Homework Help: How Do I Write a Good Thesis?

Posted by Kyle Eichner on 3/13/15 11:00 AM

Writing a good thesis is simple: pick a position, then defend it like crazy.

Your English teacher likes to talk about writing a thesis. You've learned about this every year, it seems, and yet somehow, when you get your paper back, your teacher has always marked all over it, and said that your thesis is "not an argument" or "not specific enough" or "not provable." What's the big deal?  This is one of the biggest problems I encounter as a homework tutor for middle schoolers in NYC, so today, we'll go over the basics.

Thesis 

One thesis. Two theses (pronounced thee-sees; why do plurals have to sound so weird sometimes? Thank Latin, one of the many parent languages of English). This is the argument of your essay. The point of every essay is to persuade someone of your point of view. If it's a formal essay for school, you won't use "I" or "you," but your thesis is still telling your opinion. The thesis statement is usually just one sentence, but it is also THE MOST IMPORTANT SENTENCE in your essay. Every other sentence is supporting this one. That means everything in your essay should relate to this sentence in some way, either introducing the ideas or helping prove this idea.
 

Thesis vs. Topic

A topic is what your essay is about. Maybe "the death penalty" or "the role of fate in Romeo and Juliet." That is not your thesis. Everyone in your class could have the same topic, but write completely different theses. A thesis must be debatable. "The death penalty is when the government kills people who committed crimes" is a definition or fact. It cannot be debated. "The death penalty reduces crime" or "The death penalty should be abolished" are two different theses, taking opposing sides on the death penalty. You can debate either one. 

Not every topic has a pro/con side. In an analytical essay, your thesis might look more like, "In Romeo and Juliet, fate is responsible for the lovers’ deaths." Your thesis must be provable, with evidence you will take from the book, and it must still be debatable (someone else could say, "No! Fate is not the deciding factor! It's Romeo and Juliet's own stupid decisions, which is not fate!").

Thesis vs. Topic Sentence

The thesis is the last sentence of your introduction. You spend your introduction setting up the context, and then the thesis goes at the end.

Each paragraph after that should have a topic sentence. The topic sentence is like a mini-thesis for each paragraph. Everything in the following paragraph should be evidence to help prove the topic sentence of that paragraph. But each topic sentence should be directly related to the thesis of the whole essay. It's like a puzzle: the body paragraphs should fit together to show the whole picture - which could be summarized by the thesis.

The topic sentence of your concluding paragraph should be restating your thesis in different words. The main idea of your conclusion is to wrap up all of your great ideas and remind the reader why you are correct.

 

Thesis Construction

How to build a thesis? You need to have done some good thinking about your topic. Probably your teacher will help you brainstorm. The thesis can be the hardest part of writing - but if you think of a really good thesis, the rest of your writing should come easily. 

Some teachers have a very specific model for your thesis. If your teacher doesn't tell you otherwise, here is one model: 

[Occasion], [claim] because/by/through/etc [support 1], [support 2], and [support 3].

  • An occasion sets the stage. It starts with words like despite/if/while/though/in/when.
  • The claim is the centerpiece: the opinion or argument.
  • The supports back up the claim, and each one will become the focus point of one paragraph. 

For example:

Even though she is supposed to be the heroine of The Little Mermaid, Ariel is portrayed as incompetent and foolish because she is consistently late, daydreaming, and clumsy.

Here's a model:

My Essay: 

Topic: Taylor Swift

Thesis: Though not everyone likes her music, Taylor Swift is the most successful singer of her generation because of her singing voice, her songwriting genius, and her magnetic stage presence.

Topic Sentence 1: Taylor Swift's singing is sweet and perfectly tuned to the time.

Topic Sentence 2: Though TayTay's singing is how we hear her, it is her songwriting skills, especially with lyrics, that make her listeners connect to her music.

Topic Sentence 3: Taylor shows skill not only in her original composition, but in the composition of her performance as a whole, from costuming to set arrangement to performance style.

Concluding Topic Sentence: Taylor's stage presence hooks live audience members, while those listening to recordings can also connect to her singing voice and the lyrics and tunes she writes. 

Just flesh each of those topics out fully with 3-5 more sentences proving your points, and bam! You’ve got yourself a thesis. Happy writing!

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our Middle School homework tutors in NYCHow Middle Schoolers Can Manage Their Time, Getting the Most Out of an Academic Tutor, How to Survive Geography Tests.

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GRE/SAT Tutor: How to Use Rubrics to Hack the Writing Section

Posted by Kyle Eichner on 12/17/14 4:00 PM

It is possible that I might have one or two of these in my back pocket.....


I have a secret for you, from my years of experience as a SAT verbal tutor in Boston. Lean close, and don't let the teachers and graders know that I'm going to tell you. Here it is: you have access to a key that will grant you an A on every written assignment. It’s a rubric.

It’s easy to ignore rubrics. You’ve probably flipped past rubrics in your SAT book, and stuffed them in the back of your binders. In the post, I’ll explain how you can harness the wealth of information in a rubric to improve your writing score on the SAT, GRE, and any other assignment.

Why Should I Care about Rubrics?

A well-constructed rubric will tell you exactly how to approach an essay. It will spell out what’s most important, what details to include, and how you should style and format your writing. I’ve been an SAT verbal tutor in Boston (specifically, the MIT and Harvard neighborhood) for a long while, and I’ve seen a lot of rubrics. (In my education assessment class, I even had a "Rubric for Rubrics" to assess the rubrics I created for my own students!

Understanding a rubric is like having a window into the grader's brain. It tells you what they value in the assignment— for example, that you could earn (or lose) just as many points on the formatting as on the clarity of your phrasing. Rubrics evens the playing field, and gives you, the student, some of the power. That is useful whether it is your middle school Social Studies class, your high school AP U.S. History class, the SAT writing section, your History of Boston class at Harvard, or the GRE writing section.

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Today, our Philosophy Tutor breaks down that most essential--and all-too-frequently-neglected--part of the essay-writing process: the Outline.
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