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How to Assess the Strength or Weakness of a Thesis Statement

by Ruth Nix, Demand Media

    A thesis statement is a brief assertion, usually one sentence at the end of an essay's introductory paragraph, that boils down an argument or claim to be considered by the essay's readers. It indicates to readers the kinds of ideas and evidence that will be explored in the essay body that follows. The strength of a thesis statement is therefore of great importance, as a weak thesis will often prevent readers from bothering to read the rest of the essay. In turn, a strong thesis will make issues that are of relatively no interest to a reader seem worth their attention.

    Essay Objectives

    In a rhetorical analysis, the thesis statement makes a claim about how another writer's work has or has not effectively communicated an argument. A causal essay's thesis statement offers reasons why something happened. The thesis of a proposal argues that action needs to be taken against a certain problem and that the writer's plan of action will be most beneficial and effective. Strong thesis statements are tailored to the objectives of a given essay assignment or task. Weak thesis statements treat all essays and their respective goals the same.

    Challenging the Reader

    It is important for a writer to make an argument to which rational, reasonable people might object. Otherwise, there's no argument to make and no reason to write the essay. Strong thesis statements offer the allure of challenging the reader. Weak thesis statements simply state ideas on which most people already agree.

    Asking Questions

    Strong thesis statements seek to answer a specific question. Weak thesis statements are often too broad and could be offered in response to any one of a dozen questions. For example, if a writer is asked to produce an essay on the death penalty, he would first ask questions that he finds interesting about that topic, such as: Is it ethically permissible to inflict a penalty that cannot be undone?

    Standing Firm

    The question on capital punishment offers only two positions: that it IS wrong to inflict an irreversible penalty or that it is NOT wrong to inflict an irreversible penalty. Strong thesis statements don't waffle. The tone of the thesis is explicit and to-the-point. Weak thesis statements are vague in their assertions, leaving audiences confused as to what the writer intends to argue.

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    About the Author

    Ruth Nix began her career teaching a variety of writing classes at the University of Florida. She also worked as a columnist and editorial fellow for "Esquire" magazine. In 2012, Nix was featured in the annual "Best New Poets" anthology and received the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award for excellence in teaching from the University of Florida.

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