Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Write an Essay 2 - Choosing a Thesis & Title

Notes from The Practical Stylist, by Sheridan Baker, 7th Edition

1. A thesis is the main argument of your essay. It's what you want to debate. A thesis is key to a good essay. It keeps you focused, and helps you plan your essay's structure.

2. A thesis is not a subject. A thesis is an attack. Someone, somewhere must disagree with you, and your job is to prove them wrong. An essay without a thesis, for example the history of cats, from Persia to Siam, would be all description––all subject, and no argument. The result is boring trivia with no context, no reason why it should matter. A thesis is what makes your subject important.

3. When forming a thesis, focus on what you know, and what you need to learn before you can speak about it. Make a list of what you need to research.

4. Steer your thesis toward the truth. Debate something you can prove. Limit your words to what you know is true. Don't make bold claims (odvážne tvrdenie) with no evidence. Use the words "may" and "might" and "perhaps" when you don't really know. You need to show people that you're reasonable, or they'll dismiss you.

5. Look for logical fallacies in your thesis. Short, simple statements might need to become more specific:


A Bad Thesis: The answers to crime are longer sentences and more prisons.

Revised: Since the death penalty has proven both ineffective and, to many, repugnant, the only remaining answer to serious crimes is longer sentences and more prisons.

6. The less popular your stance, the more exciting your thesis. Imagine, "Cats are a man's best friend." Many people will disagree with this, so they'll want to hear your arguments.

7. Think of ways to personalize a subject, so you can use what you know to illustrate arguments.

8. At the same time, learn how to generalize your personal feelings and experiences, remembering how we all share common experiences.

9. Choosing a thesis actually helps you, because it narrows and partitions your subject into something manageable. And, it removes all the subtopics that aren't relevant.

10. At the same time, don't make your thesis so narrow that no one cares. If it's only relevant to a handful of people, again, think of your audience, and what they care about, and modify your thesis.


A Narrow Thesis: The tourist trade only brings financial gain to a few lucky landlords.

Revised: Although the tourist trade contributes to the state's economy, and provides recreation for many people, the benefits of tourism are not evenly distributed, and there are many downsides that must be addressed.

How to Choose a Title

1. Your title is your first impression, and the first step in persuasion. It's an opportunity to explain your thesis and show your attitude to the reader.

2. Your title helps you focus and stay on track as you compose arguments.

3. Don't get stuck on a title, you can always change it later.

4. Don't make it sound like a newspaper headline.

5. Don't make it a full sentence.

6. Titles don't take periods, but they can use question marks and exclamation points.
7. Your title and opening sentence must be independent of each other - If your title is "Polluted Rivers," don't begin with "This is a serious problem." Start with, "Polluted rivers are a serious problem."

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