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Can I Use the Five W's to Write a Thesis?

by Anna Tower, Demand Media

    A thesis is a summary of the main point you are trying to prove in an essay or report. It is generally one to two sentences and should appear somewhere toward the beginning of your writing. The 5 W's help a writer summarize an event or narrative by describing who was involved, what happened, where it happened, when it happened and why it happened. However, thesis statements must express an opinion or perspective and should go beyond simply summarizing information. The 5 W's can be useful for developing a thesis, but a strong thesis will say more than just the basics.

    Determine Important Information

    The greatest strength of the 5 W's is that they force you to break information down into the most essential points. James Madison University encourages students to ask themselves questions about the reading, experiment or event based on the 5 W's, such as who was involved, what was most important, and, most importantly, determining the why or cause of all important effects.

    Develop Your Perspective

    Use the 5 W's to determine your own perspective, based on your analysis of the reading, experiment or event. For example, perhaps your assignment requires you to determine the most important cause of World War I. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand II is commonly cited as the war's direct cause, so you could break your perspective down using the 5 W's in the following manner: Who: Archduke Franz Ferdinand II. What: He was shot. When: June 1914. Where: Serbia. Why: The Black Hand terrorist group was trying to make a case for Serbian independence from Austria-Hungary.

    Write As Opinionated Sentence

    Take your notes on the 5 W's and use them to write a sentence expressing your perspective. However, make sure that you express your thesis in an opinionated way, not as a summary. For example: "The most important cause of World War I was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand II by the Black Hand in June 1914, since this led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia." A sentence that merely summarized the 5 W's would not be a thesis because it would simply be a statement of fact, such as: "World War I started after Archduke Franz Ferdinand II was assassinated in Serbia in June 1914."

    A Stronger Thesis

    Sticking to the 5 W's will help you include the most important information; however, sometimes they can limit your thinking. The Franz Ferdinand thesis could be made stronger with a few revisions: "The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand II is the most important cause of World War I because it led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia, as opposed to other long-term causes." These revisions lose some of the 5 W's, but include more of the argument, strengthening the perspective. If you do this, make your introduction includes the 5 W's you left out.

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    About the Author

    Anna Tower has a B.A. in history and journalism from Washington & Lee University and a M.A.Ed. from the College of William and Mary. She has been writing since 2003 at various publications, including the "Rockbridge Report," the "Fairfax County Times" and "USA Today." Tower is certified to teach social studies, English and journalism in grades 6-12.

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