Blueprint Thesis Essay Writing

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The thesis statement is the center around which the rest of your paper revolves; it is a clear, concise statement of the position you will defend.

Getting Started:

If you’re just beginning to think about a thesis, it may be useful to ask yourself some of the following questions. This list is not exhaustive; anything that helps you consider your text or subject in a complex, unusual, or in-depth manner will get you on the right track:

  • Do I have a gut response to the prompt? Does anything from my reading jump to mind as something that could help me argue one way or another?
  • What is the significance of this text or subject? Why did my professor choose it? How does it fit into the broader themes or goals of the course?
  • How does this text or subject relate to the broader context of the place or time period in which it was written or in which it occurred?
  • Does this text or subject challenge or complicate my ideas about race, class, gender, or religion? About political, carceral, or educational institutions?
  • Does anything in this text seem to not “fit in” with the rest of it? Why could that be?
  • Are there aspects of the text (or two separate texts) which, when I compare and contrast them, can illuminate something about the text(s) that wasn’t clear before?
  • Does the author make any stylistic choices– perspective, word choice, pacing, setting, plot twists, poetic devices– that are crucial to our understanding of the text or subject?

Developing Your Ideas:

At this point you should have some potential ideas, but they don’t have to be pretty yet. Your next goal will be to play with them until you arrive at a single argument that fulfills as many of the above “Components of a Strong Thesis” as possible. See the following examples of weak or unfinished thesis statements:

Setting is an important aspect of Wuthering Heights.

Britain was stable between 1688 and 1783.

The first example is argumentative, but it’s not that argumentative– most critics agree that setting is important to Wuthering Heights. Both examples are too broad. One way to develop them is to consider potential conjunctions that would help you complicate your ideas:
 

See below for examples of stronger or more complete thesis statements. In part due to the addition of conjunctions “because” and “as,” these are more argumentative, more specific, and more complex:

Because the moors in Wuthering Heights are a personification of Heathcliff’s personality, their presence suggests that human emotion and the natural world are intricately entwined in the novel.

Corruption was a major source of stability in Britain between 1688 and 1783, as landed elites controlled every aspect of British government and ensured political stability at the cost of social equality.

I Have a Thesis. Now What?

Once you feel confident about your final thesis statement, you have conquered the most important (and usually, the most difficult) part of writing a paper. Here are two ways your thesis can help you figure out what to do next:

By Sarah Ostrow ’18. Definition of thesis statement adapted from earlier Hamilton College Writing Center Resource “Introductions and Thesis Statements.”
© Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center, Hamilton College

Components of a Strong ThesisComponents of a Weak Thesis
  • Argumentative, debatable
  • Specific
  • Original, goes beyond class discussion
  • Can be supported with textual evidence
  • Answers the prompt
  • Clearly and concisely stated
  • Summarizes, states a fact
  • Broad, makes a generalization
  • Repeats class discussion or other critics
  • Unrelated to or contradicted by the text
  • Unrelated or partial response to prompt
  • Language is vague, wordy

Conjunction

Conjunction’s Purpose

  • Because, so, as
  • But, however, yet, although, despite
  • When, where
  • Unless, except
  • Before, once, until
  • Specifies your reasoning
  • Introduces nuance
  • Confines idea to specific time or place
  • Introduces an exception to your idea
  • Specifies order in which things occur

 

Wuthering Heights Examples

British History
Examples

Gathering evidence: Look back at your text(s) and begin compiling a list of quotations or ideas that would support your thesis statement.

  • Descriptions of the moors
  • Descriptions of Heathcliff, or moments when other characters talk about him
  • Instances of political corruption from 1688-1783 that led to stable government
  • Instances of social inequality from 1688-1783

Considering structure: See if your thesis statement gives you any clues about how to organize your thoughts into body paragraphs.

The moors and Heathcliff can each have their own paragraph. Or separate paragraphs can tackle separate qualities, i.e. the wild nature of both, the morose nature of both, etc.

Political corruption and social inequality can each have their own paragraph. Or, if there are cause-and-effect relationships between specific instances of corruption and inequality, each pair can have its own paragraph.

Jerz > Writing > Academic > [ Titles | Thesis Statements | Blueprinting | Quoting | Citing | MLA Format ]

A thesis statement is the single, specific claim that your essay supports. A strong thesis answers the question you want to raise; it does so by presenting a topic, the position you wish to defend, and a reasoning blueprint that sketches out your defense of your chosen position. A good thesis is not merely a factual statement, an observation, a personal opinion or preference, or the question you plan to answer. (See “Academic Argument: Evidence-based Defense of a Non-obvious Position.”

The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
  • Topic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book challenges a stereotype
  • Reasoning Blueprint: the three ways the book mounts this challenge are through attention to cultural detail, using Indian words, and using direct quotations from Black Elk.
    • A strong blueprint would hint at why these three details add up to support the thesis statement.
    • A less impressive blueprint might simply list the main points the essay will cover.

There is nothing magically “correct” about a thesis on challenging a cultural stereotype. Instead of claiming that a book “challenges a genre’s stereotypes,” you might instead argue that some text “provides a more expensive but more ethical solution than X” or “challenges Jim Smith’s observation that ‘[some quote from Smith here]’”. (Don’t automatically use “challenges a genre’s stereotype” in the hopes of coming up with the “correct” thesis.)

A more complicated thesis statement for a paper that asks you to demonstrate your ability engage with someone else’s ideas (rather than simply summarize or react to someone else’s ideas) might follow a formula like this:

Although Smith says “quote a passage that makes a specific claim you intend to disagree with” (123), in this paper I will use Brown’s concept of X to argue that [your original thesis goes here].”
  • Your instructor might not want you to use “I” in your paper. You might instead say “This paper will use…” or “Applying Brown’s concept of X will show…”
  • Rather than promising to “use Brown to argue” (which is too general), this model recommends that you “use Brown’s concept of X to argue” (or “Brown’s case study” or “Brown’s thorough analysis” or “Brown’s unsuccessful rebuttal” — the more specific you are about how, specifically you will use Brown, the better).
  • It’s not enough to disagree with someone else; a strong paper will go beyond saying “Smith is wrong” and will instead say “Here’s a better solution that avoids problems P and Q that prevent Smith’s solution from working.”

For a short paper (1-2 pages), the thesis statement is often the first sentence. A complex thesis statement for a long paper may be part of a thesis paragraph. But it’s hard to go wrong if you put your thesis first.

Useful Formulae for Thesis Statements

If you’re not sure whether you have a good thesis statement, see whether you can fit your ideas into one of these basic patterns.

[Something] [does something] because [reason(s)].
or
Because [reason(s)], [something] [does something].
Although [opposing evidence], [reasons] show [something] [does something].

If you are just starting out, and you are still developing an original, evidence-based claim to defend, a simpler formula is probably best. Once you have done the research, and you understand the subject, then a formula like the following won’t look like random words; it will suggest a way to frame a nuanced, complex argument that goes beyond making non-controversial factual statements.

While [a specific, named person] says [a direct quote or paraphrase from the source], [a different, named person] says [something else]. While the two authors disagree over [a minor point], they both share a deep concern over [the topic of your paper]. [Person one’s] refusal to accept [a particular point made by person two]suggests that [person one] is [your thesis — stating the real reason why person one won’t agree with person two].
What really matters is not guessing the magically correct words to fit some secret formula that your mean instructor is refusing to tell you.

What matters is that you have researched your subject, that you have found and engaged meaningfully with peer-reviewed academic sources, and that you are developing an evidence-based claim, rather than summarizing or giving unsupported opinion.

  • Unlike a personal essay, which can rely on personal experience and general observations, a research paper must draw on evidence — usually in the form of direct quotations or statistics from peer-reviewed academic journals.
  • You have no reason to “defend” a position unless some expert has presented credible evidence that challenges a claim you want to make. (Finding, quoting, and engaging with that evidence is part of your task as an academic writer.)
  • An academic argument is not a squabble, a difference of opinions, or an attorney’s courtroom statement. The author of an academic argument is more like the judge, who, after hearing out the best arguments in favor of various possible solutions, supports the best one. An academic argument is part of a discussion that respects multiple viewpoints (as long as those viewpoints are backed by credible evidence).

Parts of a Thesis Statement

The thesis statement has 3 main parts: the limited subject, the precise opinion, and the blueprint of reasons.

1. Limited Subject

Make sure you’ve chosen a subject that meets your instructor’s requirements for the assignment. (It never hurts to ask.)

2. Precise Opinion

The precise opinion gives your answer to a question about the subject. A good precise opinion is vital to the reader’s comprehension of the goal of the essay.

3. Blueprint of Reasons

A blueprint is a plan. It lets the builder know that the foyer will be here, the living room will be to the east, the dining room to the west, and the family room will be north.The blueprint of an essay permits you to see the whole shape of your ideas before you start churning out whole paragraphs.While it’s okay for you to start writing down your ideas before you have a clear sense of your blueprint, your reader should never encounter a list of details without being told exactly what point these details are supposed to support. (For more details on the reasoning blueprint, see Blueprinting.)

The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
In the blueprint, the author signals an intention to support the precise opinion. The author of the example above introduces three different kinds of evidence:
  • cultural details
  • Indian words
  • quotes from Black Elk.

Informed by this blueprint, the reader expects to encounter one section (a paragraph or more) devoted to each subtopic.The blueprint determines the shape of your paper.

If your thesis statement introduces three reasons A, B and C, the reader will expect a section on reason A, a section on reason B, and a section on reason C.

For a single paragraph, you might only spend one sentence on each reason. For a 2-3 page paper, each reason might get its own paragraph. For a 10-page paper, each reason might contain its own local thesis statement, with its own list of reasons, so that each section involves several paragraphs.To emphasize the structure of your essay, repeat keywords or paraphrased ideas from the blueprint as you introduce the sections in which you expand on each point. Crafting good transitions is a skill that takes time and practice. (See Transitions and Reminders of Thesis).

Note: If you repeat your blueprint phrases and your thesis statement robotically (“The third point I want to talk about is how Black Elk Speaks accurately represents the Indian lifestyle through its direct quotes from Black Elk.”), your writing will be rather dry and lifeless. Dull writing is probably better than aimless rambling, although neither is terribly effective. |

Note: A thesis statement amounts to nothing if the paper is not completely focused on that main point. Blueprinting helps create the coherency of the thesis throughout the entire essay, which makes it a necessary part of the thesis statement.

Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
  • Topic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book is accurate
  • Reasoning Blueprint: the book pays attention to cultural detail, it uses Indian words, and it uses direct quotations from Black Elk. (The rest of the paper will establish the truth of teach of these supporting points, and then explain why they add up to support the truth of the thesis statement.)
Is Black Elks Speaks a tragedy?
This is a question, not a statement. It’s fine to sit down at the keyboard with the intention of writing a paper to answer this question, but before you start churning out the sentences, you should have a clear idea of what answer you’re trying to support.
This paper will look at the book’s attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotations from Black Elk, in order to determine whether Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle.
The above sample is slightly better because it offers more detail, but it still doesn’t say what position the author is taking on the topic of whether the book is accurate.
Because the events in the story emphasize Black Elk’s role as a Sioux Warrior, and do not describe his eventual conversion to Catholicism and membership in the Society of St. Joseph, Black Elk Speaks presents a skewed and simplified view of the complex history of Native Americans.
Note that the above sample contains a topic (the accuracy of Black Elk Speaks), opinion (it is skewed and simplified), and reasoning (because the book only tells part of the story).

You don’t need to present those three parts in that exact order every time; furthermore, your instructor may have a good reason to ask you for a different organization. But most of the time, including these three parts will help your reader to follow your ideas much more closely.

Biographies of all types can teach us many things about the past. What was the culture like? What was the language like? And what did the people say? One such book is Black Elk Speaks, which tells the story of a Sioux warrior in the late 1800s. How accurate is this book? This paper will investigate the cultural details, the language, and what Black Elk actually said, in order to determine the answer.
The above sample starts off with a wordy, general statement about biographies. But the main topic isn’t about biographies of all types, it’s specifically about one book, Black Elk Speaks.

Blueprinting: Planning Your Essay

17 Oct 2000 — originally posted by Nicci Jordan, UWEC Junior
08 Dec 2000 — first posted here. Maintained by Prof. Jerz.
13 Dec 2003 — links updated
22 Sep 2006 — moderate revisions by Jerz
29 Oct 2011 — updated by Jerz
14 June 2015 — minor adjustments

A blueprint is a rough but specific plan, or outline, which defines the structure of your whole essay. The blueprint, usually located within the thesis statement, is a brief list of the points you plan to make, compressed into just a few words each, in the same order in which they appear in the body of your paper.Hochstein, Jordan, and Jerz

Thesis Reminders
A thesis reminder is a direct echo of the thesis statement. In a short paper, the topic sentence of each paragraph should repeat words or phrases from the thesis statement.Dennis G. Jerz

Timed Essays: Planning and Organizing in a Crunch

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