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Good Words Use Writing Thesis Statement

The academic community can be conservative when it comes to writing styles, but your writing shouldn’t be so boring that people lose interest midway through the first paragraph! Given that competition is at an all-time high for academics looking to publish their papers, we know you must be anxious about what you can do to improve your publishing odds. To be sure, your research must be sound.  But it also must be clearly explained. So, how do you go about achieving the latter?

Below are a few ways to breathe life into your writing.

1. Analyze vocabulary with word clouds

Have you heard of the website, Wordle? It’s a word-cloud generation site, and if you click on “Create your own,” copy and paste your draft manuscript into the text box that appears, you may quickly discover how repetitive your writing is!

Seeing a visual word cloud of your work might also help you assess the key themes and points readers will glean from your paper. If the Wordle result displays words you hadn’t intended to emphasize, then it’s a sign you should revise your paper to make sure readers will focus on the right information. *Your browser will need access to Java to run the Wordle applet.

As an example, below is a Wordle of our recent article entitled, “How to Choose the Best title for Your Journal Manuscript.” You can see how frequently certain terms appear in that post, based on the font size of the text. The key words, “titles,” “journal,” “research,” and “papers,” were all the intended focus of our blog post.

2. Study language patterns of similarly published works

Study the language pattern found in the most downloaded and cited articles published by your target journal. Understanding the journal’s editorial preferences will help you write in a style that appeals to the publication’s readership.

Another way to analyze the language of a target journal’s papers is to use Wordle (see above). If you copy and paste the text of an article related to your research topic into the applet, you can discover the common phrases and terms the paper’s authors used.

For example, if you were writing a paper on links between smoking and cancer, you might look for a recent review on the topic, preferably published by your target journal. Copy and paste the text into Wordle and examine the key phrases to see if you’ve included similar wording in your own draft. The Wordle result might look like the following, based on the example linked above.

3. Use more active and precise verbs

Have you heard of synonyms? Of course you have, but have you looked beyond single word replacements and rephrased entire clauses with stronger, more vivid ones? You’ll find this task is easier to do if you use the active voice more often than the passive voice. Even if you keep your original sentence structure, you can eliminate weak verbs like “be” from your drafts and choose more vivid and precise actions verbs. As always, however, be careful about using a thesaurus to identify synonyms. Make sure the substitutes fit the context in which you need a more interesting or “perfect” word.

To help you build a strong arsenal of commonly used phrases in academic papers, we’ve compiled a list of synonyms you might want to consider when drafting or revising your research paper. While we do not suggest that the phrases in the “Original Word/Phrase” column should be completely avoided, we do recommend interspersing these with the more dynamic terms found under “Recommended Substitutes.”

 

A. Describing the scope of a current project or prior research

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To express the purpose of a paper or research
  • This paper/ study/ investigation…
This paper + [use the verb that originally followed "aims to"] or This paper + (any other verb listed above as a substitute for “explain”) + who/what/when/where/how X. For example:
  • “This paper applies X to Y,” instead of, “This paper aims to apply X to Y.”
  • “This paper explores how lower sun exposure impacts moods,” instead of, “This paper aims to address the impact of lower sun exposure on moods.”
To introduce the topic of a project or paper
  • The paper/ study/ article/ work…
  • Prior research/ investigations…
  • surveys
  • questions
  • highlights
  • outlines
  • features
  • investigates
To describe the analytical scope of a paper or study
  • The paper/ study/ article/ work…
  • Prior research/ investigations…
  • considers
  • analyzes
  • explains
  • evaluates
  • interprets
  • clarifies
  • identifies
  • delves into
  • advances
  • appraises
  • defines
  • dissects
  • probes
  • tests
  • explores

*Adjectives to describe degree can include: briefly, thoroughly, adequately, sufficiently, inadequately, insufficiently, only partially, partially, etc.

To preview other sections of a paper
  • covers
  • deals with
  • talks about
  • outlines
  • highlights
  • sketches
  • assesses
  • contemplates

[any of the verbs suggested as replacements for “explain,” “analyze,” and “consider” above]

 

B. Outlining a topic’s background

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To discuss the historical significance of a topic
  • Subject/ Mechanism…
  • plays an important in [nominalization]
  • plays a vital role in [nominalization]
Topic significantly/considerably +
  • influences
  • controls
  • regulates
  • directs
  • inhibits
  • constrains
  • governs

+ who/what/when/where/how…

 

*In other words, take the nominalized verb and make it the main verb of the sentence.

To describe the historical popularity of a topic
  • …is widely accepted as…
  • …is widely used as…

 

  • Widely accepted, … [to eliminate the weak be verb]
  • The preferred…
  • Commonly/Frequently implemented,… [to eliminate the weak be verb]
  • The prevailing method for…
To describe the recent focus on a topic
  • Much attention has been drawn to
  • …has gained much importance in recent years
  • Discussions regarding X have dominated research in recent years.
  • …has appealed to…
  • …has propelled to the forefront in investigations of Y.
  • … has dramatically/significantly shaped queries on X in recent years.
  • …has critically influenced academic dialogue on Y.
To identify the current majority opinion about a topic
  • The consensus has been that…
  • Prior research generally confirms that…
  • Several studies agree that…
  • Prior research substantiates the belief that…
To discuss the findings of existing literature
  • indicate
  • have documented
  • have demonstrated
  • have shown that
  • contend
  • purport
  • suggest
  • proffer
  • have proven that
  • evidence
To express the breadth of our current knowledge-base, including gaps
  • Much is known about…
  • But, little is known about…
  • The academic community has extensively explored X…
  • Prior research has thoroughly investigated….
  • However, little research has been conducted to show…
  • However, prior studies have failed to evaluate/ identify / (any other word suggested to replace “analyze” above)
To segue into expressing your research question
  • Several theories have been proposed to explain…
  • To solve this problem, many researchers have tried several methods
  • Recent/Previous studies have promoted…
  • Prior investigations have implemented/ queried diverse approaches to…
  • A number of authors have posited…

 

C. Describing the analytical elements of a paper

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To express agreement between one finding and another
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • substantiates
  • confirms
  • corroborates
  • underlines
To present contradictory findings
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • challenges
  • disputes
  • rebuts
  • refutes
  • disproves
  • debunks
  • invalidates
  • rejects
  • questions
To discuss limitations of a study
  • The limitations of this paper include:
  • These investigations, however, disregards…
  • This method/ approach fails to…
  • This study only…
  • …falls short of addressing/ identifying / illustrating…
  • A drawback/disadvantage of this framework is…
  • This framework, however, solely pertains to…

 

D. Discussing results

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To draw inferences from results
  • The data…
  • These findings…
  • extrapolate
  • deduce
  • surmise
  • approximate
  • derive
  • extract
  • evidence
To describe observations
  • [Observed event or result]…
  • manifested
  • surfaced
  • materialized
  • yielded
  • generated
  • perceived
  • detected

 

E. Discussing methods

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To discuss methods
  • This study…
  • X method…
  • applied
  • administered
  • employed
  • diffused
  • disseminated
  • relayed
To describe simulations
  • was created to…
  • was used to…
  • was performed to…
This study/ research…
  • simulated
  • replicated
  • imitated

+

“X environment/ condition to..”

+

[any of the verbs suggested as replacements for “analyze” above]

 

F. Explaining the impact of new research

PurposeOriginal Word/PhraseRecommended Substitute
To explain the impact of a paper’s findings
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • illustrates
  • proves
  • evidences
  • strengthens (the position that)
To highlight a paper’s conclusion
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • attributes
  • illustrates
  • advances (the idea that)
To explain how research contributes to the existing knowledge-base
  • This paper/ study/ investigation
  • ushers in
  • proffers
  • conveys
  • promotes
  • advocates
  • introduces
  • broach (issue)
  • reveals
  • unveils
  • exposes
  • unearths

Additional writing resources

For additional information on how to tighten your sentences (e.g., eliminate wordiness and use active voice to greater effect), check out the following articles:

How to Strengthen Your Writing Style

Avoid Fillers If You Want to Write Powerful Sentences

How to Improve Your Writing: Eliminate Prepositions

How to Improve Your Writing: Avoid Nominalizations

Articles about how to draft specific parts of a research paper can be found here.

Additional grammar tips can be found here.

A thesis can be found in many places—a debate speech, a lawyer’s closing argument, even an advertisement. But the most common place for a thesis statement (and probably why you’re reading this article) is in an essay.

Whether you’re writing an argumentative paper, an informative essay, or a compare/contrast statement, you need a thesis. Without a thesis, your argument falls flat and your information is unfocused. Since a thesis is so important, it’s probably a good idea to look at some tips on how to put together a strong one.

What is a “thesis statement” anyway?

You may have heard of something called a “thesis.” It’s what seniors commonly refer to as their final paper before graduation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That type of thesis is a long, well-written paper that takes years to piece together.

Instead, we’re talking about a single sentence that ties together the main idea of any argument. In the context of student essays, it’s a statement that summarizes your topic and declares your position on it. This sentence can tell a reader whether your essay is something they want to read.

2 Categories of Thesis Statements: Informative and Persuasive

Just as there are different types of essays, there are different types of thesis statements. The thesis should match the essay.

For example, with an informative essay, you should compose an informative thesis (rather than argumentative). You want to declare your intentions in this essay and guide the reader to the conclusion that you reach.

Example:

To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you must procure the ingredients, find a knife, and spread the condiments.

This thesis showed the reader the topic (a type of sandwich) and the direction the essay will take (describing how the sandwich is made).

Most other types of essays, whether compare/contrast, argumentative, or narrative, have thesis statements that take a position and argue it. In other words, unless your purpose is simply to inform, your thesis is considered persuasive. A persuasive thesis usually contains an opinion and the reason why your opinion is true.

Example:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best type of sandwich because they are versatile, easy to make, and taste good.

In this persuasive thesis statement, you see that I state my opinion (the best type of sandwich), which means I have chosen a stance. Next, I explain that my opinion is correct with several key reasons. This persuasive type of thesis can be used in any essay that contains the writer’s opinion, including, as I mentioned above, compare/contrast essays, narrative essays, and so on.

 2 Styles of Thesis Statements

Just as there are two different types of thesis statements (informative and persuasive), there are two basic styles you can use.

The first style uses a list of two or more points. This style of thesis is perfect for a brief essay that contains only two or three body paragraphs. This basic five-paragraph essay is typical of middle and high school assignments.

Example:

C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is one of the richest works of the 20th century because it offers an escape from reality, teaches readers to have faith even when they don’t understand, and contains a host of vibrant characters.

In the above persuasive thesis, you can see my opinion about Narnia followed by three clear reasons. This thesis is perfect for setting up a tidy five-paragraph essay.

In college, five paragraph essays become few and far between as essay length gets longer. Can you imagine having only five paragraphs in a six-page paper? For a longer essay, you need a thesis statement that is more versatile. Instead of listing two or three distinct points, a thesis can list one overarching point that all body paragraphs tie into.

Example:

Good vs. evil is the main theme of Lewis’s Narnia series, as is made clear through the struggles the main characters face in each book.

In this thesis, I have made a claim about the theme in Narnia followed by my reasoning. The broader scope of this thesis allows me to write about each of the series’ seven novels. I am no longer limited in how many body paragraphs I can logically use.

Formula for a Strong Argumentative Thesis

One thing I find that is helpful for students is having a clear template. While students rarely end up with a thesis that follows this exact wording, the following template creates a good starting point:

___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.

 

Conversely, the formula for a thesis with only one point might follow this template:

___________________ is true because of _____________________.

 

Students usually end up using different terminology than simply “because,” but having a template is always helpful to get the creative juices flowing.

The Qualities of a Solid Thesis Statement

When composing a thesis, you must consider not only the format, but other qualities like length, position in the essay, and how strong the argument is.

Length: A thesis statement can be short or long, depending on how many points it mentions. Typically, however, it is only one concise sentence. It does contain at least two clauses, usually an independent clause (the opinion) and a dependent clause (the reasons). You probably should aim for a single sentence that is at least two lines, or about 30 to 40 words long.

Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.

Strength: Finally, for a persuasive thesis to be strong, it needs to be arguable. This means that the statement is not obvious, and it is not something that everyone agrees is true.

Example of weak thesis:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make because it just takes three ingredients.

Most people would agree that PB&J is one of the easiest sandwiches in the American lunch repertoire.

Example of a stronger thesis:

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun to eat because they always slide around.

This is more arguable because there are plenty of folks who might think a PB&J is messy or slimy rather than fun.

Composing a thesis statement does take a bit more thought than many other parts of an essay. However, because a thesis statement can contain an entire argument in just a few words, it is worth taking the extra time to compose this sentence. It can direct your research and your argument so that your essay is tight, focused, and makes readers think.


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