Ask the professor: How do you write a good thesis statement?

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“How do you write a good thesis statement?”

—Lauren H., Trent University, Ontario

This is a great question. I’ve been teaching college writing for almost 20 years and have read a lot of essays that haven’t included one of the most important components of good writing: a point!

Each of your professors will have their own idea of what makes a good thesis statement. A thesis for a history paper may look different from that of a science research paper. Regardless of the subject matter, however, most professors agree that a good thesis is always clearly written and makes a point that you support in the rest of your writing. And if you can include it within the first or second paragraph, all the better.

Because every assignment is different, here are some general questions to ask yourself as you draft your thesis statement:

  • What is your purpose, or why are you writing your paper? The answer should move beyond “Because my professor said I had to.” Instead, think about whether you’re informing your reader about a topic or persuading your reader to think or act differently. Your answer to this question will influence your thesis.
  • What are you arguing? Most college assignments require that you make a claim about a topic and then provide evidence to support that claim. For example, you may argue that a character in a play is responsible for their own demise. If you’re making that claim, then you will find examples within the play to support your thesis.
  • What do want your readers to learn? For example, if your answer is “I want them to see Willy Loman as a true hero and not a failed man,” then you can use that to create a thesis such as this: “Willy Loman is often seen as a failed man, but he’s actually a true hero.”
  • Can you create a question? Thinking about a question may prompt you to generate a good thesis statement. For example, if you ask yourself, “How were women affected by early 20th-century industrialization?” your answer could end up being a great foundation for a thesis statement.

Ask the professor: April 2016

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“What are good strategies to get over writer’s block?”

—Amy W., University of New Brunswick

Hmmm…What can I say about writer’s block? Oh look, there are some funny cat videos I need to watch on YouTube.

In all seriousness, writer’s block affects everyone who has ever had to complete a writing assignment with or without a deadline. Some writers are good at jump-starting the writing process or realizing when they need to take a break. Others are good at creating a writing routine that keeps them on task and on time.

If you need some help getting over writer’s block, try these tips:

  • Question yourself If you are having trouble finding the motivation for writing, ask yourself a few questions to get your motor running: Why is it important that I share what I know about the topic? How can my writing about this help others improve their own lives? If you can answer those questions thoughtfully, you can feel more confident that you must write.
  • Be silly If you are not sure how to start a writing assignment, begin by writing something, no matter how silly it sounds. In fact, try to be silly. This will loosen up those rusty wheels in your brain and get ideas flowing. Flowing ideas will lead to other ideas that you can actually use for your assignment.
  • Silence your inner critic When drafting, tell that inner critic (mine is named “Ralph” and has a big nose and thin mustache) to go away. Nothing shuts writers down faster than the inner critic who tells them that what they are writing is just plain dumb. Ralph wanted me to revise that last sentence, but I managed to ignore him. Let yourself write without judgment so you can get material down on the page. Invite your inner critic back when you are ready to edit.
  • Ready, set, go Time yourself and write only for that short amount of time. Give yourself five minutes, for example, to write down everything you know about a topic. Stop when time is up and read what you have. Usually, you will have gotten some ideas worth working on and maybe even forgotten you had writer’s block.
  • Ditch perfection Good writing is not perfect. As a composition professor, I wanted students to ditch the concern about pleasing me or writing something earth-shattering. “Just write something for me!” I would say. It is better to turn in an assignment than to miss a deadline because you don’t feel it is the best thing on the planet. Your professor can’t grade what you didn’t turn in.

Ask the professor

The professor

Amy Baldwin, MA, is the director of University College at the University of Central Arkansas.