Ap Thesis Statement Formulation

The acronym TAG (Title, Author, Genre) is a teaching tool that is probably common to many English classrooms. Its a useful and easy method of helping students to properly formulate and craft thesis statements in their writings. Acronyms in general are no stranger to composition; they are used time and time again in beginning learning circles as well as advanced ones, to develop and enhance important writing skills. Other common acronyms are PEEL (Point, Explain, Evaluate, Link) for paragraph structuring, or IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results, Analysis, Discussion) for scientific reports. All of them working quite well at the task of making document preparation that much easier for students, researchers, and professionals.

With the acronym TAG, based off of the words it represents, its pretty clear that it will likely be used in a thesis statement for either a book report, book or essay review, or critique. The title, author, and genre of a work cover the basic, essential, identifying information required in any one of these writings. And the best place for them is usually right at the beginning of the work.

So what exactly does each of these letters require?

Writing with TAG in your thesis

When including these three elements into your thesis statement, some basic points can be made regarding each; though small, they may still be important to note.

Title

The title of the work in most cases should be written out completely and underlined along with each primary letter of it being capitalized. For instance, when writing out The Legend of Hemphrey Jones the only word that is lower case is the term of because it is an article; and as you can see the rest of the letters are uppercase. Likewise, the names of other writings such as poems, essays, or newspaper articles should be placed in quotation marks instead of being underlined.

Author

This one is pretty straightforward; you would simply write the author's name, as a first name and then a last name. When referring to the author later on in the work you would simply state his or her last name only. Though if the author's name was mentioned prior to the TAG thesis statement the last name alone in the thesis statement should suffice.

Genre

There are several genres that a work may fall under. For instance you may be writing about biographies, autobiographies, essays, short stories, poetry, narrative non-fiction and so on. Its important that you understand the genre of your select piece before identifying it. In some cases the genre may be easy to pick but in other cases (with short stories and such) you may have to research a little beforehand.

In addition to this, when including each of theses elements into your thesis statement, fluency is a major and critical factor to be considered. In some cases students may simply 'throw' each point into a sentence which usually results in poor or awkward wording at the very least. Take these two examples.

*As you can see in the better example, the title, author, and genre are carefully placed into the sentence without disrupting the flow of the important details of the thesis. Similarly the title is underlined and the thesis is fuller and more developed than the previous one.

So now that a basic understanding of how to place the TAG elements into a thesis statement has been discussed, it may be beneficial to also provide a more in-depth explanation of thesis statements and book/essay reviews and criticisms in general.

Structuring the thesis for a book review (with the TAG format)

When writing a book review your primary goal is to inform the reader about the writer's main ideas as well as evaluate how well he or she accomplished the purpose of the book. That is you, will work to identify the author's thesis, objective or purpose, and then evaluate and make judgment on the book based on the evidences collected from your reading. So for example, if reviewing a book in which the author sets to detail the hard life of a midwestern laborer, such a book should include several descriptive details, a solid plot, clear evidence of the working conditions, suitable dialogue and so on. Knowing this, a reviewer can then work to evaluate how well the author established the plot, incorporated dialogue, provided details and so on.

Overall, when preparing the thesis statement for a book review, you should indicate the author's objectives and what aspect of their writing you will be examining. For instance, you may be looking specifically at how characters were developed or how well the argument was supported or (for more general reviews) you may just be looking at the overall strengths and weaknesses of the work. In the above example provided about The Legend of Hemphrey Jones the key issues that can be extracted from the thesis are the vivid illustrations provided by the author. This indicates to the reader that the book review/critique will likely focus on examples of these vivid illustrations more than anything else.

Another example of a book review thesis statement using the TAG method as mentioned is as follows;

Though Juniper Jinee (title), Sarah Snow's (author), narrative non-fiction (genre) was based on the real events that occurred during the winter storm of 2006, I felt as though the scenic descriptions resembled more of a fictional storm rather than a real one.

*This last example shows the TAG information in order and provides a clear thesis statement that indicates that the reviewer will be focusing on the trouble in Snow's representation of realistic scenes in her narrative non-fiction. In addition to this, the paper should also provide a summary of the book, possibly some positive points as well, and finally end with a closing statement or judgment of the book by the reviewer.

Bad example

Overcoming the odds, triumphs and challenges, The Legend of Hemphrey Jones, John Doe, a book fitting the autobiography genre.

Better example

The Legend of Hemphrey Jones (title), John Doe's (author) autobiography (genre) provides a substantial amount of vivid illustrations that depict the reality of life as a midwestern laborer in the early 1800's.

Thesis Statements

WHAT THIS HANDOUT IS ABOUT

This handout describes what a thesis statement is, how thesis statements work in your writing, and how you can craft or refine one for your draft.

INTRODUCTION

Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion—convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.

WHAT IS A THESIS STATEMENT?

A thesis statement:

  • tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
  • is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
  • directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
  • makes a claim that others might dispute.
  • is usually a single sentence somewhere in your first paragraph that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.

If your assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft. The assignment may not explicitly state that you need a thesis statement because your instructor may assume you will include one. When in doubt, ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement. When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue, it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it persuasively. 

HOW DO I GET A THESIS?

A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis,” a basic or main idea, an argument that you think you can support with evidence but that may need adjustment along the way.

Writers use all kinds of techniques to stimulate their thinking and to help them clarify relationships or comprehend the broader significance of a topic and arrive at a thesis statement.

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY THESIS IS STRONG?

If there’s time, run it by your instructor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own. When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis,ask yourself the following:

  • Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question.
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose?If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is, “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
  • Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.

EXAMPLES

Suppose you are taking a course on 19th-century America, and the instructor hands out the following essay assignment: Compare and contrast the reasons why the North and South fought the Civil War. You turn on the computer and type out the following:

    The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some of which were the same and some different.

This weak thesis restates the question without providing any additional information. You will expand on this new information in the body of the essay, but it is important that the reader know where you are heading. A reader of this weak thesis might think, “What reasons? How are they the same? How are they different?” Ask yourself these same questions and begin to compare Northern and Southern attitudes (perhaps you first think, “The South believed slavery was right, and the North thought slavery was wrong”). Now, push your comparison toward an interpretation—why did one side think slavery was right and the other side think it was wrong? You look again at the evidence, and you decide that you are going to argue that the North believed slavery was immoral while the South believed it upheld the Southern way of life. You write:

    While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.

Now you have a working thesis! Included in this working thesis is a reason for the war and some idea of how the two sides disagreed over this reason. As you write the essay, you will probably begin to characterize these differences more precisely, and your working thesis may start to seem too vague. Maybe you decide that both sides fought for moral reasons, and that they just focused on different moral issues. You end up revising the working thesis into a final thesis that really captures the argument in your paper:

    While both Northerners and Southerners believed they fought against tyranny and oppression, Northerners focused on the oppression of slaves while Southerners defended their own right to self-government.

Compare this to the original weak thesis. This final thesis presents a way of interpreting evidence that illuminates the significance of the question. Keep in mind that this is one of many possible interpretations of the Civil War—it is not the one and only right answer to the question. There isn’t one right answer; there are only strong and weak thesis statements and strong and weak uses of evidence.

Let’s look at another example. Suppose your literature professor hands out the following assignment in a class on the American novel: Write an analysis of some aspect of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. “This will be easy,” you think. “I loved Huckleberry Finn!” You grab a pad of paper and write:

    Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.

Why is this thesis weak? Think about what the reader would expect from the essay that follows: you will most likely provide a general, appreciative summary of Twain’s novel. The question did not ask you to summarize; it asked you to analyze. Your professor is probably not interested in your opinion of the novel; instead, she wants you to think about why it’s such a great novel—what do Huck’s adventures tell us about life, about America, about coming of age, about race relations, etc.? First, the question asks you to pick an aspect of the novel that you think is important to its structure or meaning—for example, the role of storytelling, the contrasting scenes between the shore and the river, or the relationships between adults and children. Now you write:

    In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.

Here’s a working thesis with potential: you have highlighted an important aspect of the novel for investigation; however, it’s still not clear what your analysis will reveal. Your reader is intrigued, but is still thinking, “So what? What’s the point of this contrast? What does it signify?” Perhaps you are not sure yet, either. That’s fine—begin to work on comparing scenes from the book and see what you discover. Free write, make lists, jot down Huck’s actions and reactions. Eventually you will be able to clarify for yourself, and then for the reader, why this contrast matters. After examining the evidence and considering your own insights, you write:

    Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.

This final thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence from the novel that will convince the reader of your interpretation.

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Mr. Brynes of Leonardtown High School

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