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Pre-Writing Strategies Tutorial » From Topic to Thesis

Moving from a Topic to a Thesis

What is a Thesis?

Let's get some terminology straight. A topic is what your professor tells you to write about. Here is an example of a topic: "Discuss political participation in Canada."

A thesis is the interpretation that individual students give to the topic. You can think of a thesis as the argument about the topic that you're going to prove in the essay. You need to understand what your thesis is fairly early in the writing process—certainly before writing a serious draft—because it will shape the content and organization of your paper. If you are using secondary sources in your paper, try to develop your thesis early enough to allow you to be selective in your readings.

Developing a thesis is a major goal of your pre-writing activities: understanding your assignment, exploring your own thoughts and ideas, gathering ideas from readings, and organizing your notes.

Where Do We Find a Thesis?

In many disciplines you are expected to state your thesis in the introductory paragraph of your paper: visualize it as a neon sign that signals to the reader your specific point of view. A neon sign is designed to grab your attention and, in the case of commercial goods, influence you to buy the product; in a similar way, a thesis statement should be eye-catching and persuasive. Your reader is educated, but everybody appreciates being given clear directions about what lies ahead.

In some disciplines, you may be expected to lead up to your thesis throughout your paper, and state it near the end as a summation or conclusion to what has gone before.

In either case, your thesis statement needs to clearly state your specific point of view. Whether the thesis is stated early or late, you need to understand what your thesis is early in the writing process because it is the core around which your paper is organized.

Development of a Thesis

Assignment Topic: Discuss the factors that influence political participation in Canada

Look over the following examples to see how a (hypothetical) student finally at the end comes to her thesis when given this topic: "Discuss factors that influence political participation in Canada." The examples illustrate the shift to an appropriate thesis:

No topictoOff topictoRestatement of topictoThesis too generaltoSpecific thesis

Example Development of a Thesis Statement
Stage Example Statement
No topic [No indication to the reader about the topic of the paper.]
Off topic Canadian politics is very important.
Restatement of topic There are many factors that influence political participation and non-participation.
Thesis, but too general People have different reasons for not participating in politics.
Thesis People do not actively participate in politics because they can't afford it.
More analytical argument / thesis Many Canadians participate in politics by casting a ballot because this is a comparatively easy, non-demanding form of participation. Few Canadians participate beyond the level of voting because effective participation in the party system or interest groups requires time and money that is beyond the reach of most Canadians.

As you can see from the last example, the thesis is very explicit about what the student is going to talk about.

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