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Evolution of the thesis statement

You can’t really start writing a good essay without having a thesis statement in mind. Even the essay outline is easier if you have some type of thesis statement in your head. So the thesis statement starts its life when you first start to work on your essay.

But you should not leave the thesis statement alone as your write. As you write an essay, you quite often think of new. You might remember or think of another source of information that you need to look up before you do any further writing. And when you do look up that information, you may find that it casts new light on the topic you’re discussing in your essay. This may require you to modify your thesis statement, or in extreme circumstances, re-start your thesis statement from scratch.

It’s very tempting to not change your thesis statement, because if you change it you often have to rewrite large chunks of your essay. Once people are well into writing their essay, they tend to ignore any additional information they come across that suggests that their thesis statement might not be quite correct. However, being lazy is not a good idea, especially if the information you’ve come across is something major that you probably should have picked up in your first round of research. Chances are that whoever’s reading your work will know about the extra information. So if you don’t modify your thesis statement to reflect this extra knowledge, you’re risking a lower mark.

This issue crops up a lot with people who are working on long-term projects, such as a PhD thesis, especially when the topic they’re working on is a current one. For instance, I might be writing an essay arguing that looking at a computer screen doesn’t cause eye damage. My thesis statement might be something like:

With regular breaks and proper posture, daily viewing of a computer screen does not cause long-term eye damage.

However, halfway through writing my essay, a friend who knows I’m working on this essay might send me an interesting article they came across on the Internet. The article’s title might be something like: "Long term studies prove extended computer screen viewing damages your vision." Uh-oh! That sort of contradicts your current thesis statement, doesn’t it? You could gamble and hope that whoever is reading your essay hasn’t come across the article. But Murphy’s Law states that if something can go wrong it will, so odds are your reader(s) will have read your friend’s article. So you need to change your thesis statement. Now, you could totally change your thesis statement to something like this:

Daily viewing of a computer screen causes long-term vision damage.

Evolution of the thesis statement

However, this will require a complete rewrite of everything you’ve written. What you can do instead is modify your thesis statement to take into account the new information, but allow you to still use some of what you’ve already written:

Taking regular breaks and adopting proper posture can help minimise long-term vision damage from daily viewing of a computer screen.

We’ve been clever here - this new thesis statement takes into account the study showing computer screens cause vision damage, but still uses some of the stuff we’ve already written about how taking breaks and sitting properly helps your eyes deal with a computer screen.