Reading & Writing Across Curriculum

Thesis = Observation + Analysis

The formula above is one useful way to think about a thesis (paper's main point), thesis statement (summary of paper's main point), or topic sentence (summary of a paragraph's main point).

observation evidence, factual information, or a judgment your audience will agree with easily
analysis your argument or opinion about the observation, something your audience might not agree with

 

Combining these two elements gives you the most important elements for a thesis, thesis statement, or topic sentence. The analysis is argumentative and debatable, while the observation gives evidence or reasoning to support the analysis.

As you might imagine, the dividing line between what counts as an observation and what is an analysis is not clear-cut. Often it will depend on context, such as the assignment, the field of study, and your audience. For example, in a biology class, the statement, "People are descended from other animals similar to apes," would be an observation; all biology teachers would agree with you and this statement would be considered a fact. In a religious philosophy class, the same statement might be up for debate, in which case it would be an analysis, which would need a more agreed-upon observation to support it.

In most cases, though, the distinction is fairly clear. Below are some examples:

Observations (Statements most readers would agree with)
Reality television shows are popular among young viewers.
Hamlet is an indecisive character.
Hemingway's writing does not contain many adjectives.
Approximately 500,000 deaths are attributed to smoking-related diseases each year in America.

 

Analyses (Statements that many readers would disagree with)
Reality shows are leading young Americans to have unrealistic expectations about their own lives.
Hamlet's indecisiveness stems from his fear of death.
Hemingway's lack of description actually makes his writing more vivid and imaginative.
The U.S. government should outlaw smoking.

 

Thesis statements (Combine observation and analysis)
The popularity of reality shows causes young Americans to have unrealistic expectations that their own lives should always be exciting and dramatic.
Hamlet's indecisiveness always occurs when he is thinking about death, indicating that this indecisiveness stems from a fear of death.
Because readers are free to make up their own descriptions in their heads, Hemingway's avoidance of adjectives actually makes his writing more vivid and imaginative.
The reports of 500,000 preventable deaths each year lead me to agree with the American Lung association that the U.S. government should outlaw smoking.

 

 

Personal Essays and Essays about Literature

Many types of essays, such as personal essays and essays about literature, do not always have a debatable main point, but they can still have an observation and analysis. Below are some guidelines for these types of esssays.

Personal essays

Your observation will probably be the experience you wish to discuss, while your anaysis will be what you learned from it or what you would like to say about it.

Observations
I grew up in a poor neighborhood, then moved to a wealthier one.
My younger sister has autism.
My algebra teacher was my favorite teacher.

 

Analyses
The government needs to help schools in poor neighborhoods gain all the advantages of schools in rich neighborhoods.
People should learn to be kinder to those with disabilities.
Becoming a strong math student changed my life by showing me that I could do anything I set my mind to.

(Notice that even though the last two are not necessarily debatable arguments, they are still argumentative statements).

 

Thesis Statements
My experiences going to schools in poor and wealthy neighborhoods convinced me that the government must do more to provide equal opportunities for all students, both rich and poor.
People should learn to be kinder to those with disabilities, as I learned from growing up with an autistic sister.
My algebra teacher was one of the most influential people in my life, since she taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to.

 

Essays about literature

Your observation will probably be some event, description, or pattern that you noticed in the text, and your analysis will be your interpretation of that event.

Observations
Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy" has a very repetitive rhyme scheme.
The play Trifles, by Susan Glaspell, takes place entirely in the kitchen of Mrs. Wright's house.
The poem "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes lists a number of negative things that can happen to a dream that is not fulfilled.
In the novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Billy Pilgrim travels through both time and outer space.

 

Analyses
The poem "Daddy" reflects the perspective of an angry child.

The play Trifles suggests that women's perspectives can be more valuable than men's.

The poem "A Dream Deferred" implies that dealing with oppression can lead to self-destruction or violence towards others.
Kurt Vonnegut purposely disrupts the storyline of his novel to make readers more critical of the war experiences he describes.

(Notice that even though these arent' debatable issues, they are still argumentative interpretations; someone else might interpret the same features of the text in a very different way).

 

Thesis statements
The repetitive rhyme scheme and fairy-tale imagery of Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy" reflect the perspective of an angry child rather than a mature adult.
The focus on female characters and female spaces in "Trifles" suggsets that women's perspectives can be more valuable than men's.
The negative outcomes listed in "A Dream Deferred" suggest that dealing with oppression can lead to violence against oneself or others.
The disruptive elements of Slaughterhouse Five, including time travel and outer-space travel, make readers more critical of the war experiences he describes.
 

Do you think you've got it? Try a quiz on observations and analyses!

This page was created by Karin Spirn

 

 

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Page last modified: May 13, 2016