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Writing a thesis and making an argument.
Almost every assignment you complete for a history course will ask you to make an argument. Your instructors will often call this your "thesis" -- your position on a subject.
What is an Argument?
An argument takes a stand on an issue. It seeks to persuade an audience of a point of view in much the same way that a lawyer argues a case in a court of law. It is NOT a description or a summary.
- This is an argument: "This paper argues that the movie JFK is inaccurate in its portrayal of President Kennedy."
- This is not an argument: "In this paper, I will describe the portrayal of President Kennedy that is shown in the movie JFK."
What is a Thesis?
A thesis statement is a sentence in which you state an argument about a topic and then describe, briefly, how you will prove your argument.
- This is an argument, but not yet a thesis: "The movie ‘JFK’ inaccurately portrays President Kennedy."
- This is a thesis: "The movie ‘JFK’ inaccurately portrays President Kennedy because of the way it ignores Kennedy’s youth, his relationship with his father, and the findings of the Warren Commission."
A thesis makes a specific statement to the reader about what you will be trying to argue. Your thesis can be a few sentences long, but should not be longer than a paragraph. Do not begin to state evidence or use examples in your thesis paragraph.
A Thesis Helps You and Your Reader
Your blueprint for writing:
- Helps you determine your focus and clarify your ideas.
- Provides a "hook" on which you can "hang" your topic sentences.
- Can (and should) be revised as you further refine your evidence and arguments. New evidence often requires you to change your thesis.
- Gives your paper a unified structure and point.
Your reader’s blueprint for reading:
- Serves as a "map" to follow through your paper.
- Keeps the reader focused on your argument.
- Signals to the reader your main points.
- Engages the reader in your argument.
Tips for Writing a Good Thesis
- Find a Focus: Choose a thesis that explores an aspect of your topic that is important to you, or that allows you to say something new about your topic. For example, if your paper topic asks you to analyze women’s domestic labor during the early nineteenth century, you might decide to focus on the products they made from scratch at home.
- Look for Pattern: After determining a general focus, go back and look more closely at your evidence. As you re-examine your evidence and identify patterns, you will develop your argument and some conclusions. For example, you might find that as industrialization increased, women made fewer textiles at home, but retained their butter and soap making tasks.
Strategies for Developing a Thesis Statement
Idea 1. If your paper assignment asks you to answer a specific question, turn the question into an assertion and give reasons for your opinion.
Assignment: How did domestic labor change between 1820 and 1860? Why were the changes in their work important for the growth of the United States?
Beginning thesis: Between 1820 and 1860 women's domestic labor changed as women stopped producing home-made fabric, although they continued to sew their families' clothes, as well as to produce butter and soap. With the cash women earned from the sale of their butter and soap they purchased ready-made cloth, which in turn, helped increase industrial production in the United States before the Civil War.
Idea 2. Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.
Main Idea: Women's labor in their homes during the first half of the nineteenth century contributed to the growth of the national economy.
Idea 3. Spend time "mulling over" your topic. Make a list of the ideas you want to include in the essay, then think about how to group them under several different headings. Often, you will see an organizational plan emerge from the sorting process.
Idea 4 .Use a formula to develop a working thesis statement (which you will need to revise later). Here are a few examples:
- Although most readers of ______ have argued that ______, closer examination shows that ______.
- ______ uses ______ and ______ to prove that ______.
- Phenomenon X is a result of the combination of ______, ______, and ______.
These formulas share two characteristics all thesis statements should have: they state an argument and they reveal how you will make that argument. They are not specific enough, however, and require more work.
As you work on your essay, your ideas will change and so will your thesis. Here are examples of weak and strong thesis statements.
- Unspecific thesis: "Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong leader as First Lady." This thesis lacks an argument. Why was Eleanor Roosevelt a strong leader?
- Specific thesis: "Eleanor Roosevelt recreated the role of the First Lady by her active political leadership in the Democratic Party, by lobbying for national legislation, and by fostering women’s leadership in the Democratic Party." The second thesis has an argument: Eleanor Roosevelt "recreated" the position of First Lady, and a three-part structure with which to demonstrate just how she remade the job.
- Unspecific thesis: "At the end of the nineteenth century French women lawyers experienced difficulty when they attempted to enter the legal profession." No historian could argue with this general statement and uninteresting thesis.
- Specific thesis: "At the end of the nineteenth century French women lawyers experienced misogynist attacks from male lawyers when they attempted to enter the legal profession because male lawyers wanted to keep women out of judgeships." This thesis statement asserts that French male lawyers attacked French women lawyers because they feared women as judges, an intriguing and controversial point.
Making an Argument-- Every Thesis Deserves Its Day in Court
You are the best (and only!) advocate for your thesis. Your thesis is defenseless without you to prove that its argument holds up under scrutiny. The jury (i.e., your reader) will expect you, as a good lawyer, to provide evidence to prove your thesis. To prove thesis statements on historical topics, what evidence can an able young lawyer use?
- Primary sources: letters, diaries, government documents, an organization’s meeting minutes, newspapers.
- Secondary sources: articles and books from your class that explain and interpret the historical event or person you are writing about, lecture notes, films or documentaries.
How can you use this evidence?
- Make sure the examples you select from your available evidence address your thesis.
- Use evidence that your reader will believe is credible. This means sifting and sorting your sources, looking for the clearest and fairest. Be sure to identify the biases and shortcomings of each piece of evidence for your reader.
- Use evidence to avoid generalizations. If you assert that all women have been oppressed, what evidence can you use to support this? Using evidence works to check over-general statements.
- Use evidence to address an opposing point of view. How do your sources give examples that refute another historian’s interpretation?
Remember -- if in doubt, talk to your instructor. Thanks to the web page of the University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Writing Center for information used in this handout. See writing.wisc.edu/handbook for further information.
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What is a thesis statement?
Your thesis statement is one of the most important parts of your paper. It expresses your main argument succinctly and explains why your argument is historically significant. Think of your thesis as a promise you make to your reader about what your paper will argue. Then, spend the rest of your paper--each body paragraph--fulfilling that promise.
Your thesis should be between one and three sentences long and is placed at the end of your introduction. Just because the thesis comes towards the beginning of your paper does not mean you can write it first and then forget about it. View your thesis as a work in progress while you write your paper. Once you are satisfied with the overall argument your paper makes, go back to your thesis and see if it captures what you have argued. If it does not, then revise it. Crafting a good thesis is one of the most challenging parts of the writing process, so do not expect to perfect it on the first few tries. Successful writers revise their thesis statements again and again.
A successful thesis statement:
- makes an historical argument
- takes a position that requires defending
- is historically specific
- is focused and precise
- answers the question, "so what?"
How to write a thesis statement:
Suppose you are taking an early American history class and your professor has distributed the following essay prompt:
"Historians have debated the American Revolution's effect on women. Some argue that the Revolution had a positive effect because it increased women's authority in the family. Others argue that it had a negative effect because it excluded women from politics. Still others argue that the Revolution changed very little for women, as they remained ensconced in the home. Write a paper in which you pose your own answer to the question of whether the American Revolution had a positive, negative, or limited effect on women."
Using this prompt, we will look at both weak and strong thesis statements to see how successful thesis statements work.
1. A successful thesis statement makes an historical argument. It does not announce the topic of your paper or simply restate the paper prompt.
Weak Thesis: The Revolution had little effect on women because they remained ensconced in the home.
While this thesis does take a position, it is problematic because it simply restates the prompt. It needs to be more specific about how the Revolution had a limited effect on women and why it mattered that women remained in the home.
Revised Thesis: The Revolution wrought little political change in the lives of women because they did not gain the right to vote or run for office. Instead, women remained firmly in the home, just as they had before the war, making their day-to-day lives look much the same.
This revision is an improvement over the first attempt because it states what standards the writer is using to measure change (the right to vote and run for office) and it shows why women remaining in the home serves as evidence of limited change (because their day-to-day lives looked the same before and after the war). However, it still relies too heavily on the information given in the prompt, simply saying that women remained in the home. It needs to make an argument about some element of the war's limited effect on women. This thesis requires further revision.
Strong Thesis: While the Revolution presented women unprecedented opportunities to participate in protest movements and manage their family's farms and businesses, it ultimately did not offer lasting political change, excluding women from the right to vote and serve in office.
This is a stronger thesis because it complicates the information in the prompt. The writer admits that the Revolution gave women important new opportunities, but argues that, in the end, it led to no substantial change. This thesis recognizes the complexity of the issue, conceding that the Revolution had both positive and negative effects for women, but that the latter outweighed the former. Remember that it will take several rounds of revision to craft a strong thesis, so keep revising until your thesis articulates a thoughtful and compelling argument.
2. A succesful thesis statement takes a position that requires defending. Your argument should not be an obvious or irrefutable assertion. Rather, make a claim that requires supporting evidence.
Weak Thesis: The Revolutionary War caused great upheaval in the lives of American women.
Few would argue with the idea that war brings upheaval. Your thesis needs to be debatable: it needs to make a claim against which someone could argue. Your job throughout the paper is to provide evidence in support of your own case. Here is a revised version:
Strong Thesis: The Revolution caused particular upheaval in the lives of women. With men away at war, women took on full responsibility for running households, farms, and businesses. As a result of their increased involvement during the war, many women were reluctant to give up their new-found responsibilities after the fighting ended.
This is a stronger thesis because it says exactly what kind of upheaval the war wrought, and it makes a debatable claim. For example, a counterargument might be that most women were eager to return to the way life was before the war and thus did not try to usurp men's role on the home front. Or, someone could argue that women were already active in running households, farms, and businesses before the war, and thus the war did not mark a significant departure. Any compelling thesis will have counterarguments. Writers try to show that their arguments are stronger than the counterarguments that could be leveled against them.
3. A successful thesis statement is historically specific. It does not make a broad claim about "American society" or "humankind," but is grounded in a particular historical moment.
Weak Thesis: The Revolution had a negative impact on women because of the prevailing problem of sexism.
Sexism is a vague word that can mean different things in different times and places. In order to answer the question and make a compelling argument, this thesis needs to explain exactly what attitudes toward women were in early America, and how those attitudes negatively affected women in the Revolutionary period.
Strong Thesis: The Revolution had a negative impact on women because of the belief that women lacked the rational faculties of men. In a nation that was to be guided by reasonable republican citizens, women were imagined to have no place in politics and were thus firmly relegated to the home.
This thesis is stronger because it narrows in on one particular and historically specific attitude towards women: the assumption that women had less ability to reason than men. While such attitudes toward women have a long history, this thesis must locate it in a very specific historical moment, to show exactly how it worked in revolutionary America.
4. A successful thesis statement is focused and precise. You need to be able to support it within the bounds of your paper.
Weak Thesis: The Revolution led to social, political, and economic change for women.
This thesis addresses too large of a topic for an undergraduate paper. The terms "social," "political," and "economic" are too broad and vague for the writer to analyze them thoroughly in a limited number of pages. The thesis might focus on one of those concepts, or it might narrow the emphasis to some specific features of social, political, and economic change.
Strong Thesis: The Revolution paved the way for important political changes for women. As "Republican Mothers," women contributed to the polity by raising future citizens and nurturing virtuous husbands. Consequently, women played a far more important role in the new nation's politics than they had under British rule.
This thesis is stronger because it is more narrow, and thus allows the writer to offer more in-depth analysis. It states what kind of change women expected (political), how they experienced that change (through Republican Motherhood), and what the effects were (indirect access to the polity of the new nation).
5. A successful thesis statement answers the question, "so what?" It explains to your reader why your argument is historically significant. It is not a list of ideas you will cover in your paper; it explains why your ideas matter.
Weak Thesis: The Revolution had a positive effect on women because it ushered in improvements in female education, legal standing, and economic opportunity.
This thesis is off to a strong start, but it needs to go one step further by telling the reader why changes in these three areas mattered. How did the lives of women improve because of developments in education, law, and economics? What were women able to do with these advantages? Obviously the rest of the paper will answer these questions, but the thesis statement needs to give some indication of why these particular changes mattered.
Strong Thesis: The Revolution had a positive impact on women because it ushered in improvements in female education, legal standing, and economic opportunity. Progress in these three areas gave women the tools they needed to carve out lives beyond the home, laying the foundation for the cohesive feminist movement that would emerge in the mid-nineteenth century.
This is a stronger thesis because it goes beyond offering a list of changes for women, suggesting why improvements in education, the law, and economics mattered. It outlines the historical significance of these changes: they helped women build a cohesive feminist movement in the nineteenth century.
When revising your thesis, check it against the following guidelines:
1. Does my thesis make an historical argument ?
2. Does my thesis take a position that requires defending?
3. Is my thesis historically specific ?
4. Is my thesis focused and precise ?
5. Does my thesis answer the question, "so what?"
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Module 4: Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests (1763-1774)
Historical thesis statements, learning objectives.
- Recognize and create high-quality historical thesis statements
Some consider all writing a form of argument—or at least of persuasion. After all, even if you’re writing a letter or an informative essay, you’re implicitly trying to persuade your audience to care about what you’re saying. Your thesis statement represents the main idea—or point—about a topic or issue that you make in an argument. For example, let’s say that your topic is social media. A thesis statement about social media could look like one of the following sentences:
- Social media are hurting the communication skills of young Americans.
- Social media are useful tools for social movements.
A basic thesis sentence has two main parts: a claim and support for that claim.
- The Immigration Act of 1965 effectively restructured the United States’ immigration policies in such a way that no group, minority or majority, was singled out by being discriminated against or given preferential treatment in terms of its ability to immigrate to America.
Identifying the Thesis Statement
A thesis consists of a specific topic and an angle on the topic. All of the other ideas in the text support and develop the thesis. The thesis statement is often found in the introduction, sometimes after an initial “hook” or interesting story; sometimes, however, the thesis is not explicitly stated until the end of an essay, and sometimes it is not stated at all. In those instances, there is an implied thesis statement. You can generally extract the thesis statement by looking for a few key sentences and ideas.
Most readers expect to see the point of your argument (the thesis statement) within the first few paragraphs. This does not mean that it has to be placed there every time. Some writers place it at the very end, slowly building up to it throughout their work, to explain a point after the fact. For history essays, most professors will expect to see a clearly discernible thesis sentence in the introduction. Note that many history papers also include a topic sentence, which clearly state what the paper is about
Thesis statements vary based on the rhetorical strategy of the essay, but thesis statements typically share the following characteristics:
- Presents the main idea
- Most often is one sentence
- Tells the reader what to expect
- Is a summary of the essay topic
- Usually worded to have an argumentative edge
- Written in the third person
This video explains thesis statements and gives a few clear examples of how a good thesis should both make a claim and forecast specific ways that the essay will support that claim.
You can view the transcript for “Thesis Statement – Writing Tutorials, US History, Dr. Robert Scafe” here (opens in new window) .
Writing a Thesis Statement
A good basic structure for a thesis statement is “they say, I say.” What is the prevailing view, and how does your position differ from it? However, avoid limiting the scope of your writing with an either/or thesis under the assumption that your view must be strictly contrary to their view.
Following are some typical thesis statements:
- Although many readers believe Romeo and Juliet to be a tale about the ill fate of two star-crossed lovers, it can also be read as an allegory concerning a playwright and his audience.
- The “War on Drugs” has not only failed to reduce the frequency of drug-related crimes in America but actually enhanced the popular image of dope peddlers by romanticizing them as desperate rebels fighting for a cause.
- The bulk of modern copyright law was conceived in the age of commercial printing, long before the Internet made it so easy for the public to compose and distribute its own texts. Therefore, these laws should be reviewed and revised to better accommodate modern readers and writers.
- The usual moral justification for capital punishment is that it deters crime by frightening would-be criminals. However, the statistics tell a different story.
- If students really want to improve their writing, they must read often, practice writing, and receive quality feedback from their peers.
- Plato’s dialectical method has much to offer those engaged in online writing, which is far more conversational in nature than print.
Thesis Problems to Avoid
Although you have creative control over your thesis sentence, you still should try to avoid the following problems, not for stylistic reasons, but because they indicate a problem in the thinking that underlies the thesis sentence.
- Hospice workers need support. This is a thesis sentence; it has a topic (hospice workers) and an argument (need support). But the argument is very broad. When the argument in a thesis sentence is too broad, the writer may not have carefully thought through the specific support for the rest of the writing. A thesis argument that’s too broad makes it easy to fall into the trap of offering information that deviates from that argument.
- Hospice workers have a 55% turnover rate compared to the general health care population’s 25% turnover rate. This sentence really isn’t a thesis sentence at all, because there’s no argument to support it. A narrow statistic, or a narrow statement of fact, doesn’t offer the writer’s own ideas or analysis about a topic.
Let’s see some examples of potential theses related to the following prompt:
- Bad thesis : The relationship between the American colonists and the British government changed after the French & Indian War.
- Better thesis : The relationship between the American colonists and the British government was strained following the Revolutionary war.
- Best thesis : Due to the heavy debt acquired by the British government during the French & Indian War, the British government increased efforts to tax the colonists, causing American opposition and resistance that strained the relationship between the colonists and the crown.
Practice identifying strong thesis statements in the following interactive.
Supporting Evidence for Thesis Statements
A thesis statement doesn’t mean much without supporting evidence. Oftentimes in a history class, you’ll be expected to defend your thesis, or your argument, using primary source documents. Sometimes these documents are provided to you, and sometimes you’ll need to go find evidence on your own. When the documents are provided for you and you are asked to answer questions about them, it is called a document-based question, or DBQ. You can think of a DBQ like a miniature research paper, where the research has been done for you. DBQs are often used on standardized tests, like this DBQ from the 2004 U.S. History AP exam , which asked students about the altered political, economic, and ideological relations between Britain and the colonies because of the French & Indian War. In this question, students were given 8 documents (A through H) and expected to use these documents to defend and support their argument. For example, here is a possible thesis statement for this essay:
- The French & Indian War altered the political, economic, and ideological relations between the colonists and the British government because it changed the nature of British rule over the colonies, sowed the seeds of discontent, and led to increased taxation from the British.
Now, to defend this thesis statement, you would add evidence from the documents. The thesis statement can also help structure your argument. With the thesis statement above, we could expect the essay to follow this general outline:
- Introduction—introduce how the French and Indian War altered political, economic, and ideological relations between the colonists and the British
- Show the changing map from Doc A and greater administrative responsibility and increased westward expansion
- Discuss Doc B, frustrations from the Iroquois Confederacy and encroachment onto Native lands
- Could also mention Doc F and the result in greater administrative costs
- Use Doc D and explain how a colonial soldier notices disparities between how they are treated when compared to the British
- Use General Washington’s sentiments in Doc C to discuss how these attitudes of reverence shifted after the war. Could mention how the war created leadership opportunities and gave military experience to colonists.
- Use Doc E to highlight how the sermon showed optimism about Britain ruling the colonies after the war
- Highlight some of the political, economic, and ideological differences related to increased taxation caused by the War
- Use Doc F, the British Order in Council Statement, to indicate the need for more funding to pay for the cost of war
- Explain Doc G, frustration from Benjamin Franklin about the Stamp Act and efforts to repeal it
- Use Doc H, the newspaper masthead saying “farewell to liberty”, to highlight the change in sentiments and colonial anger over the Stamp Act
As an example, to argue that the French & Indian War sowed the seeds of discontent, you could mention Document D, from a Massachusetts soldier diary, who wrote, “And we, being here within stone walls, are not likely to get liquors or clothes at this time of the year; and though we be Englishmen born, we are debarred [denied] Englishmen’s liberty.” This shows how colonists began to see their identity as Americans as distinct from those from the British mainland.
Remember, a strong thesis statement is one that supports the argument of your writing. It should have a clear purpose and objective, and although you may revise it as you write, it’s a good idea to start with a strong thesis statement the give your essay direction and organization. You can check the quality of your thesis statement by answering the following questions:
- If a specific prompt was provided, does the thesis statement answer the question prompt?
- Does the thesis statement make sense?
- Is the thesis statement historically accurate?
- Does the thesis statement provide clear and cohesive reasoning?
- Is the thesis supportable by evidence?
thesis statement : a statement of the topic of the piece of writing and the angle the writer has on that topic
- Thesis Statements. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : https://courses.lumenlearning.com/englishcomp1/wp-admin/post.php?post=576&action=edit . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
- Thesis Examples. Authored by : Cody Chun, Kieran O'Neil, Kylie Young, Julie Nelson Christoph. Provided by : The University of Puget Sound. Located at : https://soundwriting.pugetsound.edu/universal/thesis-dev-six-steps.html . Project : Sound Writing. License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
- Writing Practice: Building Thesis Statements. Provided by : The Bill of Rights Institute, OpenStax, and contributing authors. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:[email protected]/1-22-%F0%9F%93%9D-Writing-Practice-Building-Thesis-Statements . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]
- Thesis Statement - Writing Tutorials, US History, Dr. Robert Scafe. Provided by : OU Office of Digital Learning. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hjAk8JI0IY&t=310s . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
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Every paper must argue an idea and every paper must clearly state that idea in a thesis statement.
A thesis statement is different from a topic statement. A topic statement merely states what the paper is about. A thesis statement states the argument of that paper.
Be sure that you can easily identify your thesis and that the key points of your argument relate directly back to your thesis.
This paper will discuss Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.
The purpose of this paper is to delve into the mindset behind Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.
This paper will explore how Harry Truman came to the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.
Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima was motivated by racism.
The US confrontation with the Soviets was the key factor in Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima.
This paper will demonstrate that in his decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, Truman was unduly influenced by hawks in his cabinet.
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How to Research and Write a Compelling History Thesis
Just as history is more than a collection of facts about past events, an effective history thesis goes beyond simply sharing recorded information. Writing a compelling history thesis requires making an argument about a historical fact and, then, researching and providing a well-crafted defense for that position.
With so many sources available—some of which may provide conflicting findings—how should a student research and write a history thesis? How can a student create a thesis that’s both compelling and supports a position that academic editors describe as “concise, contentious, and coherent”?
Key steps in how to write a history thesis include evaluating source materials, developing a strong thesis statement, and building historical knowledge.
The Importance of Research for Writing a History Thesis
Compelling theses provide context about historical events. This context, according to the reference website ThoughtCo., refers to the social, religious, economic, and political conditions during an occurrence that “enable us to interpret and analyze works or events of the past, or even the future, rather than merely judge them by contemporary standards”.
The context supports the main point of a thesis, called the thesis statement, by providing an interpretive and analytical framework of the facts, instead of simply stating them. Research uncovers the evidence necessary to make the case for that thesis statement.
To gather evidence that contributes to a deeper understanding of a given historical topic, students should reference both primary and secondary sources of research.
Primary sources are firsthand accounts of events in history, according to Professor David Ulbrich, director of Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program. These sources provide information not only about what happened and how it happened but also why it happened.
Primary sources can include letters, diaries, photos, and videos as well as material objects such as “spent artillery shells, architectural features, cemetery headstones, chemical analysis of substances, shards of bowls or bottles, farming implements, or earth or environmental features or factors,” Ulbrich says. “The author of the thesis can tell how people lived, for example, by the ways they arranged their material lives.”
Primary research sources are the building blocks to help us better understand and appreciate history. It is critical to find as many primary sources from as many perspectives as possible. Researching these firsthand accounts can provide evidence that helps answer those “what”, “how”, and “why” questions about the past, Ulbrich says.
Secondary sources are materials—such as books, articles, essays, and documentaries—gathered and interpreted by other researchers. These sources often provide updates and evaluation of the thesis topic or viewpoints that support the theories presented in the thesis.
Primary and secondary sources are complementary types of research that form a convincing foundation for a thesis’ main points.
How to Write a History Thesis
What are the steps to write a history thesis? The process of developing a thesis that provides a thorough analysis of a historical event—and presents academically defensible arguments related to that analysis—includes the following:
1. Gather and Analyze Sources
When collecting sources to use in a thesis, students should analyze them to ensure they demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the materials. A student should evaluate the attributes of sources such as their origin and point-of-view.
An array of primary and secondary sources can help provide a thorough understanding of a historical event, although some of those sources may include conflicting views and details. In those cases, the American Historical Association says, it’s up to the thesis author to determine which source reflects the appropriate point-of-view.
2. Develop a Thesis Statement
To create a thesis statement, a student should establish a specific idea or theory that makes the main point about a historical event. Scribbr, an editing website, recommends starting with a working thesis, asking the question the thesis intends to answer, and, then, writing the answer.
The final version of a thesis statement might be argumentative, for example, taking a side in a debate. Or it might be expository, explaining a historical situation. In addition to being concise and coherent, a thesis statement should be contentious, meaning it requires evidence to support it.
3. Create an Outline
Developing a thesis requires an outline of the content that will support the thesis statement. Students should keep in mind the following key steps in creating their outline:
- Note major points.
- Categorize ideas supported by the theories.
- Arrange points according to the importance and a timeline of events addressed by the thesis.
- Create effective headings and subheadings.
- Format the outline.
4. Organize Information
Thesis authors should ensure their content follows a logical order. This may entail coding resource materials to help match them to the appropriate theories while organizing the information. A thesis typically contains the following elements.
- Abstract —Overview of the thesis.
- Introduction —Summary of the thesis’ main points.
- Literature review —Explanation of the gap in previous research addressed by this thesis.
- Methods —Outline how the author reviewed the research and why materials were selected.
- Results —Description of the research findings.
- Discussion —Analysis of the research.
- Conclusion —Statements about what the student learned.
5. Write the Thesis
Online writing guide Paperpile recommends that students start with the literature review when writing the thesis. Developing this section first will help the author gain a more complete understanding of the thesis’ source materials. Writing the abstract last can give the student a thorough picture of the work the abstract should describe.
The discussion portion of the thesis typically is the longest since it’s here that the writer will explain the limitations of the work, offer explanations of any unexpected results, and cite remaining questions about the topic.
In writing the thesis, the author should keep in mind that the document will require multiple changes and drafts—perhaps even new insights. A student should gather feedback from a professor and colleagues to ensure their thesis is clear and effective before finalizing the draft.
6. Prepare to Defend the Thesis
A committee will evaluate the student’s defense of the thesis’ theories. Students should prepare to defend their thesis by considering answers to questions posed by the committee. Additionally, students should develop a plan for addressing questions to which they may not have a ready answer, understanding the evaluation likely will consider how the author handles that challenge.
Developing Skills to Write a Compelling History Thesis
When looking for direction on how to write a history thesis, Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program can provide the needed skills and knowledge. The program’s tracks and several courses—taken as core classes or as electives in multiple concentrations—can provide a strong foundation for thesis work.
Master of Arts in History Tracks
In the Norwich online Master of Arts in History program, respected scholars help students improve their historical insight, research, writing, analytical, and presentation skills. They teach the following program tracks.
- Public History —Focuses on the preservation and interpretation of historic documents and artifacts for purposes of public observation.
- American History —Emphasizes the exploration and interpretation of key events associated with U.S. history.
- World History —Prepares students to develop an in-depth understanding of world history from various eras.
- Legal and Constitutional History —Provides a thorough study of the foundational legal and constitutional elements in the U.S. and Europe.
Master of Arts in History Courses
Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program enables students to customize studies based on career goals and personal interests through the following courses:
- Introduction to History and Historiography —Covers the core concepts of history-based study and research methodology, highlighting how these concepts are essential to developing an effective history thesis.
- Directed Readings in History —Highlights different ways to use sources that chronicle American history to assist in researching and writing a thorough and complete history thesis.
- Race, Gender, and U.S. Constitution —Explores key U.S. Supreme Court decisions relating to national race and gender relations and rights, providing a deeper context to develop compelling history theses.
- Archival Studies —Breaks down the importance of systematically overseeing archival materials, highlighting how to build historical context to better educate and engage with the public.
Start Your Path Toward Writing a Compelling History Thesis
For over two centuries, Norwich University has played a vital role in history as America’s first private military college and the birthplace of the ROTC. As such, the university is uniquely positioned to lead students through a comprehensive analysis of the major developments, events, and figures of the past.
Explore Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program. Start your path toward writing a compelling history thesis and taking your talents further.
Achieving Your Educational Goals: The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Most from a Master’s Degree What Can I Do With a History Degree? Defining Different Career Tracks What Is Digital History? A Guide to Digital History Resources, Museums, and Job Description
Writing History: An Introductory Guide to How History Is Produced , American Historical Association How to Write a Thesis Statement , Scribbr The Importance of Historic Context in Analysis and Interpretation , ThoughtCo. 7 Reasons Why Research Is Important , Owlcation Primary and Secondary Sources , Scribbr Secondary Sources in Research , ThoughtCo. Analysis of Sources , History Skills Research Paper Outline , Scribbr How to Structure a Thesis , Paperpile Writing Your Final Draft , History Skills How to Prepare an Excellent Thesis Defense , Paperpile
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Handbook for Historians
- Choosing a Paper Topic
What is a Thesis Statement?
How to develop a thesis statement.
- What Sources Can I use?
- Gathering sources
- Find Primary Sources
- Paraphrasing and Quoting Sources
- How to create an Annotated Bibliography
- Formatting Endnotes/Footnotes
- Formatting Bibliographies
- Avoiding Plagiarism
- Sample Papers
The thesis statement summarizes the central argument of your paper. It is placed at the top of the outline page, and appears again in the opening paragraph. A clearly stated thesis performs three functions:
- it provides a focus for your research, helping to prevent time wasting digressions
- it furnishes an organizational theme for the paper, which then becomes easier to write
- it gives the reader precise knowledge of what the paper will argue, thereby making it easier to read
You cannot formulate a thesis statement until you know a great deal about your subject. It is often wise to begin your research in pursuit of the answer to a question about your topic - but this question is not a thesis statement. A helpful web site that can advise you on how to formulate a thesis is: http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/thesis-statements/
Guidelines for formulating the thesis statement are as follows:
- The thesis must focus on a single contention. You cannot list multiple reasons for the “truth” of your contention because the paper must follow a unified line of reasoning; a multifaceted thesis statement prevents this.
- The thesis must be precisely phrased and coherent . Generalizations and a failure to define terms results in vagueness and lack of direction in argumentation.
- The thesis must be a declarative statement. The object of your research was to answer a question; when you found the answer, you embodied it in your thesis statement. Hence a thesis can never be a question.
Here are some examples of thesis statements that strive to incorporate these recommendations...
POOR : Miguel Hidalgo’s uprising in 1810 led to a long war for independence in Mexico. WHY: The above-stated thesis is a statement of fact that provides no clue about what you plan to do with that fact in your paper. Since there is no argument here, this is not a thesis. Improved : Miguel Hidalgo’s 1810 uprising mobilized poor and native Mexicans whose violence frightened elites and prolonged the war for independence. WHY: The above-stated thesis very specifically explains why the uprising resulted in a long war for independence. What’s more, it is debatable, since there may be other explanations for the war’s length.
POOR : The creation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza created great tension between the Israelis and Palestinians for numerous reasons. WHY : The above-stated thesis is poor because it is too general and it deals with the obvious – that there is tension between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. It needs to explain what the “numerous reasons” are; focus on one of them; and drop the reference to the obvious. Remember: a thesis statement makes a specific argument and here only a vague reference to multiple reasons for tension is provided. Improved : The creation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza was both an expression of Zionist expansionism and a means to isolate Palestinian population centers. WHY : The above-stated thesis is much better because it explains what the “numerous reasons” are and focuses on one of them. Now an argument has been created because a concrete explanation has been stated. Also, this statement removes the obvious fact that tension exists between the two ethnic groups.
POOR : Louis XIV was a strong king who broke the power of the French nobility. WHY : The above-stated thesis contains a vague judgment about Louis XIV; that he was “strong.” In addition, it fails to specify exactly how he broke the nobles’ power. Improved : The Intendant System was the most effective method used by Louis XIV to break the power of the French nobility. WHY : The above-stated thesis eliminates the vague word “strong” and specifies the mechanism Louis XIV used to break the nobles’ power. Moreover, since this was not the only policy Louis XIV used in his efforts to control the nobles, you have shown that your paper will defend a debatable position.
POOR : Gandhi was a man of peace who led the Indian resistance movement to British rule. WHY : The above-stated thesis does not clarify what about Gandhi made him a man of peace, nor does it specify anything he did to undermine British rule. Improved : Gandhi employed passive non-resistance during his Great Salt March and that enabled him to organize the Indian masses to resist British rule. WHY : The above-stated thesis specifies what has caused Gandhi to be remembered as a man of peace (his promotion of passive non-resistance to oppression) and it names one of the protests he organized against British rule. In addition, since it suggests that the technique of passive non-resistance is what made the Indian populace rally behind him, it is debatable; there were other reasons why the poor in particular were ready to protest the British monopoly on salt.
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- Last Updated: Apr 4, 2022 9:06 AM
- URL: https://resources.library.lemoyne.edu/guides/history/handbook
Writing a History Paper
Reading your assignment.
- Picking a Topic
- Developing a Thesis Statement
- Planning Your Research
- Executing Your Research Plan
- Evaluating Your Research
- Writing Your Paper
- Additional Resources
- If We Don't Have What You Need
- History Homepage
Before you begin, make sure you understand the following. If you are unsure of any of the below, ask your professor .
- How long your paper should be The length of the paper often implies the number and types of resources you should use.
- What type of resources you should use Are you expected to use certain types of sources? Or can you use anything on the Web? Any limitation to the type of Web/Internet resources you can use?
- What type of sources you should use Are you expected to use primary sources? Or can you use only secondary works?
- If a draft is due at anytime Drafts can give you useful feedback and prevent a total paper disaster.
- When the final paper is due Knowing the due date can help you avoid late penalties or ultimate failure.
- Cite Right : A Quick Guide to Citation Styles
- Chicago Manual of Style
- Turabian (University of Chicago Press)
- APA Citation Style (Cornell University)
- MLA Citation Style (Cornell University)
- Next: Picking a Topic >>
- Last Updated: Oct 3, 2022 3:37 PM
- URL: https://guides.library.cmu.edu/historypaper
California History-Social Science Project
Thesis statement, thesis and argument: answers the inquiry question with a thesis statement that is historically defensible and supported by available evidence.
Every history paper has a big idea that serves as an umbrella for all the evidence included in the essay. That umbrella is the argument, or the position the paper aims to prove within the essay. The thesis is the sentence that sums up the historical argument. The Common Core State Standards list the claim, or thesis, as a key element of writing in the history classroom. Beginning, in 9th grade, students should start to develop counterclaims.
Through their writing, students are expected to introduce their thesis, and use it to organize their evidence in the essay. The historical thinking concept should be incorporated into the thesis statement and reflected in the analysis throughout the paper. As a student’s writing develops, their thesis statements will reflect a greater knowledge of the subject at hand, a complexity of the topic under study, and the relationship between their ideas to other relevant issues or trends.
Modeling Thesis Development
When introducing students to writing thesis statements, it is important that they understand that thesis statements are drawn from an analysis of evidence. After conducting an inquiry based on primary and secondary sources, model how to move from the inquiry question, through a summary of evidence derived from relevant sources, to a draft of a thesis statement. Then create opportunities for the student to receive feedback to further refine and develop the thesis.
4 Steps for Developing a Thesis Statement:
- Rewrite the question in your own words and determine the criteria for analysis (categories). Remember to consider the historical thinking concept and how this will guide the argument.
- Review the related evidence. Select relevant and historically significant evidence that addresses the question.
- Sort evidence according to the criteria of analysis (categories), and organize the categories to best develop the argument in the paper.
- State your thesis clearly and concisely.
Example from a 10th-grade Classroom
Inquiry Question: Who started the Russian Revolution?
(Argumentative/Cause & Consequence)
Summary of Relevant Evidence from Primary and Secondary Documents:
- Women initiated a communal strike in the capital protesting the war and food shortages.
- The army supported the Russian people’s street protests against the Czar.
- Soldiers at the front turned against the authority of the state.
Student Writing: First Draft
Student Writing: Final Thesis
A thesis statement is a sentence in which you state an argument about a topic and then describe, briefly, how you will prove your argument. This is an argument
Your thesis statement is one of the most important parts of your paper. It expresses your main argument succinctly and explains why your argument is
Identifying the Thesis Statement · Presents the main idea · Most often is one sentence · Tells the reader what to expect · Is a summary of the essay topic · Usually
A topic statement merely states what the paper is about. A thesis statement states the argument of that paper. Be sure that you can easily identify your thesis
To create a thesis statement, a student should establish a specific idea or theory that makes the main point about a historical event. Scribbr
The thesis statement summarizes the central argument of your paper. It is placed at the top of the outline page, and appears again in the
stating the purpose of the paper · asking a question and then using the answer to form your thesis statement · summarizing the main idea of your
Every history paper has a big idea that serves as an umbrella for all the evidence included in the essay. That umbrella is the argument, or the
Make sure that your history essays ... This handout will explain how to craft strong historical ... From Historical Questions to Thesis Statements.
Almost all APUSH long essay or DBQ statements, no matter how complicated they may initially appear, can almost always be reduced to a single question.