Academic writing is generally associated with researching something. When we conduct research, we must first identify what the focus of our research might be. This is achieved with a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a proposition (proposal), a theory about how something works; e.g., Gravity makes Apples fall down to Earth, the Earth rotates around an axis.
- thesis: cause followed by effect
- cause: gravity
- effect: objects, such as apples, fall down to Earth
In the case of Newton, he observed apples falling from trees, and wondered why this happened. He then developed a theory about what he observed: “Gravity makes Apples fall down to Earth.”
The difference between a proposition and a hypothesis, is that a proposition is generally untested; whereas a thesis statement is part of a research program that you are setting out to test. Data are collected to verify/refute the thesis. For example:
- Thesis statement: “Students leave assignments until the night before they are due.” This is my theory about student behaviour.
- The problem with a thesis statement is that it makes an assertion about fact: ‘the night before’. Someone else might have another theory that they start assignments 2 days before. Different hypotheses (theories) make a thesis contentious. If something is contentious, then it needs to be investigated to find out which theory is correct.
- The research question associated with either thesis statement is: “How many days before an assignment is due, do students start their assignments?” Your research is going to set out to find the answer to this question, thereby testing the thesis.
- Data to verify: We can survey a bunch of students and ask them: “How many days before an assignment is due, do you generally start?” This is a survey question to collate data for finding out the answer to the research question, thereby testing which theory is correct.
- Results: Some students might say “10 days”, some might say “1 day”, when we average the results, we have a conclusion: “On average, students start assignments 2.7 days before it is due.” This represents the findings from our research (asking students about their behaviour with regards assignments).
Thesis satements that have been tested, data collected and analysed, are also subject to bias. For example, if you only asked one student, then this data would be insufficient to reach a conclusion. If you asked 100 students in a specific Faculty, on a specific Campus, then this data would be more reliable. Generally speaking, the more answers you receive for your research question, the more reliable your findings are going to be.
Academic research is a tricky business, but finding out how the world works has been the subject of academe for centuries. Today we know a great deal about how our world and its inhabitants work. All from researching and finding reliable answers to our theories!