This is not an exhaustive list of bad thesis statements, but here're five kinds of problems I've seen most often. Notice that the last two, #4 and #5, are not necessarily incorrect or illegitimate thesis statements, but, rather, inappropriate for the purposes of this course. They may be useful forms for papers on different topics in other courses.
A thesis takes a position on an issue. It is different from a topic sentence in that a thesis statement is not neutral. It announces, in addition to the topic, the argument you want to make or the point you want to prove. This is your own opinion that you intend to back up. This is your reason and motivation for writing.
Bad Thesis 1
- : In his article Stanley Fish shows that we don't really have the right to free speech.
Bad Thesis 2: This paper will consider the advantages and disadvantages of certain restrictions on free speech.
Better Thesis 1: Stanley Fish's argument that free speech exists more as a political prize than as a legal reality ignores the fact that even as a political prize it still serves the social end of creating a general cultural atmosphere of tolerance that may ultimately promote free speech in our nation just as effectively as any binding law.
Better Thesis 2: Even though there may be considerable advantages to restricting hate speech, the possibility of chilling open dialogue on crucial racial issues is too great and too high a price to pay.
A thesis should be as specific as possible, and it should be tailored to reflect the scope of the paper. It is not possible, for instance, to write about the history of English literature in a 5 page paper. In addition to choosing simply a smaller topic, strategies to narrow a thesis include specifying a method or perspective or delineating certain limits.
Bad Thesis 1
- : There should be no restrictions on the 1st amendment.
Bad Thesis 2: The government has the right to limit free speech.
Better Thesis 1: There should be no restrictions on the 1st amendment if those restrictions are intended merely to protect individuals from unspecified or otherwise unquantifiable or unverifiable "emotional distress."
Better Thesis 2: The government has the right to limit free speech in cases of overtly racist or sexist language because our failure to address such abuses would effectively suggest that our society condones such ignorant and hateful views.
A thesis must be arguable. And in order for it to be arguable, it must present a view that someone might reasonably contest. Sometimes a thesis ultimately says, "we should be good," or "bad things are bad." Such thesis statements are tautological or so universally accepted that there is no need to prove the point.
Bad Thesis 1
- : Although we have the right to say what we want, we should avoid hurting other people's feelings.
Bad Thesis 2: There are always alternatives to using racist speech.
Better Thesis 1: If we can accept that emotional injuries can be just as painful as physical ones we should limit speech that may hurt people's feelings in ways similar to the way we limit speech that may lead directly to bodily harm.
Better Thesis 2: The "fighting words" exception to free speech is not legitimate because it wrongly considers speech as an action.
A good argumentative thesis provides not only a position on an issue, but also suggests the structure of the paper. The thesis should allow the reader to imagine and anticipate the flow of the paper, in which a sequence of points logically prove the essay's main assertion. A list essay provides no such structure, so that different points and paragraphs appear arbitrary with no logical connection to one another.
Bad Thesis 1
- : There are many reasons we need to limit hate speech.
Bad Thesis 2: None of the arguments in favor of regulating pornography are persuasive.
Better Thesis 1: Among the many reasons we need to limit hate speech the most compelling ones all refer to our history of discrimination and prejudice, and it is, ultimately, for the purpose of trying to repair our troubled racial society that we need hate speech legislation.
Better Thesis 2: None of the arguments in favor of regulating pornography are persuasive because they all base their points on the unverifiable and questionable assumption that the producers of pornography necessarily harbor ill will specifically to women.
In an other course this would not be at all unacceptable, and, in fact, possibly even desirable. But in this kind of course, a thesis statement that makes a factual claim that can be verified only with scientific, sociological, psychological or other kind of experimental evidence is not appropriate. You need to construct a thesis that you are prepared to prove using the tools you have available, without having to consult the world's leading expert on the issue to provide you with a definitive judgment.
Bad Thesis 1
- : Americans today are not prepared to give up on the concept of free speech.
Bad Thesis 2: Hate speech can cause emotional pain and suffering in victims just as intense as physical battery.
Better Thesis 1: Whether or not the cultural concept of free speech bears any relation to the reality of 1st amendment legislation and jurisprudence, its continuing social function as a promoter of tolerance and intellectual exchange trumps the call for politicization (according to Fish's agenda) of the term.
Better Thesis 2: The various arguments against the regulation of hate speech depend on the unspoken and unexamined assumption that emotional pain is either trivial.
There are two types of essay question on the TASC Writing test: Informational & Argumentative. Below is a sample prompt for the Argumentative Essay. After reviewing our TASC Argumentative Essay Guide, you should use this prompt to write a TASC practice essay.
TASC Essay Question
There is an ongoing debate as to whether free speech that may be considered inflammatory or objectionable extends to high school and college campuses. What are the implications for students who use “free” speech to incite hatred? Or wear religious clothing or political propaganda that offends others? What happens when students express views that do not align with the school’s official policies? Has the time come for schools to place stricter limitations on what students can say, do, or wear on campuses, or what students can publish in their school newspaper?
Weigh the claims on both sides, and then write an argumentative essay supporting either side of the debate in which you argue for or against free expression on school campuses. Be sure to use information from both texts in your response.
Before you begin planning and writing, read the two texts:
- Tinker v. Des Moines Case Study
- Here Is Why It’s Time To Get Tough On Hate Speech In America
As you read each text, think about which details you want to use in your essay. Be sure to take notes as you read. After you finish reading both passages, begin organizing your thoughts. Think about the ideas, facts, details, and examples that best support your argument. Consider how you will introduce your topic, and think about what the main topic will be for each of the paragraphs that you will write.
You have 45 minutes to write your TASC Practice Essay. Make sure that you:
- Introduce your argument.
- Support your argument with logical reasoning and evidence from each passage.
- Acknowledge and address the opposing argument.
- Provide a concluding paragraph that summarizes your argument.
- Use transition words to connect your ideas and your evidence.
- Use a formal style.
Tinker v. Des Moines Case Study
In 1965, a group of students in Des Moines made a plan to publicly show their support for an end to the Vietnam conflict. The students decided to wear black armbands during the holidays to show their protest of the ongoing war. Demonstrating their freedom of expression, they decided to wear their black armbands to school as well. The administrators of the Des Moines high school learned of the plan and decided to create a new policy that stated that any member of the student body wearing a black armband would be requested to take it off, with refusal to do so resulting in being sent home from school. On December 16th, 1965, Mary Beth Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt, two students in the group, wore their black armbands around campus, and they were both sent home. The next day, John Tinker did the exact same thing and was also sent home. The students did not return to school until after New Year’s Day, the planned end of the protest, and they were suspended.
With the support of their parents, the students sued the school district for violating the students’ right of expression and requested an injunction to stop the school district from disciplining them. The district court unjustly dismissed the case and held that the school district’s actions were completely reasonable to maintain school discipline. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the decision, and the case moved to the Supreme Court.
Luckily, the Supreme Court held by a 7–2 margin that Tinker and the other students correctly had the right to wear the armbands on their school campus. According to the Court’s majority opinion, the armbands represented pure speech, which is entirely separate from actions or conduct. Because the students didn’t actually take any violating actions, the armbands were part of pure freedom of expression. The Court also held that the students did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech simply because they stepped onto school property.
In order to justify the suppression of speech, the school officials needed to prove that the conduct in question would “materially and substantially interfere” with the operation of the school. They failed, and in this case, it was obvious that the school district’s actions stemmed from a fear of possible disruption rather than any actual interference. The students were absolutely within their Constitutional rights to express themselves freely, even though they were on a school campus. Therefore, students today are able to say or wear anything they want under the First Amendment.
Adapted from Oyez, IIT Chicago — Kent College of Law
Here Is Why It’s Time To Get Tough On Hate Speech In America
Recently at the University of Iowa, a student “artist” put up a piece of art on campus. It was an exhibit that resembled a KKK member and it was covered in newspaper clippings about racial violence. Though the student insisted the work of art was meant to be anti-racism, this is a perfect example of why we need to have strong legislation against hate speech in America, and why we need to stop permitting students from employing hate speech on school campuses and other institutions of learning.
Many other countries around the world have laws against hate speech along with laws against other forms of speech that violate basic human rights. International human rights law actually requires laws against hate speech. Protecting vulnerable minorities from hate speech is one of the most basic and essential human rights obligations, and all human rights organizations worldwide have emphasized this.
But the United States refuses to protect even the most basic of human rights, firmly establishing itself as a pariah state that falls far behind the rest of the world in terms of protecting fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”
In the case of Hagan v. Australia, the United Nations ruled that anything which offends or insults ethnic minorities is illegal, even if it is not intended to be. What this means it that the KKK piece of art at the University of Iowa was actually illegal racial discrimination under international human rights law. The United Nations has repeatedly stressed that none of these laws restrict, limit, or infringe upon freedom of speech. As a matter of fact, these laws preserve our freedom of speech.
The US has laws against racial discrimination, but these laws only target discrimination in service and employment. In all other countries, anti-discrimination laws ban the idea of racial discrimination, which means that all forms of racial discrimination — including hate speech — are outlawed. The KKK exhibit at the University of Iowa would constitute illegal racial discrimination in any civilized country, so why shouldn’t it be considered illegal racial discrimination in America? Schools should ban hate speech on campus and not permit the freedom of expression to extend to expression that incites hatred, violence, murder, and genocide.
Adapted from Tanya Cohen, Thought Catalogue
Now use this prompt to write a TASC practice essay. After you complete your essay, you should try to get some feedback from a friend or teacher. You can also review our TASC Argumentative Essay Sample Response.