stay on track as you write the rest of your essay. If a point doesn't support or relate to your thesis statement, you'll know you'll need to cut that point out. A good thesis also helps your reader. If your thesis statement is clear, a reader can know what to expect in your paper right from the start.

Constructing a Thesis

You can pull the fundamental components for your thesis statement from your writing prompt or the topic idea that you've come up with. Let's take a look at our sample writing prompt:

Some states have made certain types of cell phone use illegal for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles. Some of these bans apply only to texting, and some bans apply to all handheld cell phone use. Some people argue that all cell phone use by drivers is dangerous and that all use by drivers should therefore be banned. Should your state completely ban all cell phone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles? Write a persuasive essay in which you present your argument. Be sure to provide a clear thesis and examples in your essay.

This writing prompt calls for a persuasive essay that argues in favor of or against a ban on all cell phone use for drivers who are operating motor vehicles. The key question from our prompt is Should your state completely ban all cell phone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles?

Because a thesis statement - particularly for a persuasive essay - should clearly present your position on a debatable topic, we can approach this in a straightforward way and try to answer the key question clearly.

In order to formulate our answer, we should refer back to our prewriting, in which we generated some ideas for this particular prompt. We brainstormed ideas both in support of and in opposition to a complete ban on cell phone use for drivers. In support of the ban, we came up with the following ideas: Would cut down on distracted driving, Would reduce accidents, save lives, Making calls can be just as distracting as texting, and Would send a message that no distractions are acceptable while driving.

In opposition to the ban, we came up with these ideas: Talking on a cell phone is no more distracting than using the car radio, Drivers should be allowed to take or make emergency calls, Hands-free cell phone use is safe and shouldn't be banned, Lawmakers should focus on real distractions, like texting, and I've never had a car accident while using my cell phone.

As we determine how to answer the key question from our writing prompt, we'll first need to decide whether we prefer the ideas from our PRO or CON column. Let's say that we feel more comfortable with the ideas from our PRO column.

You can use some of the fundamentals from the key question from a writing prompt to draft a thesis statement. We can flip the basic components of our key question, Should your state completely ban all cell phone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles?, to form the first draft of a thesis that directly responds to the question.

We could answer, My state should completely ban all cell phone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles. One benefit to using the basic components of the key question as we construct a thesis is that we can know that we're directly answering the question without getting off track.

Note that the flipped answer to our key question is just our first draft. It's important to consider other additional information that we may want to include in our thesis. Though it's certainly not a required format, some students - and writing instructors - like to use a should ... because structure for thesis statements for persuasive essays. This approach allows you to state your position clearly as well as your reasoning for that position.

We'll need to add a because clause to our drafted thesis in order to fit this format. We won't need to make up our because reasoning on the fly. Instead, we can draw our reasoning directly from our brainstorming ideas. We may decide that our strongest and most fundamental ideas are Would cut down on distracted driving and Would reduce accidents, save lives.

Note that we're not pulling minor details from our prewriting. Instead, we should consider at this point what we'd like the major point of our essay to be. This will be the main point that all of our other points will support. We can always go back and tweak our thesis a bit later if needed, but at this stage, arguing that a ban on all cell phone use for drivers would reduce distractions and therefore car accidents is a good approach.

Our thesis statement - with a because clause drawn from our prewriting - might therefore be, My state should completely ban all cell phone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles because such a ban would reduce distractions and save lives.

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