How to Survive Writing your Thesis Statement
Surviving Thesis Statement Paralysis - Episode 011
One of the hardest parts of writing a paper can be getting started. There’s a sentence that belongs in the first paragraph, if it’s not the first actual sentence, that can make or break a paper. It’s the dreaded thesis statement.
The evil, dreaded thesis statement can bring the paper writing process to a complete halt. Procrastination kicks in, and you’re not going to write the outline, you’re not going to work on the draft, because you have to write this horrible, horrible thesis statement. Have you been in this position before? Has your kiddo or student?
The thesis statement is, for many kids, a horrible, horrifying thing because they just don’t get it. Have I use the words horrible and horrifying enough?
It’s enough to make you want to throw whatever you use as a writing instrument, right? Hopefully you are writing with a pen, because I would not advise throwing your new Mac Book Pro.
As a former thesis scaredy cat, it doesn’t have to be so scary, and in this week’s show, we’re breaking it down so you can get out of thesis statement paralysis.
What is a Thesis Statement Anyway?
Bless their hearts, teachers try to make thesis statements less scary. They say the thesis statement is just a sentence or two that sums up your argument. If you do it well, it can direct your reader through the flow of your paper.
But let’s get real. Let’s not try to pretend that it’s NOT intimidating and scary.
I remember sitting in English and history classes, trying to ask my friends, “What is your thesis statement?” I was terrified I was going to look like a moron because I couldn’t wrap my head around the simplicity of what a thesis statement actually was. I would become more frustrated when my friends shared their thesis statements because THEN my paper would have to reflect their argument. And let’s face it, my brain doesn’t follow most people’s thought process.
Why is it so Hard to Write a Thesis Statement?
There are three trends I see when it comes to difficulty in crafting a thesis statement.
1. The first is one word: Perfectionism.
I see it in a lot of my students.
“My thesis statement is never going to be good enough. It’ll never say what I want it to say.”
It’s supposed to be the map, right? That’s a lot of pressure for a perfectionist. And for a perfectionist the cycle often looks like this: First, we have to write and rewrite. Then we delete what we wrote and write it again, adding in more poetic words. We can’t convincingly argue our point after the thesis statement because our argument is lost in big, beautiful words as we try to create the poet laureate version of a thesis statement. Our purpose is completely lost.
Perfectionism can trip up so many students when it comes to writing the thesis statement.
2. Too many ideas: This one manifests in these questions: “Am I expected to distill all of the thoughts in my head into sentence or two? How am I supposed to do that?”
For an average person, I’d bet you have three ideas per paper. For a creative person or someone who has ADHD, their brain has three million ideas in a second, and they struggle with this idea: “You really want me to reduce it to a sentence. How the heck do we do that?!”
3. Uncertainty about what the prompt actually means.
I’ve seen prompts for sixth graders. I’ve seen prompts from professors at ivy league colleges. They can be equally confusing at both levels, especially if the prompt is a chaotic mess. Sorry educators. You need to take a moment and make sure what you are asking of your students is actually clear.
How we Beat This
For perfectionists, I have to dish out the tough love.
Just STOP. If you have to, limit your kid/your student/yourself to three drafts of a thesis statement tops. Give yourself a handful of attempts to write your thesis sentence and then move on. Otherwise, there will be no progress, and no clarity for your paper. Your thesis will never be finished. You can always go back and add polish to your thesis. However, you will bomb the paper if you can’t get past the first sentence!
Another option: Tell it to a friend.
This is what I tell my students about this method:
“I don’t care what pressure your teacher put on you. You’re talking to Marni here. We’re going to make it real.”
To do this, pretend you’re in the hallway and coming out of the classroom. A friend has just started to vent.
“Oh my god. I hate this teacher. This paper is so painful and I have no idea what the thesis statement is.” And then they ask you what yours is going to be.
In this situation, you should respond and tell them in your own lingo and terms what your paper is going, to be about. And let’s get real, I doubt you would tell your friend in Shakespearian prose what your essay is about. Write your thesis it as casually as you would say it in the hallway. You can always start and come back, but you’re not going to have a paper if you don’t start.
Finally: Make sure you’re really clear on what the prompt is asking.
This is important, no matter what issue you have.
A note to teachers: Teaching students to break down the prompt isn’t necessarily helpful, if students are just not getting it. Maybe a clear prompt isn’t enough. Is it helpful if a student comes to you and says that they don’t understand, if your response is that “it’s in the prompt”? If you have students who struggles to turn in work, does it help when you tell them to pay more attention in class? Check the simplicity of the prompt, and it may bring results for your students.
For students, there are ways to make this clearer. Have conversations about it. Through conversation, you can often piece together the purpose of your essay, and wrap your mind around the specific point you’re going to argue.
If you’re looking for someone to talk to, ask the teacher. Ask a friend.
Find someone who is supportive and loves your brain just the way it is, and will explain it to you until you actually get what this thesis statement thing is. There is no shame in not understanding how other people think.
Try putting the prompt in your own language. Until you understand what you’re going to write, your thesis statement isn’t going to be clear.
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Don’t let perfectionism be the enemy of your essay!
Keep it simple! Start by pretending you are explaining your argument to a friend in one sentence.
Make sure you understand what the prompt is asking.
A thesis statement really isn’t all that scary. Dumb it down, and make sure that it has all of the things a teacher wants. Use the free tools I have provided to break down your essay preparation into small pieces. When in doubt reach out! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about academic coaching or essay writing packages. I work with students in middle school, high school and college across the country. Spots are being reserved for the 2019 semester now!
Finding the hidden roadblocks to thesis statement writer’s block
Easy steps to write a thesis statement
How to avoid perfectionism in writing
Marni Pasch| Host of School Counselor Gone Rogue| Academic Coach | Team Pasch Academic Coaching
I work with students in grades 6th and higher, who struggle with academic confidence and motivation. I help them survive school with less stress by helping them create concrete goals, tackle procrastination and learn creative study techniques. I empower students to take charge of their education and reach their goals. I do this through individual or group coaching so students achieve success in life, school, career readiness and their social endeavors.