West Chester University

Fall 2002

West Chester University

Spring 2002

Fall 2001





Course Information
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Effective Writing I
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Writing Descriptively
  What Makes a Good Story?
  Building a Thesis
  Notes on 'Purpose'
  Strategies for Writing Introductions
  Strategies for Writing Conclusions
  Assignment #5: Argument
  Understanding Rational Argument

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Fundamental Questions About Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Notes on Four Short Stories
  The Genesis of the Short Story
  Defining the Short Story
  The Art of the Short Story
  A Vocabulary for Fiction and Beyond
  Notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne
  Responding to 'The Birthmark'
  A Guided Reading of 'Bartleby the Scrivener'
  Bartleby--Questions for Analysis
  A Cultural Context for 'Bartleby the Scrivener'
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Study Guide for Fiction Exam
  Billy Collins - 'Introduction to Poetry'
  A Catalogue of Poems for Study
  Approaching a Definition of Poetry?
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry: Imagery
  Readings from 'The United States of Poetry'
  The Craft of Poetry: Sound
  The Craft of Poetry: Structure
  Lines of Continuity
  Study Guide for Poetry Exam
  The Birth of Drama
  On Tragic Character
  Stepping Through 'Oedipus the King'
  Analyzing 'Oedipus the King'
  The Relevance 'Oedipus'Today
  Study Guide for the Drama Exam

Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assignments
  LIT 165 Announcements
  Lit 165 Assignments


Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Weblog for LIT 165
  Writing Assistance on the Web

Join an Online Forum
  WRT 120 Composition Forum
  LIT 165 Introduction to Literature Forum

~~ Building A Thesis ~~

The thesis is the sentence or group of sentences, presented in the essay's introduction, body, and/or conclusion, which express the main idea you are trying to convey. The thesis is sometimes called the "controlling idea" because it "controls" the content of the essay. Experienced writers know how to write an effective thesis so that they have an easy time organizing and developing their content.

A strong thesis is absolutely essential to a successful essay. Without it your essay will seem unfocused, fuzzy—it'll seem to have little direction, and readers may have a hard time understanding what you wanted to accomplish. A clear thesis, on the other hand, helps you and the reader stay on track. Without an clear thesis, it will be impossible to write a well developed, unified, coherent essay.

If you want to write an effective thesis, begin by remembering a simple equation:


THESIS = subject + assertion


As expressed above, the thesis names your general subject and makes an assertion about that subject. It states the topic and the point you want to make about that topic.

An effective thesis, then, has two key qualities: it is both a general statement and an explicit statement.


I believe in heroes—that they still exist—but they aren't like celebrities; in fact, heroes differ greatly from celebrities in that their actions are meaningful rather than frivolous, selfless rather than self-aggrandizing, and courageous rather than brazen.

Note what makes this an excellent thesis: first, the subject is named. The subject is "heroes." We know that this paper will present some ideas about heroes. We don't know what those ideas are yet, however, because we haven't gotten to the assertion. Many writers (and readers) make the mistake of confusing the terms "subject" and "thesis." They aren't synonymous. The thesis includes the POINT the writer wants to make about the subject, heroes.

When we get to the assertion, we can see that it is very clearly presented—it is has those two desireable qualities: it's both general and explicit. (What about heroes? …they exist but are unlike celebrities in that their actions are meaningful, selfless, and courageous…)

NOTICE: The thesis is a general statement with explicit terms. In the above example, three qualities are named (made explicit), but they are all general enough to need further explanation (they suggest how the writer needs to develop the paper).

NOTICE: The thesis is a complete, grammatical sentence which is smoothly integrated into the essay. It usually appears somewhere in the introduction, but may be repeated throughout the essay in slightly different words. When you use explicit terms, you may find it helpful to remember to use parallel sentence structure.


Which of the following thesis statements do you think are strong? Which ones weak? What are your reasons?

The ideal teacher is knowledgeable about the subject matter and good at finding ways to communicate that knowledge.

The ideal teacher knows a lot.

Three passions I have lived for are music, art, and literature.

Three passions I have lived for are music, painting, and to write stories.

These thesis statements are all strong, and they all suggest that an expressive essay will follow.

  • I hope college will improve my general knowledge and my chances of getting a good job.
  • Moving to West Chester has provided me with the opportunity to pursue my career, make new friends, and see new places.
  • The ideal student has an eager, independent curiosity and self-determination to meet difficult challenges.
  • The ideal guitar shop is well stocked and has a friendly, inviting atmosphere.
  • The ideal classroom is an open mind.






Questions? Contact me.

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