Supporting a Thesis
Your thesis -- the main point of your paper -- must be supported
with detail or evidence. Readers are not likely to be impressed
with generalized statements or observations. Even a personal
narrative essay requires support to be effective. Simply stating,
"The airplane trip was terrible" has little impact unless
you "show" readers how bad the flight was with supporting
The airplane trip was terrible. The flight was two
hours late and overbooked. The cabin was unbearably hot. My
seat was in the last row. I sat wedged between a snoring businessman
and a restless ten-year-old who coughed non-stop. The meal
consisted of a dry chicken sandwich and a rubbery stalk of
celery. I put on the headphones in hopes of listening to some
music, but the cord was frayed. We took off three hours behind
schedule, encountered headwinds, and arrived in Denver after
midnight. I missed my connections and slept in the terminal.
Similarly, a grant proposal, a research paper, or a letter to
the editor seeking to persuade readers to accept a point of
view cannot rest on a simple assertion. The argument that
the university should expand library hours requires support
to be effective:
During the 1998 budget crisis the university shortened
library hours forty hours a week. Although the fiscal problems
have been solved, the cut in library hours remains. Our university
is currently the only college in the state without weekend
library hours. The Campus Timeís survey of 1,250 students
revealed that the shortened library hours was the leading
reason for the rise in students dropping out or requesting
incompletes. For the 45% of students who work, weekends are
the only times they can use the library. Nearly 22% of students
are adults with full-time jobs who can only study or conduct
research on the weekend. The university must restore the library
to the schedule it maintained for over fifty years.
All writing -- whether a humorous column or a government report
-- depends on
support to be effective. The type of support you use depends
on your goal, the intended audience, and the nature of the document.
Each type of support has strengths and weaknesses. In most instances,
writers rely on more than one form to influence readers.
PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS -- descriptive
details and impressions about a person, place, or object.
* Personal observations can be powerful -- provided
they are carefully selected
and clearly organized.
FACTS -- objective details gathered
by research or investigation
* Personal observations, however, are subjective and
may require additional
factual support to support an argument.
* Facts can provide independent support for a writerís
thesis. Facts can
generally be verified by readers.
* Facts can be used to add credibility to personal observations.
* Facts, however, sometimes require background explanation.
readers that last year five hundred cars were stolen in your
little unless you compare this number to last yearís figures
from comparable cities.
TESTIMONY -- statements or quotations
from experts or witnesses
* The comments of other people can support a thesis
by adding evidence and
providing voices other than the writerís.
* Testimony by experts, no matter how famous, can be biased
and may require
additional support. Be careful not to take comments out of
context or assume
that someone who is an expert in one field is an authority
STATISTICS -- facts expressed in numbers
* Statistics can distill a complex topic into a dramatic
can quickly understand:
...one of three students has a full-time job.
...25% of this yearís graduates are minorities.
* Statistics are easy for readers to recall and repeat
* Statistics, however, must be explained. Because statistics
can be misleading,
readers often demand clarification before accepting them as
Explain when and how the statistics were collected. Stress
of their source.
EXAMPLES --specific events, situations,
persons, or issues that represent a
general trend, problem, or condition.
* Describing the plight of a single homeless person
can dramatize a social
problem more effectively than a list of statistics. Examples
allow you to
introduce a human element into your writing.
* Examples -- often called case studies -- can offer a
microcosm view of
a larger and complex issue.
* Examples, however, can be misleading. Each person or
unique and therefore the experiences or attitudes of an individual
be assumed to fully reflect the larger issue.
* Examples can distort perceptions of reality. A single
mass shooting may lead people to feel there is a rising tide
of violence in society -- even though FBI statistics may actually
indicate a dramatic decrease in homicide.
STRATEGIES FOR USING SUPPORTING DETAILS
1. Select details that support your thesis * Select the most reliable sources possible. Be
aware that many
official sounding organizations are funded by corporations,
In conducting research or thinking about your paper you
may come up with
interesting facts, memorable examples, and impressive statistics
the general topic -- but they may not support your thesis.
Make sure you
include only information that directly supports your point
2. Make sure your sources are reliable and unbiased
If you are writing about the safety of nuclear power, your
readers may be
suspicious if you cite only sources from a utility company
or an anti-nuclear
unions, and lobbying groups with a clear political agenda.
* If objective data is not available, balance information
3. Check the accuracy of your support
Too often writers use supporting details without double checking
Donít rely on your memory. Verify quotations and statistics
using them as support.
4. Clearly organize supporting detail
Evidence will only be effective if it is easy for readers
* Use the modes of development -- comparison, cause
and effect, or
narration -- to organize details.
* Consider using tables, charts, graphs, or other visual
dramatize facts and statistics.
* Use paragraph breaks and transitional statements to
* Announce your method of organization in the introduction
readers with a road map to follow your train of ideas.
Return to top
Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark