01 - Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is the most important sentence in a writing composition, as it is the promise you make to the reader of what you plan to describe, convey, or prove.  A properly written thesis statement assures the reader that the time they invest in your piece will pay off in a specific way.  Generally speaking, your thesis should--
  • inform the reader of the main points about which you plan to write
  • describe the scope of your piece (The word scope refers to the specific boundaries within the topic you will be discussing.  For example, you will only be discussing three characteristics of a character when there exists a multitude of characteristics that could be discussed.)
  • foreshadow the conclusions to be drawn from each of the points you make
To illustrate the ways we compose a proper thesis statement, I will refer to a story that most students already know, the nursery rhyme of "The Three Little Pigs".  There are many possible approaches a writer could take when preparing a thesis statement for an essay about this story; however, much of the time the assignment will dictate the approach that is choosen.  

If my assignment is to write a character analysis of the Big Bad Wolf, I would first determine the three or more traits that are crucial to the development of the character.  Perhaps, I believe that the wolf's three most dramatic qualities are his insatiable appetite, his deceitfulness, and his physical strength; and also that these three traits allow the wolf to be used to teach children to beware of other types of predators.  In this case I might form the following thesis statement:
While the wolf is a close relative to the domesticated dog widely known to be man's best friend; in many works of literature like the classic fairy tale, "The Three Little Pigs", the wolf's insatiable appetite, deceitfulness, and physical strength combine to represent the type of predator of whom children should be wary.
This thesis sentence promises not only to include examples and quotes referring to the character traits of "insatiable appetite", "deceitfulness", and "physical strength", but also that the writing will discuss and ultimately will conclude that these three traits portray the wolf as an archetypal predator.  The reader can also expect to see connections between these predatory qualities and other types of predators of whom children must be wary.  Finally, this thesis also defines the scope of the composition to be these three characteristics and no others.

If; however, the assignment is to write a critical review of the story, your approach will be different.  A critical review begins with an opinion.  Do I believe that the author effectively accomplished the assumed goals of the piece?  Perhaps, my opinion is that the story of "The Three Little Pigs" is a successful story because it accomplishes the assumed goal of teaching children to be careful in whom and in what they place their trust, and that I will recommend the story, namely, by reciting or reading the story to my own children.  Perhaps, I also believe that the three reasons why the story has been a success are that its plot is simple, its principles can be easily related to other life situations, and it showcases the triumph of good over evil.  I might form the following thesis statement based on these beliefs:
For countless generations, the story of "The Three Little Pigs" has been used to teach children the dangers of misplaced trust, and perhaps, has enjoyed such popularity due to its simple plot, its easily-relatable principles, and its thematic triumph of good over evil.
While my personal opinions are reserved for the conclusion, I am able to foreshadow that opinion in the way I form the thesis.  It is easy to see that I have positive feelings about the successfulness of the story without having overtly stated, "I believe the story was successful".  The thesis also sets the scope of the composition to be the three topics "simple plot", "easily-relatable", and "good over evil", and promises to make that case that these qualities are among the reasons why the story has been shared for generations.  The reader can expect to see quotes and examples from the story related to these three points, and the reader can expect not to see discussion of any other qualities save the three in the thesis statement.

Finally, if the assignment is to compare and contrast the traditional version of "The Three Little Pigs" to the Disney version of the same story, my approach will be different still.  The specific variation of the compare and contrast essay taught at SCA is a strict yet safe approach to writing this type of composition.  Before I form my thesis I must read and understand both versions of the story.  My compare and contrast essay must contain at least three main points.  At least one of my three points must be a theme or element that is shared between the two stories, and at least one of my three points must be a theme or element that is not shared.  If I were writing this thesis it might resemble the following:
Both the traditional version and Walt Disney's version of "The Three Little Pigs" share common themes such as the triumph of good over evil and the hot temper of the Big Bad Wolf; however, the traditional version of this beloved fairy tale also includes a considerably darker example of revenge which can be an uncomfortable surprise to young readers.
This thesis promises to explore the shared ideas of "good over evil" and "temper" as well as the theme of "revenge" found only in the traditional version.  The scope of the composition will also be limited to those three themes.  The phrases "uncomfortable surprise" and "considerably darker" foreshadow intrigue and therefore hope to pique the reader's interest in the piece.

As is described in the three examples above, the thesis statement is a critical element in essays of all types.  It not only establishes the topic and tone of the composition, but it also limits the scope of the writing and promises a specific pay-off by the end of the piece.  Without a proper thesis statement, the reader is left to guess at what is intended which can be frustrating or at least confusing, and may impede the readers understanding of the most important points of your essay.  As writers, we seek to be understood; and the mastery of writing techniques--such as the ability to craft a clear, precise, and compelling thesis sentence--can do much to achieve that objective.