Research Thesis

The thesis statement is one of the (if not the) most important parts of your paper. It should be introduced in the first paragraph and serve as the focus of your analytic argument. The thesis is the thread (a strong one!) that ties together your interpretations of all the significant moments, patterns, developments, changes, and/or contradictions that you will develop in the body of your paper. Think of the thesis statement as a contract between you (the writer) and the reader. The thesis makes certain promises to your reader; it then becomes your job to fulfill that promise using specific details or analysis. The more specific your promise, the easier it will be to find specific evidence to support your argument.

This sheet offers general guidelines on writing thesis statements, but it’s important to remember: thesis statements are NOT formulas, and a successful one cannot be reduced to its parts. Successful theses provoke thought, they read beautifully, they provide analysis of an idea or event, and they consider a specific issue.

Differences Between a Masters Thesis and Doctoral Dissertation

Generally in the US, a thesis is the final project for the masters degree and a dissertation leads to a doctoral degree. Those pursuing a masters degree must perform research on a specific subject that demonstrates their knowledge acquired through their program. Seeking a PhD is different in that your dissertation must contribute something completely new and undiscovered to your field. In other words, you have to contribute original knowledge to the subject. So the main difference between a thesis and a dissertation is the depth of knowledge you must attain in order to write the paper.

Your thesis should include three components: WHAT, HOW, and WHY

  • WHAT – claim about event or historical topic
  • HOW  the events, ideas, sources, etc. that you choose to prove your claim
  • WHY  the significance of your idea in terms of understanding the history/narrative as a whole (answers the dreaded “so what?” question)

Please note:

  1. A thesis can be (and probably should be) more than one sentence.
  2. The part of the thesis in plain text (“Rather than an organized removal of tribes under the legislation and direction of the federal government”) is a potential contradiction to your argument; a strong thesis usually addresses a potential opposing viewpoint. This ability to imagine and answer an opposing viewpoint ensures that your thesis is arguable.
  3. A good thesis should address these three questions of what? how? and why? in some way. Most students have trouble answering the “so what?” question for their thesis; it is answering this question that makes your argument relevant to the historical context. Be careful, though, that your answer to the “so what?” question is not a generalization “about the world we live in, or life in general”; it should be SPECIFIC and justify why and how your argument is significant to the historical narrative.

Attributes of a good thesis:

  • It should be contestable, proposing an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree. A strong thesis is provocative; it takes a stand and justifies the discussion you will present.
  • It tackles a subject that could be adequately covered in the format of the project assigned.
  • It is specific and focused. A strong thesis proves a point without discussing “everything about …” Instead of music, think “American jazz in the 1930s” and your argument about it.
  • It clearly asserts your own conclusion based on evidence. Note: Be flexible. The evidence may lead you to a conclusion you didn’t think you’d reach. It is perfectly okay to change your thesis!
  • It provides the reader with a map to guide him/her through your work.
  • It anticipates and refutes the counter-arguments
  • It avoids vague language (like “it seems”).
  • It avoids the first person. (“I believe,” “In my opinion”)
  • It should pass the So what? or Who cares? test (Would your most honest friend ask why he should care or respond with “but everyone knows that”?) For instance, “people should avoid driving under the influence of alcohol,” would be unlikely to evoke any opposition.

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