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Using the thesis statement to work out if you’re in over your head

Have you ever read a two page essay on the human race? Probably not. Why not then? Well, the human race is a rather broad topic to cover in an essay. There’s lots and lots and lots of stuff you can talk about. For instance:

  • Evolution

  • Races

  • Politics

  • Countries

  • History

  • Languages

  • Jobs

  • Lifestyles

  • Life cycle

And that’s only a few of the possible topics. How can you cover all of that in one short essay? The answer is simple - you can’t! There’s only so much you can cover in one essay. Even if you had 200 pages to work with, you still couldn’t begin to cover every aspect of the human race.

Your thesis statement should be a good indicator of whether you’re trying to cover too much in your essay. Think about your thesis statement and how broad the topic or issue it covers is. If it’s too broad, rewrite it until it covers a topic that is specific enough. You want to be able to cover the topic completely and in reasonable detail in your essay. Remember, your thesis statement doesn’t have to perfect the first time you write it - it rarely is! For instance, I might start with this thesis statement:

Technology is making our lives more complicated.

This is a pretty general statement - it sort of comes out a bit like this:

Technology = bad

Say you’ve got a 500 word limit. There’s no way you’re going to be able to cover all aspects of technology, and all the different ways it’s making our lives more complicated. We’d better narrow my thesis statement:

Computer technology is increasing the complexity of the workplace.

This is a lot better - now we’re not just talking about any technology, we’re talking about computer technology. And we’re not just talking about our lives in general - we’re talking about our work lives. So we’ve narrowed the topic in two different places. It’s still probably a bit broad though for a short essay. Let’s make it even more specific:

E-mail has evolved to the stage of having a net negative effect on workplace productivity.

So we’ve now got even more specific with computer technology - now we’re just talking about computer e-mail. And also, we’re now not just talking about workplace complexity in general, but specifically, about workplace productivity.

Sometimes it’s OK to pick and only skim the surface of a very broad topic. This is often known as an introductory essay. For instance, you might have a thesis statement like:

The field of astronomy involves the study of things in outer space.

Astronomy is a huge topic. However, this thesis statement is simply saying that astronomy involves studying stuff in outer space. So what the essay has to do is back this up with some examples. The statement is a fairly broad one and isn’t a particularly controversial topic. This essay will be more of an introductory one that touches on the field of astronomy. So inside the body of the essay, you might provide a few examples of what astronomy does. There’s no way you could cover every aspect of astronomy in one essay, but that’s OK - you’re just introducing the reader to the topic.

So before you actually get into the business of writing your essay, have a good think about your thesis statement and how broad or specific it is. Think about what word limit (upper or lower) you’ve got, and how that fits with your thesis statement. If necessary, change the statement to be more specific or more general to better suit the length limitations for your essay.