Bad & Better Thesis Statements


Spring ‘07
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Bad & Better Thesis Statements
This is not an exhaustive list of bad thesis statements, but here're five kinds of problems I've seen
most often. Notice that the last two, #4 and #5, are not necessarily incorrect or illegitimate thesis
statements, but, rather, inappropriate for the purposes of this course. They may be useful forms for
papers on different topics in other courses.
1. The non-thesis thesis.
A thesis takes a position on an issue. It is different from a topic sentence in that a thesis
statement is not neutral. It announces, in addition to the topic, the argument you want to
make or the point you want to prove. This is your own opinion that you intend to back up.
This is your reason and motivation for writing.
Bad Thesis 1: In his article Stanley Fish shows that we don't really have the right
to free speech.
Bad Thesis 2: This paper will consider the advantages and disadvantages of certain
restrictions on free speech.
Better Thesis 1: Stanley Fish's argument that free speech exists more as a political
prize than as a legal reality ignores the fact that even as a political prize it still
serves the social end of creating a general cultural atmosphere of tolerance that may
ultimately promote free speech in our nation just as effectively as any binding law.
Better Thesis 2: Even though there may be considerable advantages to restricting
hate speech, the possibility of chilling open dialogue on crucial racial issues is too
great and too high a price to pay.
2. The overly broad thesis.
A thesis should be as specific as possible, and it should be tailored to reflect the scope of
the paper. It is not possible, for instance, to write about the history of English literature in a
5 page paper. In addition to choosing simply a smaller topic, strategies to narrow a thesis
include specifying a method or perspective or delineating certain limits.
Bad Thesis 1: There should be no restrictions on the 1st amendment.
Bad Thesis 2: The government has the right to limit free speech.
Better Thesis 1: There should be no restrictions on the 1st amendment if those
restrictions are intended merely to protect individuals from unspecified or
otherwise unquantifiable or unverifiable "emotional distress."
Better Thesis 2: The government has the right to limit free speech in cases of
overtly racist or sexist language because our failure to address such abuses would
effectively suggest that our society condones such ignorant and hateful views.


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