Avoiding a Pseudo-Thesis

A pseudo-thesis is an attempted thesis statement that falls flat because it fails to state a specific argument.

Often, the pseudo-thesis appears in the form of a rhetorical question, such as, “Was it really necessary for the United States to enter the Great War?” Although this kind of questioning is important to the writing process, it is counter-productive within the context of an argumentative essay. The point of the essay, after all, is to attempt to answer the question. If you do ask a rhetorical question in your introduction, you also need to answer it. To withhold the answer—to withhold your position—is to risk losing your reader. It is only with the thesis in mind that the reader can make sense of the essay’s evidence.

Another way to write a pseudo-thesis is to tell the reader what the essay is going to do. For instance: “This essay will explore the significance of foreign trade for the U.S. entry into the Great War.” This sentence is fine, but it only reveals the topic of the essay—not the argument.  It begs the question. Likewise, the pseudo-thesis might simply list the subjects that the essay will cover: “This essay will consider the role of political idealism and economic interest in connection with the U.S. entry into the Great War.” In this case, the author should go ahead and make the nature of that connection explicit.

Most commonly, a pseudo-thesis is simply vague, as in the following examples:

The U.S. entered the Great War for several reasons.

The U.S. entry into the Great War was very controversial.

Each of these examples begs the question. What were the reasons? Why was it controversial?

A pseudo-thesis is not only ineffective, but it often symptomizes a larger problem: the need for revision. Writing a good essay requires embarking on a process of drawing some significant conclusion and arguing on its behalf. It takes time and thought to sharpen a thesis. Many good writers actually start out with a pseudo-thesis, just to get going, and only gradually refine that statement into a specific and precise statement about the position to be argued. If you take this route, be sure to revise your thesis statement after you have drafted the body of the essay; then, revise the draft in order to make each paragraph support your thesis.

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Writing Handbook for History & Humanities by David J. Voelker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.