How to Write a Thesis That Is Not Too Broad or Too Narrow

Thesis statements should be composed only after initial research on the topic of the paper.
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A thesis statement is a claim, usually made in the form of a single sentence at the end of an essay's introductory paragraph, that presents an argument or idea for the reader's consideration. The essay that follows provides and explores evidence that supports the writer's initial assertions. The thesis statement operates as a kind of "road map" to the body of the essay, allowing readers to see what key concepts and issues will be touched upon. The trouble for some writers, however, is knowing whether their thesis statements are attempting to cover too much ground, or, perhaps, too little. That said, finding a happy medium is essential to an essay's success.

1 Ask Questions

Ask a series of questions about your essay topic. For example, if you are told to compose an essay on fast food, you might ask questions like: How much has the consumption of fast food contributed to the United States' obesity epidemic? Which fast food chain offers the best French fries? Can an individual support himself working at a fast food restaurant?

Strong thesis statements answer a specific question. To adequately narrow your topic, make sure you choose a detailed question with a debatable answer. Then ask: Is this something I can write about for the requisite number of pages? If the answer is "no," you might have outdone yourself, leaving too little to say.

2 Choose One Main Idea

Compose your thesis statement with a single claim in mind. Readers can easily become overwhelmed or confused if a thesis statement seems to present more than one idea. The Writing Tutorial Services at Indiana University, Bloomington, make example of the following: "Companies need to exploit the marketing potential of the Internet, and Web pages can provide both advertising and customer support."

The above statement tries to cover too much. This lack of organization can leave readers wondering not only what the essay hopes to achieve, but whether the writer is skilled enough to construct an accessible and intriguing argument.

3 Explain Your Thinking

Anticipate readers' initial questions. It isn't enough for a writer to state what he believes; he must also add what are often referred to as "because clauses" in order to further narrow his argument, helping readers to see not just the "what," but also the "why" behind his thinking. It can be helpful to fit your thesis to a prescribed form, such as: I argue that ****, because ****__.

To prevent yourself from composing a thesis that is too complicated and too narrow, limit the number of reasons that follow the word "because" to no more than two or three.

4 Contain Your Topic

Place your subject in the smallest category possible when making an evaluative argument. For example, different film genres (or categories) work to achieve different artistic goals. A person who sees "Schindler's List" might not seek the same experience as someone who sees "Jaws." That's because one is a WWII-era historical drama and the other is a man vs. beast thriller. To compare the two would be akin to comparing apples and oranges.

Arguing that "'Titanic' is the best romantic historical drama" is far easier than arguing it's "the best movie." However, a thesis can become too narrow once the category given is so small, there is no longer room for debate, e.g., "'Titanic' is the best romantic historical drama of 1997 starring both Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio."

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.