WHAT MAKES A GOOD THESIS FOR A PAPER?
Without a good thesis, you cannot have a good paper!
Each major paper in this course must be argumentative; that is, it must have a main idea that is not obviously or trivially true, and that needs support or evidence or proof if a reasonably intelligent person is to find it acceptable. The paper provides the support, and the paper's thesis is the main idea or central point that the paper is designed to support. The thesis is an actual sentence, nearly always found near the beginning of the paper. In a short paper it is typically the last sentence of the introductory paragraph.
Characteristics of a good thesis sentence. It is specific and highly focused, not a vague generalization. It is unified, not just a list of unrelated items. It is interesting, sometimes even challenging or surprizing; don't be afraid to have a risky thesis, one that many people might be inclined to disagree with. It is not obviously or trivially true - it needs to be supported or argued for. It is not merely a statement of fact. And from the thesis sentence alone a reader gets a pretty good idea of what ideas or topics the rest of the paper must deal with. Example:
Thesis: In Book 1 of the Republic Socrates criticizes several people and ideas.
This is horribly vague. "criticizes" - just how critical is that? Strong or weak, positive or
negative criticizing? Do the criticisms succeed in showing that the people or ideas are bad,
weak, wrong, or what? And if they are successful, why and how do they succeed? If not,
why not? "several" people - how many? If you can count, you can say how many! If you
can read, you can state their names! "ideas" - which ideas?
Say what they are.
It also lacks unity. Criticizing a person and criticizing an idea are very different tasks.
Criticizing a person would involve assessing that person's character, or abilities, or
accomplishments, etc. Criticizing an idea would involve assessing its scope, consistency,
relations to other ideas, usefulness for understanding or explaining things, and the like.
If this thesis were made less vague (more specific) by stating which people and what
ideas, it would be far too broad and ambitious. It would take a very long paper or a small
book to adequately deal with all or most or many of Socrates' criticisms in Book 1.
So: this thesis needs to be more specific, more debatable, more unified, and much more
Improved Thesis: In Book 1 Socrates' first attack on Polemarchus's definition of justice is unsuccessful because Socrates erroneously assumes that justice is a craft.
Here "criticizes" is replaced by "attack," a more vivid and specific word. An attack is
definitely negative and strong. The "first attack on Polemarchus's definition of justice."
That focuses on about two pages (332c-333e) instead of all of Book 1: much better! But
the thesis says it is unsuccessful ; this is a bit of a surprize - what, the wise Socrates has
failed? On a first reading, most people think Socrates succeeded, although he wasn't too
polite in the way he did it. So this is a somewhat risky thesis; it definitely needs support.
And the reason for Socrates' failure is given: an erroneous assumption. Specifically, the
assumption that justice is a craft. Obviously, the attack is directed at an idea, the definition,
not at Polemarchus as a person.
From this improved thesis, you can see pretty well what issues the rest of the paper will