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Student blog: WTF is a thesis statement anyway?

Updated: Jul 31, 2019


Are your essays terrible?


It's probably because of one of these problems:


1. You don't understand what an essay actually is - I mean, WTF even is a paragraph, anyway?

An essay is a long answer to a question. Not a chance to flaunt random bits of knowledge about a book (sadly). We have Stephen Fry for that.


2. You don't get what 'analysis' is. What's the point of analysing quotes for 'techniques' if the question's actually asking about other stuff?


Analysis is only interesting if it helps you answer the question. Saying there's a simile in there or a 'negative tone' (lol) means nothing if you're talking about someone's terrible relationship with their mother.


3. You hate the text, English, and writing essays. You just want to come up with four points and just keep using 'em.


Try that in a job interview and see how well you go. 


4. Your grammar is terrible, but because your English teacher draws lines in the margin and writes 'expression' or 'grammar'. Or, if you go to a private school 'Watch your expression'.

You probably shouldn't be doing Advanced then.


How do you actually write a thesis statement?


Well, the first thing you have to crack is the thesis statement. My English teacher called this the 'shit-or-get-off-the-pot' opener. It's a ONE SENTENCE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION.


So DON’T:

  • Say random stuff about the text.

  • Repeat the question (my personal pet-hate. This shows that you're literate and redundant, which scares teachers with a vision of the possible).

  • Use a thesis statement from a previous question which worked well for you. You're not Neil Diamond - do not try a compilation of essay 'Greatest Hits'.


What if it's not a question?


Ah, the old question that isn't a question. Made up by middle-aged ladies whose revenge on humanity takes the form of an elaborate 'guess what I'm thinking game'. You mean non-questions like this:


Through the telling and receiving of stories, we become more aware of ourselves and our shared human experiences. Explore this statement with close reference to your prescribed text.


Explore doesn't mean go for a wander, get bored, and phone a friend. It means, 'how does this happen in the text'?


1. You have to turn it into a question. Sticking HOW somewhere in there is always good, because the HSC is about HOW English happens.


2. Paraphrase it into something that a halfway normal person (lol - lots of those in English) might say:


When we hear a story, or tell someone a story, we're really showing them that we all share stuff. How does this happen in the book you studied?


3. Then answer it. Your thesis statement should be the very first thing you write ( if you're really determined to say something deep and irrelevant at the beginning, make the thesis statement the second thing, after you've finished sounding like the Pope). Something like this:


In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice several characters tell stories of oppression in order to convey the unique experience of a life, and also to show what elements of life are common in a community.


OR


In Arthur Miller's The Crucible the act of storytelling is used to reveal the core values of the main characters, and to reflect how these values remain constant over time - for good and ill.


Notice the sub-questions in the main question:


1. What story is heard or told?

2. What shared stuff is the story about?

3. How does the storyteller or story-hearer feel about themselves as a result of that?


You've got to show some awareness of ALL of them in the essay. You can't just ramble on about stories generally and ignore the rest.


p.s. this stuff is relevant to ALL subjects. Try to imagine that your essay is number 60 in a pile of 200. Your marker is praying for death by the time your paper appears. All they want is a bloody answer to the question, so start with that and things won't go worse, at least.


Look at one of our sample essays to see great thesis statements in action. https://www.divingbelleducation.com/shop/english

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