Understanding the first part of an essay: The thesis.
Most English composition courses require that students write a term paper, a research paper, or simply an essay. The topic and the thesis are usually assigned; therefore, students have no choice in the matter but to oblige.
In most cases a research paper will require extensive research of primary and secondary sources, which the student will use to support the thesis. In addition, some research papers call for citations, footnotes, and a bibliography. All this will be stated by the instructor.
In simple essays neither footnotes nor bibliographies are required. What is required in simple essay assignments is that students write a persuasive argument for or against a particular point, as stated in the thesis. This is what is known as ‘academic argument.’
Let’s look at an assignment that introduces the topic and calls for a simple expository essay:
Jay Gatsby, the hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald’ novel The Great Gatsby, is admired and revered by many people because he was a self-made man who did everything in his power to regain his lost love Daisy Buchanan. Explain if this admiration for such romantic hero is justified.
As a student saddled with this assignment you must understand what is being assigned before you jump into the fire and start writing in any disorganized way. Understanding what the assignment is all about enables the writer to proceed without difficulties.
Note that the assignment contains two points: (1) it has a topic: the hero of a novel, and (2) the verb ‘explain,’ which is the instructor’s request that the students must fulfill.
Stating the thesis
The most effective way of handling the thesis is by breaking it down into the two components that the assignment stated:
1. Introduce the topic in one sentence.
2. State your point of view.
The introduction of the topic presents no problems to students. All we do is restate what the premise of the assignment. In this example, the premise is that Jay Gatsby is a hero worthy of admiration given that he was self-made and loved Daisy Buchanan.
It is the point of view
—which follows the topic
— what gives students much trouble. But it shouldn’t. The thesis is really the side (positive or negative) that the student will take. Simple as that. The thesis is the writer’s position.
Sample of how a thesis is stated:
Jay Gatsby, the hero of The Great Gatsby, is much admired and revered because not only was he a self-made man, but also because of his deep love for Daisy Buchanan.
To admire and revere such a character as Jay Gatsby is a misguided notion because Jay Gatsby was no paragon of virtue, no role model; he was a character without redeeming values—a crook! That he loved Daisy Buchanan is also doubtful, for no man of right will try to break up a marriage to satisfy his petty desires.