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Finding a focus and forming a thesis

Finding a Focus

When you are given a writing assignment, you will usually be asked to explore a general topic.  You then need to discover a limited topic that interests you and meets the requirements of the assignment.  (Click on the "Getting Started" diamond of the flow chart for step-by-step exercises that guide you to a limited topic.) Finally you will need to decide on a specific idea or focus for your assignment.

Below are several examples of general subjects and limited topics. You need to supply the specific focus.  To do so, think about each limited topic. What specifically do you have to say about it? Use the links to find out about each topic.  Remember that your focus should highlight a special part of the topic, express a specific feeling about it, or take a stand for or against it.  Choose a specific focus for each limited topic and e-mail your answers to your instructor.

  The Selecting Process  
General Subject Specific FocusLimited Topic  
(First amendment rights)  (Warning labels on CDs)     

(The "Greenhouse Effect")  (Depletion of ozone layer over Australia)     

(Date rape)   (Rohypnol, or "Roofies" used at college parties) 

Below is an example of "The Selecting Process" for the sample American Studies essay we began developing in "Getting Started."  Fill in the "General Subject," "Limited Topic, and "Specific Focus" for your own "What does it mean to a be an 'American'?" essay. E-mail your answers to your instructor and print a copy for yourself.

  The Selecting Process  
General Subject Limited TopicSpecific Focus
(What it means to be American and patriotism)   (Wave of patriotism since the 9/11 attacks)   (Wave of patriotism led to discrimination against Arab-Americans)
  The Selecting Process  
General Subject Limited TopicSpecific Focus

Forming a thesis

The College Writer gives you a simple formula to create a working thesis statement and a checklist to assess its effectiveness.  Your working thesis statement is the thesis you use to begin writing your essay.  Keep in mind that a working thesis often changes as the essay is developed.  Be prepared to revise your thesis as you write.

By using the below example as a model, formulate a working thesis statement for your "What it means to be an 'American' " essay.  Once you have a working thesis, answer the questions in the "Thesis Checklist."  E-mail your working thesis and your checklist answers to your instructor,  and print copies for yourself.
A limited topic  (Wave of patriotism since the 9/11 attacks)
+ a specific focus  (led to discrimination against Arab-Americans)
= an effective thesis statement.
The wave of patriotism since the 9/11 terror attacks led to discrimination against  Arab-Americans.

  Formulate and check your own working thesis statement
A limited topic
+ a specific focus
= an effective thesis statement.
THESIS STATEMENT:                                          

Thesis Checklist
  • Does my thesis include a limited topic?
  • Does it also state clearly the specific focus I plan to develop?
  • Is the thesis supported by the information I have gathered?
  • Does the thesis suggest a pattern of development for my essay?

Submit your answers.

Either print your answers out for submission or email them to your instructor.

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