You need a good thesis statement for your essay but are having trouble getting started. You may have heard that your thesis needs to be specific and arguable, but still wonder what this really means.
Let’s look at some examples. Imagine you’re writing about John Hughes’s film Sixteen Candles (1984).
You take a first pass at writing a thesis:
Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy about high school cliques.
Is this a strong thesis statement? Not yet, but it’s a good start. You’ve focused on a topic--high school cliques--which is a smart move because you’ve settled on one of many possible angles. But the claim is weak because it’s not yet arguable. Intelligent people would generally agree with this statement—so there’s no real “news” for your reader. You want your thesis to say something surprising and debatable. If your thesis doesn’t go beyond summarizing your source, it’s not arguable.
The key words in the thesis statement are “romantic comedy” and “high school cliques.” One way to sharpen the claim is to start asking questions.
For example, how does the film represent high school cliques in a surprising or complex way? How does the film reinforce stereotypes about high school groups and how does it undermine them? Or why does the film challenge our expectations about romantic comedies by focusing on high school cliques? If you can answer one of those questions (or others of your own), you’ll have a strong thesis.
Tip : Asking “how” or “why” questions will help you refine your thesis, making it more arguable and interesting to your readers.
Take 2. You revise the thesis. Is it strong now?
Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy criticizing the divisiveness created by high school cliques.
You’re getting closer. You’re starting to take a stance by arguing that the film identifies “divisiveness” as a problem and criticizes it, but your readers will want to know how this plays out and why it’s important. Right now, the thesis still sounds bland – not risky enough to be genuinely contentious.
Tip: Keep raising questions that test your ideas. And ask yourself the “so what” question. Why is your thesis interesting or important?
Take 3. Let’s try again. How about this version?
Although the film Sixteen Candles appears to reinforce stereotypes about high school cliques, it undermines them in important ways, questioning its viewers’ assumptions about what’s normal.
Bingo! This thesis statement is pretty strong. It challenges an obvious interpretation of the movie (that it just reinforces stereotypes), offering a new and more complex reading in its place. We also have a sense of why this argument is important. The film’s larger goal, we learn, is to question what we think we understand about normalcy.
What’s a Strong Thesis?
As we’ve just seen, a strong thesis statement crystallizes your paper's argument and, most importantly, argues a debatable point.
This means two things. It goes beyond merely summarizing or describing to stake out an interpretation or position that’s not obvious, and others could challenge for good reasons. It’s also arguable in the literal sense that it can be argued, or supported through a thoughtful analysis of your sources. If your argument lacks evidence, readers will think your thesis statement is an opinion or belief as opposed to an argument.
Exercises for Drafting an Arguable Thesis
A good thesis will be focused
12.Examine two (or more) movies based on the same comic book character. Analyze the change in the character over the series, or examine the way two different actors and directors interpreted the character, motivations and plot (examples: Spiderman, X-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League, Superman).
13. Look at a romantic comedy. Analyze how this genre draws the audience into the story. What makes a romantic comedy effective? (examples: When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Clueless, Picture Perfect, Like Crazy).
14. Choose your favorite horror movie to examine. What makes this such a good horror film? Analyze what elements this movie has that creates the experience of horror in the audience (examples: The Exorcist, Sleepy Hollow, The Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, Halloween).
15. What makes a good summer movie? Examine one of your favorite summer movies, a classic, or a hit from last summer. Analyze what makes a movie good for a summer release? What are the audience expectations. How well does this movie match what the audience has come to expect? (examples: Do the Right Thing, Caddyshack, Jaws, (500) Days of Summer).
16. Pick a "dumb" comedy. While these sorts of movies don't generally hold up as classic literature, they can make us laugh and be fun to watch with a group of friends. However, there is a fine line between funny dumb and stupid dumb. Analyze how well your movie presents comedy that is funny for the audience. What makes a movie like this work? (examples: Ted, Bad Santa, The Cable Guy, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America, The Hangover).
17. Choose a movie that one The Best Picture award. Analyze what makes a movie the best of that year and one of the best of all time. Does your movie have features that most best pictures do? What makes it unique? If it was produced this year, would it win again? (examples: Wings (1927/29-the first Best picture award), Gone With The Wind (1939), Ben Hur (1959), The Sound of Music (1965), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), The King's Speech (2001).
18. Choose a reality T.V. series: Analyze why people like these shows. Why are they so popular and what makes a reality T.V. show good or bad? Do these shows exploit the people who appear on them? Where should we draw the line? (examples: Toddlers and Tiaras, Biggest Loser, Survivor).
19. Choose a popular older T.V. sitcom. Research the current events happening at the time the show was produced. Analyze why the show was popular at that time. Did that shows humor last? Can audiences who watch it now still appreciate the humor? (examples: I Love Lucy, Cheers, M.A.S.H).
20. Examine a popular game show. Explain the history of the show. Analyze how the show works to make the game interesting not only for the contestants but also for the viewing audience. Was the key ingredient the set-up of the game show, the contestants, the host, the audience, viewer participation or some other factor? (examples: Let's Make Deal, Minute to Win it, Jeopardy).