By Gary McCarty
In a previous article I wrote about the propensity of those educated in public schools to emerge into the college ranks or the workforce with a “kitchen sink” approach to writing: “Throw everything in there and hope something sticks” might well be the refrain of these people.
Now, don’t count yourself immune to this inclination. Almost everybody in America graduates into adulthood with this writing approach. I did, and I had to rehabilitate myself and my writing.
How does one go beyond this approach to achieve focused, effective writing?
The answer lies in proper planning and preparation, the first phase of the writing process and the one most routinely overlooked by most people.
This first phase comprises brainstorming, researching, organizing and planning. Think of this process as a funnel. The wide opening at the top of the funnel represents the writer’s initial efforts at researching and thinking about the subject matter.
There is, in short, a great deal to work with, but when all is said and done, only a small portion of that mass of information is going to be able to sift through the small opening at the bottom of the funnel. This small opening is the point at which the writer must choose what’s important and funnel it (pun intended) into a thesis statement.
What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement is a sentence of 25 words or so that comes at the very end of the introductory paragraph and introduces the reader to the writer’s thesis and the writer’s blueprint to prove that thesis.
Let’s look at an example.
In my earlier article taken from real-life writing classes, the students were asked to write about controversial television advertising.
Student A, whom we shall call Susan, does a ton of research and concludes that all television advertising should be regulated. Reason one is that she doesn’t think children should see, for instance, Paris Hilton cavorting about seductively in a bathing suit. Reason two is that some television ads are downright offensive and cheapen American culture. Reason there is that other ads are downright misleading.
Susan, after a few introductory background sentences, might well pen a thesis statement that says: “All television advertising should be regulated because some ads are not suitable for children, some are misleading, and some cheapen and damage the fabric of American culture.”
Now, agree with Susan or not, the reader absolutely knows where she stands (her thesis) and how she came to that conclusion (her three examples or substantiations).
Generally, three is the magic number, so any thesis should be coupled with three “proofs,” or what I called “substantiations” earlier.
Three is not set in stone, but it’s a good number to aim for. One proof might be too skimpy; five might overwhelm the reader. It really depends on the subject matter and the writer’s knowledge and ability. (For a further explanation and illustration of thesis statements, please visit http://www.gc.maricopa.edu/English/essay/ .)
In my next article, I’ll show how to turn the three proofs in the thesis statement into the body of the writing itself and, along the way, into topic sentences that introduce the substantiating paragraphs that comprise the body.
After a career in journalism that started in the 1970s, Gary McCarty is now semi-retired and facilitating university classes while writing and producing his Weblog, http://grammarsource.com.