The Argumentative Essay Thesis Statement

Writing Thesis Statements for Argumentative Essays

Introduction

University writing often requires students to use persuasion: they need to convince readers of a logical viewpoint on a debatable subject. The thesis statement is usually one sentence in the essay’s introduction that clearly states the writer's opinion and it often appears after some general background information about the issue. The thesis statement acts as a short summary of the writer’s stance in the debate, helping readers understand what will appear in the rest of the paper. Assignments may not state clearly whether a thesis statement is necessary, but if it asks you to take a position on an issue, analyze, interpret, compare and contrast or show cause and effect, you are probably expected to develop a persuasive thesis. (If you are not sure, it is wise to ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement.)

Developing a Thesis

Before you write a thesis statement, it is important to spend time reading academic articles to gather general background information about the issue. You need to evaluate the findings and arguments of different writers and decide which ones you think are the strongest and most convincing, which ones have the most credibility and which ones will help you write persuasively. Reading recent research will help you to decide your position and write a stronger, well-informed argument. Understanding and critically weighing others’ ideas will guide you towards developing a clear, logical and convincing thesis statement.

Thesis Statements: 4 points to remember

1. MAKE IT DEBATABLE

The first important point is that thesis statements must be debatable. (There is no point writing a persuasive argument if everyone already agrees!)

Example of an un-debatable thesis statement:

'Drinking too much alcohol may cause health problems.'

This is weak because it would be very difficult to build a persuasive argument that drinking too much alcohol would not cause health problems: most people (and doctors) already agree that it would.

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

'Alcohol should contain warning labels about the possible dangers of over-drinking.'

This is debatable because people can agree or disagree with the proposal. Some might agree that alcohol labels should contain warnings about the dangers of drinking while others may feel that warning labels would be ineffective as they would not stop people from drinking. Therefore, it is a good thesis statement.
The first point to remember then is that thesis statements must provide room for disagreement and debate.

2. MAKE IT SPECIFIC

Thesis statements should be specific, not general. The following thesis statement is too general:

'Drinking alcohol is harmful.'

This statement is too broad and unfocused because it does not specify:

*Who drinking alcohol harms
*What drinking alcohol harms
*What the main reasons are that make drinking alcohol harmful

Asking specific 'Wh' questions can help narrow your focus and make your paper more manageable.

The following thesis statement is more persuasive because it is focused:

'Alcohol consumption may negatively impact university students’ GPA.'

As this statement provides specific answers to the questions above, it significantly narrows the possibilities that the writer can write about and provides a clear focus for the entire argument.

Here are two more examples of focused thesis statements:

'A four-year university programme is better than a three-year one because students have more time for deeper learning.'
'Hong Kong will not become a world class city until it tackles its air pollution problem.'

The second point to remember then is that a thesis statement should be specific.'

3. HAVE ONLY ONE CONTROLLING ARGUMENT

As you can see from the examples above, a good thesis statement has only one controlling (main) argument:

'Alcohol should contain warning labels about the possible dangers of over-drinking.'
'Alcohol consumption may negatively impact amongst university students’ GPA.'
'A four-year university programme is better than a three-year one because students have more time for deeper learning.'
'Hong Kong will not become a world class city until it tackles its air pollution problem.

It is important that your thesis statements also contain only one controlling argument. Supporting details can be discussed in depth later in the essay's body paragraphs that follow the introduction.

4. MAKE IT CLEAR AND CONCISE

As you can see, good thesis statements use clear language and not too many words. It is important that your thesis be clear so that your readers know exactly what your position is. There should be no confusion, such as in the following poor example:

'Many people from around the world have different opinions about whether teenagers under eighteen years of age should be able to get a driving license and drive a vehicle or not and I tend to agree with some of them but not with others.'

This example is poor for a number of reasons. First, it is too long and ‘wordy’ (it uses too many unnecessary words which can be omitted). Second, the opinion of the writer is not clear to the reader. A better example of a thesis would be:

'Teenagers under eighteen years of age should not have driving licenses as most are not mature enough to handle the responsibility of driving.'

This thesis statement is much better as the writer’s position is very clear, and uses a minimal number of words. Clear and concise should be your goal in all writing, but it is especially important when writing a thesis statement.

Summary

Remember! When you include a thesis statement in your introduction that is…

1. debatable
2. specific
3. has only one main argument
4. is clear and concise

…your essay will be focused and your reader will know exactly what to expect in the body paragraphs that follow your introduction. With a little practice, you can write high quality thesis statements that bring focus to all of your argumentative essays.

More information and practice with thesis statements:

http://create.arizona.edu/content/weak-thesis-statements-recognizing-and-fixing-them
http://www.uark.edu/campus-resources/qwrtcntr/resources/handouts/thesis.html
https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/01/
http://depts.washington.edu/owrc/Handouts/How%20to%20Structure%20and%20Organize%20Your%20Paper.pdf

Now do the interactive activities on the right.

Developing Strong Thesis Statements

Summary:

These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.

Contributors: Stacy Weida, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2018-01-31 03:32:44

The thesis statement or main claim must be debatable

An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.

Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:

Pollution is bad for the environment.

This thesis statement is not debatable. First, the word pollution means that something is bad or negative in some way. Further, all studies agree that pollution is a problem; they simply disagree on the impact it will have or the scope of the problem. No one could reasonably argue that pollution is good.

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

At least 25 percent of the federal budget should be spent on limiting pollution.

This is an example of a debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it. Some people might think that this is how we should spend the nation's money. Others might feel that we should be spending more money on education. Still others could argue that corporations, not the government, should be paying to limit pollution.

Another example of a debatable thesis statement:

America's anti-pollution efforts should focus on privately owned cars.

In this example there is also room for disagreement between rational individuals. Some citizens might think focusing on recycling programs rather than private automobiles is the most effective strategy.

The thesis needs to be narrow

Although the scope of your paper might seem overwhelming at the start, generally the narrower the thesis the more effective your argument will be. Your thesis or claim must be supported by evidence. The broader your claim is, the more evidence you will need to convince readers that your position is right.

Example of a thesis that is too broad:

Drug use is detrimental to society.

There are several reasons this statement is too broad to argue. First, what is included in the category "drugs"? Is the author talking about illegal drug use, recreational drug use (which might include alcohol and cigarettes), or all uses of medication in general? Second, in what ways are drugs detrimental? Is drug use causing deaths (and is the author equating deaths from overdoses and deaths from drug related violence)? Is drug use changing the moral climate or causing the economy to decline? Finally, what does the author mean by "society"? Is the author referring only to America or to the global population? Does the author make any distinction between the effects on children and adults? There are just too many questions that the claim leaves open. The author could not cover all of the topics listed above, yet the generality of the claim leaves all of these possibilities open to debate.

Example of a narrow or focused thesis:

Illegal drug use is detrimental because it encourages gang violence.

In this example the topic of drugs has been narrowed down to illegal drugs and the detriment has been narrowed down to gang violence. This is a much more manageable topic.

We could narrow each debatable thesis from the previous examples in the following way:

Narrowed debatable thesis 1:

At least 25 percent of the federal budget should be spent on helping upgrade business to clean technologies, researching renewable energy sources, and planting more trees in order to control or eliminate pollution.

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just the amount of money used but also how the money could actually help to control pollution.

Narrowed debatable thesis 2:

America's anti-pollution efforts should focus on privately owned cars because it would allow most citizens to contribute to national efforts and care about the outcome.

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just what the focus of a national anti-pollution campaign should be but also why this is the appropriate focus.

Qualifiers such as "typically," "generally," "usually," or "on average" also help to limit the scope of your claim by allowing for the almost inevitable exception to the rule.

Types of claims

Claims typically fall into one of four categories. Thinking about how you want to approach your topic, in other words what type of claim you want to make, is one way to focus your thesis on one particular aspect of your broader topic.

Claims of fact or definition: These claims argue about what the definition of something is or whether something is a settled fact. Example:

What some people refer to as global warming is actually nothing more than normal, long-term cycles of climate change.

Claims of cause and effect: These claims argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur. Example:

The popularity of SUVs in America has caused pollution to increase.

Claims about value: These are claims made of what something is worth, whether we value it or not, how we would rate or categorize something. Example:

Global warming is the most pressing challenge facing the world today.

Claims about solutions or policies: These are claims that argue for or against a certain solution or policy approach to a problem. Example:

Instead of drilling for oil in Alaska we should be focusing on ways to reduce oil consumption, such as researching renewable energy sources.

Which type of claim is right for your argument? Which type of thesis or claim you use for your argument will depend on your position and knowledge of the topic, your audience, and the context of your paper. You might want to think about where you imagine your audience to be on this topic and pinpoint where you think the biggest difference in viewpoints might be. Even if you start with one type of claim you probably will be using several within the paper. Regardless of the type of claim you choose to utilize it is key to identify the controversy or debate you are addressing and to define your position early on in the paper.

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