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The Best Way to Focus Your Topic

I’ll begin by stating the obvious; whether you’re writing a blog post, an article, or a book, you need to have a point. Now, you need to state that point in a single sentence. Writing teachers call this sentence either your thesis (this term is more common in the US) or your statement of argument (this one is more common in the UK). For brevity’s sake, I’ll stick with thesis.

You’ll use your thesis to help you outline your book. It’s also useful for writing your ‘elevator pitch’ for your book. In other words, when someone asks what your book is about, you’ll have a one sentence answer ready. If they’re interested in hearing more, then you can elaborate. If they’re not, you’ll finish your sentence before their eyes glaze over.

What makes a good thesis?

Your thesis needs to be arguable. So, you’re going to run into trouble if your sentence is something like the following: Some people keep cats as pets.

The problem with statements of fact (some of us do have cats as pets) is that it’s complete. There’s nothing for you to argue or prove.

However, you’d still run into problems if your thesis was like this: People who keep cats as pets are better than those who don’t.

This is arguable. However, it is not provable. On what grounds can you legitimately argue that people with cats are better than people without cats? I know lots of good, decent human beings who don’t happen to have pet cats.

A thesis that is arguable and provable might look something like this: People who have pet cats tend  to have lower blood pressure than those who have dogs. This is arguable and potentially provable. If you researched the topic (I haven’t, this is just an example) you’d find scientific studies that show correlation (and possibly causation) between spending time with animals and lowering patients’ blood pressure; your job would then be proving that cats are better at lowering blood pressure than dogs.

Is a thesis for a book different than a thesis for a blog post?

The short answer is no. For the more nuanced answer, let’s return to the previous example: People who have pet cats tend to have lower blood pressure than those who have dogs.

You could write 500 or 80,000 words on this thesis. The difference between a blog post and a book isn’t in the thesis statement, but in your treatment of the topic. A blog post would likely state the thesis, look at one or two articles that support it, and then come to a conclusion. Meanwhile, an article (of say 3,000 words) would look at a few more sources and consider at least one counter argument before the end. A book, however, would look at several sources, try to address all of the major counter arguments, and might even include a case study or two.

Once you have a thesis, what should you do with it?

When you write the introduction to whatever you’re writing (post, article, book), you need to include your thesis. Some writers begin with the thesis, while others prefer to offer some context before stating it. Which is appropriate will vary with each piece, though with a short post, you’re more likely to put it very near the beginning.

If you’re writing an article or a book, I’d suggest writing your thesis on a card and putting it on the wall above your computer or somewhere else where you’ll see it while you work. It’s easy to wander off track when you’re working on a long piece of writing. Having the thesis nearby will remind you to stay focused.

You can also use your thesis to help you with your outline, which I’ll cover in my next post.

If you’ve tried writing a thesis and you want some feedback on whether or not it’s arguable and potentially provable, pop into the Facebook group and ask for help.

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