Think of your thesis as a statement that remains to be proved. It commits you to showing your reader that it's founded upon good evidence and sound reasoning. That is, you want to show that you know what you're talking about, that you've investigated the matter thoroughly, have considered the implications of your findings, and are offering in your thesis not mere opinion, but a carefully thought-out conclusion. This job of uncovering and displaying your reasoning is the next step in writing a thesis/support essay.

Getting Inside an Idea

It isn't unusual to hear people say they can't write any more because they've run out of ideas, as though every sentence had to present a new thought. Most experienced writers understand, though, that a whole essay, a whole book, can be built from a single idea that is fully explored and developed.

The writer's job is not simply to list ideas, which could be seen as mere personal opinions, but to probe and test a single worthwhile thought, to take the reader inside that idea rather than pass quickly over its surface.

To begin doing this, look carefully at your thesis. Try asking:

Why do I believe this statement is true?

What have I seen or done or read or heard that caused me to make this statement?

At this point, look less for specific details than for "good reasons." Maybe you've heard the expression, "Give me three good reasons why I should believe you." If you can do that, give at least three good reasons why a reasonable person should believe your thesis, you're well on your way. For example, the thesis, "Drug education deserves a more prominent place in this university's Physical Education program," could be supported as follows:

... a whole essay, a whole book, can be built from a single idea that is fully explored and developed.

Original Subject: an important issue in my major field Focused Topic: drug education for college physical education majors

Thesis: Drug education deserves a more prominent place in this university's Physical Education program.

Reason 1: Athletes are especially likely to be victims of drug abuse.

Reason 2: The university presently offers very little instruction in this area.

Reason 3: As coaches and health education teachers our graduates will be in a good position to pass the knowl edge along to their team members and students.


6.6 For each thesis statement you wrote in Activity 7.3, list at least three good reasons you can offer in support. Be sure each reason is stated as a complete sentence. Next write out each Thesis/Support group in the format shown above and exchange with a partner. Discuss them. Which Thesis/Support groups are most promising? Which are least promising? Why?

6.7 Of the four groups of sentences (two for you and two for your partner) select one group to share and discuss with the whole class. This need not be your best group. It could be one that puzzles you, one you and your partner disagree about, or one you just can't get straightened out.

6.8 Study the following groups of sentences. Which ones offer promise for further development? Which don't? Pay special attention to the quality of the thesis sentence. Also note whether the supporting reasons really do support the main idea.

a. Thesis: Boa Constrictors can be very educational pets.

Reason one: They teach responsibility.

Reason two: They come from South America.

Reason three: Their owners will learn many facts about reptiles.

b. Thesis: Taco Pronto restaurants sacrifice individuality for efficiency.

Reason one: Different restaurants within the chain are almost identical in layout and design.

Reason two: Individuality is valued very highly by most Americans.

Reason three: Menus are planned with an eye toward standardization and uniformity.

c. Thesis: Elementary school is very important.

Reason one: Almost every neighborhood in the United States has an elementary school.

Reason two: Without an elementary school education you would have trouble in junior high.

Reason three: Elementary school teaches children many important social lessons.

d. Thesis: Spring is the greatest season of the year.

Reason one: Baseball season starts.

Reason two: Everything turns green.

Reason three: The whole world is in love.


A Skeleton Essay

You may see that each "good reason," each support sentence, is like a miniature thesis statement. It, too, is a claim that requires support to be convincing. And the next step is to develop each "good reason" into a solid, detailed paragraph.

Look back over your notes, scour your memory, and squeeze your imagination to discover what facts, details, examples, and illustration can help your reader understand your ideas and see the reasoning they are based on. Consider your support sentences one at a time and show reader the specifics that have led you to make these claims.

In your essay, each "good reason" will become the topic sentence of a paragraph. And each topic sentence can be opened and developed much like a thesis statement. Consider the following example:

Skeleton Essay: An Example


Thesis: Lucille Kooch is an outstanding high school biology teacher.


Reason 1: She knows the material well.   Reason 2: Her course covers a large amount of material.   Reason 3: She motivates her students to learn.
Reason 1.1: She seldom needs notes to lecture.   Reason 2.1: She covers ecology.   Reason 3.1: She is entertaining.
Details:   Details:   Details:
Reason 1.2: She gives thorough, in-depth answers to all questions.   Reason 2.2: She covers taxonomy.   Reason 3.2: She is demanding but fair.
Details:   Details:   Details:
Reason 1.3: She has a doctorate in biology.   Reason 2.3: She covers microbiology.   Reason 3.3: She stresses practical application of the material.
Details:   Details:   Details:

While these thirteen sentences alone don't fully develop the central idea, they do provide a framework for that development. They are a "skeleton essay" which allows you to see how the various parts of your paper relate to your thesis. Much like an outline, they can help you move ahead in your writing with the security and assurance that come from having an overall plan.While these thirteen sentences alone don't fully develop the central idea, they do provide a framework for that development.

You don't need to list three or four sentences under each topic sentence, but since these sentences will guide you in developing your paragraphs, you'll want as many as seem reasonable. If you can't come up with at least one or two such guide sentences in support of a topic sentence, you should question whether you'll be able to write a solid paragraph on the idea. You might need to rethink and reword the topic sentence so that it offers more room for expansion.


6.9 Take the best thesis statement you've generated so far and write out a skeleton essay that contains topic sentences and guide sentences for each paragraph. Exchange this skeleton essay with a partner and discuss your progress. As you discuss the papers, pay special attention to whether you can imagine a clear, fully developed essay growing out of what you see. What points need further clarification and support? What points are starting to look especially strong and convincing?