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Last Updated: Feb 23, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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Writing a Thesis

Writing Quality Thesis Papers

Top-notch thesis papers don't happen by themselves. Follow this general advice, and you'll be well on your way to academic stardom.

1. Start with a solid thesis statement.

  • Pick a topic that you care about.
  • Develop your thesis as you research your topic.
  • 2. Base the entirety of your paper-and nothing more- on your thesis.

  • A thesis is not a topic. it is the statement of an argument. It is the statement from which everything else in your paper emanates- arguments, counterarguments, examples, descriptions, implications, etc.
  • Anything that is not relevant to your thesis is not relevant to your paper. Don't include irrelevant material.
  • Mistakes in selecting a thesis:
  • Your thesis is overly broad.
  • Your thesis is too specific- at least not specific enough to be supported by scholarship in the field and/or primary sources.
  • Your thesis isn't so much a thesis as it is a review of a topic.
  • Bonus: if you can successfully identify and address legitimate counterarguments to your thesis, your paper is that much stronger.
  • 3. Use high-quality and relevant sources.

  • Don't plagiarize:
  • It lacks integrity.
  • Nothing annoys teachers more than plagiarism.
  • Most importantly, your thesis is stronger if you have external support for it.
  • Instead of plagiarizing, quote or paraphrase your source (and then document it using a citation).
  • If writing a paper is like picking a fight, your sources are the 800-pound gorillas that are going to back you up. Without authoritative sources, a paper is just a really long opinion.
  • Web sources:
  • Ideal for preliminary research
  • Not so good for using in papers meant to be authoritative. unless those sources are themselves authoritative (for example, the United Nations' web site, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's site, an online collection of historical documents, etc.)
  • Primary sources: contain original records/raw material of a historical event
  • A teacher favorite: use as much as possible.
  • Secondary sources: contain analyses and interpretations of events
  • Choose the most authoritative voices you can, especially for debatable claims.
  • 4. Use an outline to structure your paper.

  • Papers don't organize themselves. If you're not sure that your paper is well organized, chances are small to none that it is.
  • First paragraph: lay out your thesis in unambiguous language; identify major supporting claims; maybe include a counterargument.
  • Final paragraph: do not include new material; instead, briefly remind the reader what you have proven, perhaps including a sentence or two on the larger significance.
  • 5. Write how you speak.

  • Except don't use slang.
  • Use short sentences!
  • Don't disorient your reader with abrupt changes in topic.
  • Instead, include appropriate transitions from one paragraph to the next.
  • If you simply must change topics, use a section break.
  • 6. Be succinct.

  • Don't use fifty words when thirty will do, five words when four will do.
  • Don't use filler. Teachers know when you're insincerely including:
  • excessively wordy explanations
  • lame restatements of previously made claims
  • If all else fails, use these outstanding alternatives to filler:
  • Address a counterargument.
  • Elaborate on a claim you made.
  • Quote an expert.
  • Discuss the implications.
  • Discuss the larger significance.
  • Failing this, if your paper still isn't long enough:
  • Consider making your thesis statement more inclusive, so that you may address a larger subject.
  • Consider the possibility that your thesis is not fully formed.
  • 7. Check your language. Nothing is more distracting than misspelled words and sloppy grammar.

  • Use the "Spelling and Grammar" function in Word- red is for questionable spelling; green is for questionable grammar .
  • If you don't take the time, you are saying the following:
  • "I don't care if I distract my reader."
  • "I want to draw attention away from my thesis."
  • 8. Document your sources using the appropriate citation convention.

  • There are number of citation conventions. Here are three: Chicago, APA, MLA.
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