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HIST: Class III US History

Developing a Thesis Statement

What a thesis is

A thesis is an answer to a question that is specific and requires evidence in order to be persuasive.

  ♦ It is clear and specific.

  ♦ It is unambiguous - meaning it can only be interpreted to mean one thing.

  • EX: ambiguous: During the last century, the American population grew. (how did it grow...in size? in height?)

  • EX: unambiguous: During the last century, the American population increased in number.

  ♦ It is arguable.

  • non-trivial: you can imagine someone arguing the opposite.

What a thesis is not

  ♦ A thesis is not a list of ideas:
EX: The Civil War was caused by westward expansion, slavery, and state's rights.

  • It would be difficult to argue that these reasons did not impact the start of the Civil War.
  • There is no clear, cohesive argument being made.
  • The list probably represents the possible sub-topics of this paper rather than a thesis. 

 ♦ A thesis is not confrontational, moralistic or personal
EX: The destruction of NAZI Germany was due to the fact it was evil. 

  • It's not about opinion but about evidence - even is most of the world would agree - it would be tough to prove that being evil leads to destruction. 
  • It must be arguable - it is hard to argue factually with a subjective idea, such as evil - even where the NAZIs are concerned. 

An early thesis "draft" is often referred to as a working thesis

  • working thesis is essential to establish:
    • in order to focus your research
    • construct an outline
    • begin writing your paper. 
  • However, a working thesis is just that, "working", meaning that you will probably continue to refine it through the early paper drafts. 

Research Question: How significant was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in shaping the Civil Rights movement as a whole?

Working Thesis: The victory achieved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott inspired Civil Rights activists to protest racial discrimination through non-violent protest.  

Unless you are doing original research, making a thesis arguable (i.e. it can be a challenged)- 

Here is one way to make this much easier:


♦ Start off by acknowledging a potential argument against your thesis - 

  •  by introducing it, you accomplish two things:
    • You can begin to think about the evidence you till need to prove your claim
    • By articulating the counter-argument, you clearly establish that your claim is focused and arguable.

**Start your thesis with "Despite the fact...." or "Although..."

Compared to women in other Greek city-states, women in Sparta were given personal freedoms. 

Although they were not granted full citizenship, women in ancient Sparta enjoyed personal freedom not found any where else in Greece.