“Four Score and Seven Years Ago… I started my thesis statement”

What do a research paper, a business memo, and a rhetorical analysis have in common? Aside from the fact that they are often written the night before the due date, they all require a thesis statement.

One of the toughest stages in the essay writing process usually comes with the first step: understanding where to start and how to construct an idea.

Before starting an essay, it’s important to ask yourself, “Is there a question I would like answered about this topic?”

For example:

  • “How is Beyoncé a feminist symbol for young women?”
  • or, “Do television shows, such as Game of Thrones, impact the way we view violence in the media?”
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Those questions are formed from a main idea. This idea, cleverly known as the “thesis statement,” is a central claim and acts as a road map to the rest of an essay.

Put another way, a thesis statement is the glue of your paper; without it, there would be total chaos: paragraphs wouldn’t connect to introductions, and conclusions would be pointless.

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If the thesis must identify and then argue a basic claim, why is it so difficult to write? Well, once you have bits and pieces of the claim, it has to answer the “so what?” question: it must explain the significance of your main point. That is to say, telling the reader why this topic is important is—well, important.

So now that a few key details have been covered, let’s take a look at a working thesis statement:

The television series Blackish uses humor to tackle important issues of race, gender, and class.

Let’s quickly look at a helpful thesis checklist.

(✓) Specific

(✓) Arguable

( Ø ) Answers the “so what?” question

A score of two out of three on the checklist isn’t bad, but to create an impactful thesis statement, all three spots need to be filled. The example makes a specific claim about Blackish that can be argued either in favor of or against. However, there is no “so what?” question; namely, what about this thesis forces me to care about the topic?

Let’s try again:

The television series Blackish uses humor to tackle important issues of race, gender, and class so that audience members remain engaged.

Checklist.

(✓) Specific

(✓) Arguable

(✓) Answers the “so what?” question

As discussed, the topic is specific and can be argued in favor of or against, but now the thesis answers the “so what?” question as well. Humor is paired with challenging topics so that audience members keep watching.

What’s a key difference between both examples? The subordinating conjunction!

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But, don’t celebrate just yet—how would we define this part of speech?

Subordinating conjunctions are words or phrases that connect independent (main) and dependent (subordinate) clauses. Putting a subordinating conjunction in front of a clause makes it dependent; it relies on an independent clause to complete the thought fully. These conjunctions perform two actions:

First, they can create more detailed and complex sentences:

  • Ex [Simple sentence]
    • Grey’s Anatomy is a fantastic television program.
  • Ex [Complex Sentence with the subordinating conjunction “although”]
    • Although Grey’s Anatomy is a fantastic television program, there remains much to be desired in terms of character development.

“Although” makes the sentence more complex, focused, and detailed. The added depth turns this basic statement into solid argument.

Second, they can be used to emphasize the main point of an argument:

  • Ex [Confusing main point]
    • The Office is an interesting and relatable show with cool characters in comedic situations.
  • Ex [Emphasis on main point]
    • While The Office is an interesting and relatable show, the characters and comedic situations truly drive its appeal.

The muddled main point is more of an opinion. While it is arguable, it is not specific nor does it answer the “so what?” question. The second example makes it clear that the main points are both the characters and comedic situations because they are the driving force behind the success of the show.

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Okay, let’s quickly break down the structure of a sentence with a subordinate conjunction:

[Insecure is a television show] {that} [discusses navigating relationships and one’s life in the professional world.]

Now, let’s break it down:

Independent (main) clause

Insecure is a television show
Subordinating conjunction that
Dependent (subordinate) clause that discusses navigating relationships and one’s life in the professional world.

The independent clause is a standalone sentence complete with a subject (Insecure) and a main verb (is) while the subordinate clause is a description of the show that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. The subordinate conjunction is there to connect these two clauses and show a relationship.

Below are a few common subordinating conjunctions that can help you elevate your thesis statement. Note that there are many subordinating conjunctions—this chart simply provides a few common examples.

because although as
since unless that
when whenever until
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These subordinating conjunctions can be used to create contrasting views, establish cause and effect scenarios, and add depth to your thesis statement.

While creating a thesis statement that answers the “so what?” question can be tough, using a subordinating conjunction can help improve your writing, and before long your polished paper will be unstoppable!

Although it may have felt like four score since we started this exercise, you’ve now learned a skill for life!

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