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Writing Fundamentals

Thesis Statements
The thesis statement is the heart of the essay because it expresses the main or controlling idea of the paper. The thesis statement focuses your central ideas into one or two sentences. It generally appears towards the end of the introduction.

Qualities of Effective Thesis Statements:

Thesis is unified. Choose one single focus for development. Avoid splitting the essay between two bulky topics.
  • Poor Thesis: Queen Victoria set the tone of the British Empire, and she allowed powerful prime ministers to take political control of Britain.
  • Revised Thesis: Queen Victoria set the tone for later monarchs by ruling through a series of prime ministers.
Thesis is restricted. Narrow the field of discussion to a specific line of reasoning/argumentation within a broad topic area.
  • Poor Thesis: There are serious objections to today's horror movies.
  • Revised Thesis: Because modern cinematic techniques have allowed filmmakers to get more graphic, horror flicks have desensitized young American viewers to violence.
Thesis is clear. Thesis statements should not contain such vague words as interesting, exciting, unusual, difficult. A thesis should also avoid such abstract words as society or technical language, unless one is writing a technical report.
  • Poor Thesis: Stephen Spielberg creates really exciting movies that speak to society.
  • Revised Thesis: Stephen Spielberg's mastery of cinematic technique creates a viscerally poweful film experience for the moviegoer.
Thesis is analytical. The thesis should do more than merely announce the topic; it should reveal a position in relation to the topic, how the writer plant to analyze/evaluate the topic. An effective thesis avoids making a universal or pro/con judgment that oversimplifies complex issues.
  • Poor Thesis: In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between fairy tales and early childhood.
  • Revised Thesis: Not just empty stories for kids, fairy tales shed light on the psychology of young children.
  • Poor Thesis: We must save the whales.
  • Revised Thesis: Because our planet's health may depend upon biological diversity, we should save the whales.
About Your Introductions
Typically many of you write the following types of opening sentences and think these are Wowie Zowie attention grabbers. They're not.
  • The flute is a popular instrument among high school musicians
  • Most people in the United States are not physically fit.
  • It is sometimes difficult to get along with your neighbors.
  • In this paper I am going to describe someone who died.
However, a really engaging introduction, a hallmark characteristic of the truly distinguished paper, employs one or more of several techniques to capture the attention of the reader. The following are examples of opening statements that we would prefer to see in your papers as opposed to the above samples.

A quotation A flute is a musical weed which springs up everywhere. (Nancy Toff)

A startling or interesting fact. A Center for Disease Control survey of more than 25,000 adults revealed that 55 percent of Americans do not exercise three times a week for twenty minutes at a time, the minimum amount needed to provide healthy benefits. (Runner's World)

An anecdote. A man in Cambridge, Massachusetts took his neighbor to court because the neighbor hadn't cut his grass in fourteen yearsThere are something like sixty million single family homes in the United States and I'll bet ninety percent of those people living in those houses are having some kind of trouble with their neighbors. (Andy Rooney)

A vivid description. Charley Lockjaw died last summer on the reservation. He was very old a hundred years he had claimed. He still wore his hair in braids as only the older men do in his tribe, and the braids were thin and white.

O.K. so here is a short introduction that I wrote one that I hope you will find reasonably engaging. Notice the different techniques that I use to introduce the subject (a cat named Alex): description, strong verbs, dialogue, varied sentence length, deliberate fragments, etc. I have bolded the thesis statement.
Alex May the Devil Take Him!
Hot and humid. I can remember the day as if it were yesterday. The air hung in a dead stillness. Nothing quenched my thirst. The more root beer I consumed, the drier my mouth felt. After consuming the fourth root beer, I decided to head for the pool. For a few minutes I could seek relief from the oppressive heat. While changing into my bathing suit, a knock crashed the on the door. Open up, lady! I got something fer ya! The voice sounded insistent and unmistakably male. Hmmm I thought, this could be mylucky day. Eagerly I opened the door. His massive frame filled the doorway. Cupped in his huge hands, crouched a gray and white, furry cat bellowing at the top of his lungs. Here, lady. You can have this damn cat. Me and my o'l lady gotta get outta this state. And with that, he dropped the cat onto the porch and dashed away. Just what I needed: summer heat and a bellowing cat. The cat looked forlorn. Meow, meow, he cried. I picked him up, brought him into the house and fed him some root beer. It's been eight years since Alex appeared at my doorstep. In the past eight years, I must confess, this pet's unique personality has created some memorable frustrating moments for me.
A Note About Transitions
One of the reasons that student writing often sounds so disconnected is because of a pronounced lack of organization further complicated by the failure to use transitions within and between paragraphs. Transitions act like glue; they link ideas together and help create a fluidity of expression.

Effective writers actually plan their thoughts and use two types of transitions: direct and organic. The direct transition uses words such as nevertheless, consequently, in addition, etc. Organic transitions involved the repetition of key words, phrases, or ideas that look backward and forward at the same time.

Direct transition:
  • I actually studied for my history test; as a result of my studying, I discovered that I was capable of getting an A grade!
  • The state tried the man for robbery. The jury found the man guilty and therefore sentenced the man to five years in jail.
Organic transition:

Macbeth's murder of Duncan and Banquo damn his soul to hell. These heinous acts also plunge Scotland into a state of political and moral decay
  • (Notice how the organic transition, these heinous acts, repeats and looks back to the key idea (murder), but also will move the reader into the next idea Scotland's political & moral decay)
Rarely did the student ever open a book or do a homework assignment. His refusal to do school work eventually caused him to fail his English class
  • (Again notice how the organic transition repeats and looks back to the key idea (students not working), but also looks forward to the next idea this is why the kid failed English)
A Final Note About the Use of Language
Accomplished writers skillfully use language concisely, precisely) and artfully. A good writer gets to the point quickly, chooses his words carefully paying particular attention to their denotative (dictionary meaning) and connotative (emotional suggestions) values. He then employs the active voice and skillfully arranges his thoughts on paper. For example:
  • Denotatively there is little difference between the words slender and wasted. Both mean a woman of slight figure. However, emotionally (connotatively) few women would enjoy hearing a man describe her figure as wasted because that suggests that she is more than just thin; she perhaps is thin to the point of looking like a concentration camp survivor.
The young man was captivated (passive voice) by the slender figure of the woman who was lying on the beach.

The slender figure of the woman lying on the beach captivated (active voice) the young man
  • Notice that the second sentence written in the active voice creates a stronger and more concise expression of the first sentence.