Analyzing the Thesis to Gather and Shape Information

The thesis is a powerful sentence in an essay, and it's a powerful tool for writers. Once you have a thesis sentence, you can analyze it to help you determine:

  1. the type of information and evidence that you need to support the thesis, and
  2. the order of that support.

For example, what kind and order of information do you expect in the essay if you read the following thesis sentences?

Children enjoy professional wrestling for many reasons.

This thesis has a topic, "professional wrestling," and an angle, or an idea about the topic, that "children enjoy it for many reasons." You might logically expect support that provides the different reasons children enjoy professional wrestling: there's a lot of colorful spectacle involved, there are "good guys" and "bad guys," and children are allowed to make noise rooting for their preferred player. On the other hand, you probably would not expect information about the history of professional wrestling, the ways in which professionals become involved in the sport, or the pros and cons of allowing children to watch the simulated violence. You wouldn't expect this type of information because the thesis idea doesn't plan for it--it only indicates that the essay will explain the reasons why children enjoy professional wrestling.

Those reasons may be in any logical order, as this particular thesis doesn't indicate which reason comes first or second or third. The writer can rank the reasons as he/she sees fit, perhaps moving from the least to the most important reason to increase the reader's interest and involvement as the reader moves through the essay.

Although many people consider vocational education (such as computer training) more immediately beneficial than liberal education (such as a history course), liberal education benefits learners by teaching them to assess and evaluate information.

This thesis has a topic, "liberal education," and an angle, "liberal education benefits learners." You might logically expect the essay to include an explanation of the benefits of liberal education. But there's more going on in this thesis sentence; you might expect a bit more than just an explanation of benefits. The writer starts by setting up a contrast between vocational and liberal education, and the writer ends by actually listing three of the benefits of liberal education. might expect some explanation of the benefits of vocational education first, as a means of getting into the main focus of the essay. And you'd expect the explanation of liberal education's benefits to move from "apply" to "analyze" to "evaluate," in that order. On the other hand, you probably would not expect an explanation of the U.S. system of higher education, an explanation of the various types of vocational education programs on the college level, or a comparison of liberal education in the U.S. with other countries--the thesis just doesn't indicate these ideas. What the thesis does indicate, in this case, is the content plus the order of that content.

Many communities have found other uses for shopping malls built during the merchandising expansion of the early 1980s and deserted during downsizing of the late 1990s. Malls have been turned into town offices, senior centers, multiplex movie theaters, and even rollerskating rinks. This experience points out, in miniature, two general characteristics of U.S. society, the quick embracing of something new and the ability to reinvent itself.

What's the topic of this thesis? Is it "shopping malls" or is it "characteristics of U.S. society?" And what's the angle, that "communities have found other uses for malls" or that "U.S. society embraces new things and can reinvent itself?" If you look at the thesis and take apart the ideas, you'll see that the focus is on "characteristics of U.S. society" and the main idea is that "U.S. society embraces new things and can reinvent itself." The language states that the example of shopping malls is just that--one example that shows, in miniature, how this reinvention has occurred. So, what would you expect in the body of the essay after reading this thesis? Perhaps there will be more information related to the shopping mall example. Perhaps there will be additional information that offers other examples of major trends in the U.S. that have been embraced and then reinvented. In either case, you know that the focus will be on "new" and "reinvented," the major concepts of the thesis. This thesis does not indicate the specific items that the writer intends to use as evidence, nor does it indicate any specific order for the support. Yet it still is a relatively sophisticated thesis sentence in the depth and quality of its ideas; you know, as a reader, that you're probably not going to get a surface treatment of an idea in this essay. So even though the thesis is relatively simple in form (it sticks to the basic topic/angle format), it's relatively sophisticated in idea.

As you can see, analyzing the thesis sentence can help you as a reader--it lets you know what to expect. Analyzing the thesis sentence also can help you as a writer. Once you write a thesis, set it aside and then come back to it and analyze it to help you determine the type and order of support that you need to provide.

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