Blueprint Thesis Essay

Jerz > Writing > Academic > [ Titles | Thesis Statements | Blueprinting | Quoting | Citing | MLA Format ]

A thesis statement is the single, specific claim that your essay supports. A strong thesis answers the question you want to raise; it does so by presenting a topic, the position you wish to defend, and a reasoning blueprint that sketches out your defense of your chosen position. A good thesis is not merely a factual statement, an observation, a personal opinion or preference, or the question you plan to answer. (See “Academic Argument: Evidence-based Defense of a Non-obvious Position.”

The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
  • Topic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book challenges a stereotype
  • Reasoning Blueprint: the three ways the book mounts this challenge are through attention to cultural detail, using Indian words, and using direct quotations from Black Elk.
    • A strong blueprint would hint at why these three details add up to support the thesis statement.
    • A less impressive blueprint might simply list the main points the essay will cover.

There is nothing magically “correct” about a thesis on challenging a cultural stereotype. Instead of claiming that a book “challenges a genre’s stereotypes,” you might instead argue that some text “provides a more expensive but more ethical solution than X” or “challenges Jim Smith’s observation that ‘[some quote from Smith here]’”. (Don’t automatically use “challenges a genre’s stereotype” in the hopes of coming up with the “correct” thesis.)

A more complicated thesis statement for a paper that asks you to demonstrate your ability engage with someone else’s ideas (rather than simply summarize or react to someone else’s ideas) might follow a formula like this:

Although Smith says “quote a passage that makes a specific claim you intend to disagree with” (123), in this paper I will use Brown’s concept of X to argue that [your original thesis goes here].”
  • Your instructor might not want you to use “I” in your paper. You might instead say “This paper will use…” or “Applying Brown’s concept of X will show…”
  • Rather than promising to “use Brown to argue” (which is too general), this model recommends that you “use Brown’s concept of X to argue” (or “Brown’s case study” or “Brown’s thorough analysis” or “Brown’s unsuccessful rebuttal” — the more specific you are about how, specifically you will use Brown, the better).
  • It’s not enough to disagree with someone else; a strong paper will go beyond saying “Smith is wrong” and will instead say “Here’s a better solution that avoids problems P and Q that prevent Smith’s solution from working.”

For a short paper (1-2 pages), the thesis statement is often the first sentence. A complex thesis statement for a long paper may be part of a thesis paragraph. But it’s hard to go wrong if you put your thesis first.

Useful Formulae for Thesis Statements

If you’re not sure whether you have a good thesis statement, see whether you can fit your ideas into one of these basic patterns.

[Something] [does something] because [reason(s)].
or
Because [reason(s)], [something] [does something].
Although [opposing evidence], [reasons] show [something] [does something].

If you are just starting out, and you are still developing an original, evidence-based claim to defend, a simpler formula is probably best. Once you have done the research, and you understand the subject, then a formula like the following won’t look like random words; it will suggest a way to frame a nuanced, complex argument that goes beyond making non-controversial factual statements.

While [a specific, named person] says [a direct quote or paraphrase from the source], [a different, named person] says [something else]. While the two authors disagree over [a minor point], they both share a deep concern over [the topic of your paper]. [Person one’s] refusal to accept [a particular point made by person two]suggests that [person one] is [your thesis — stating the real reason why person one won’t agree with person two].
What really matters is not guessing the magically correct words to fit some secret formula that your mean instructor is refusing to tell you.

What matters is that you have researched your subject, that you have found and engaged meaningfully with peer-reviewed academic sources, and that you are developing an evidence-based claim, rather than summarizing or giving unsupported opinion.

  • Unlike a personal essay, which can rely on personal experience and general observations, a research paper must draw on evidence — usually in the form of direct quotations or statistics from peer-reviewed academic journals.
  • You have no reason to “defend” a position unless some expert has presented credible evidence that challenges a claim you want to make. (Finding, quoting, and engaging with that evidence is part of your task as an academic writer.)
  • An academic argument is not a squabble, a difference of opinions, or an attorney’s courtroom statement. The author of an academic argument is more like the judge, who, after hearing out the best arguments in favor of various possible solutions, supports the best one. An academic argument is part of a discussion that respects multiple viewpoints (as long as those viewpoints are backed by credible evidence).

Parts of a Thesis Statement

The thesis statement has 3 main parts: the limited subject, the precise opinion, and the blueprint of reasons.

1. Limited Subject

Make sure you’ve chosen a subject that meets your instructor’s requirements for the assignment. (It never hurts to ask.)

2. Precise Opinion

The precise opinion gives your answer to a question about the subject. A good precise opinion is vital to the reader’s comprehension of the goal of the essay.

3. Blueprint of Reasons

A blueprint is a plan. It lets the builder know that the foyer will be here, the living room will be to the east, the dining room to the west, and the family room will be north.The blueprint of an essay permits you to see the whole shape of your ideas before you start churning out whole paragraphs.While it’s okay for you to start writing down your ideas before you have a clear sense of your blueprint, your reader should never encounter a list of details without being told exactly what point these details are supposed to support. (For more details on the reasoning blueprint, see Blueprinting.)

The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
In the blueprint, the author signals an intention to support the precise opinion. The author of the example above introduces three different kinds of evidence:
  • cultural details
  • Indian words
  • quotes from Black Elk.

Informed by this blueprint, the reader expects to encounter one section (a paragraph or more) devoted to each subtopic.The blueprint determines the shape of your paper.

If your thesis statement introduces three reasons A, B and C, the reader will expect a section on reason A, a section on reason B, and a section on reason C.

For a single paragraph, you might only spend one sentence on each reason. For a 2-3 page paper, each reason might get its own paragraph. For a 10-page paper, each reason might contain its own local thesis statement, with its own list of reasons, so that each section involves several paragraphs.To emphasize the structure of your essay, repeat keywords or paraphrased ideas from the blueprint as you introduce the sections in which you expand on each point. Crafting good transitions is a skill that takes time and practice. (See Transitions and Reminders of Thesis).

Note: If you repeat your blueprint phrases and your thesis statement robotically (“The third point I want to talk about is how Black Elk Speaks accurately represents the Indian lifestyle through its direct quotes from Black Elk.”), your writing will be rather dry and lifeless. Dull writing is probably better than aimless rambling, although neither is terribly effective. |

Note: A thesis statement amounts to nothing if the paper is not completely focused on that main point. Blueprinting helps create the coherency of the thesis throughout the entire essay, which makes it a necessary part of the thesis statement.

Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
  • Topic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book is accurate
  • Reasoning Blueprint: the book pays attention to cultural detail, it uses Indian words, and it uses direct quotations from Black Elk. (The rest of the paper will establish the truth of teach of these supporting points, and then explain why they add up to support the truth of the thesis statement.)
Is Black Elks Speaks a tragedy?
This is a question, not a statement. It’s fine to sit down at the keyboard with the intention of writing a paper to answer this question, but before you start churning out the sentences, you should have a clear idea of what answer you’re trying to support.
This paper will look at the book’s attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotations from Black Elk, in order to determine whether Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle.
The above sample is slightly better because it offers more detail, but it still doesn’t say what position the author is taking on the topic of whether the book is accurate.
Because the events in the story emphasize Black Elk’s role as a Sioux Warrior, and do not describe his eventual conversion to Catholicism and membership in the Society of St. Joseph, Black Elk Speaks presents a skewed and simplified view of the complex history of Native Americans.
Note that the above sample contains a topic (the accuracy of Black Elk Speaks), opinion (it is skewed and simplified), and reasoning (because the book only tells part of the story).

You don’t need to present those three parts in that exact order every time; furthermore, your instructor may have a good reason to ask you for a different organization. But most of the time, including these three parts will help your reader to follow your ideas much more closely.

Biographies of all types can teach us many things about the past. What was the culture like? What was the language like? And what did the people say? One such book is Black Elk Speaks, which tells the story of a Sioux warrior in the late 1800s. How accurate is this book? This paper will investigate the cultural details, the language, and what Black Elk actually said, in order to determine the answer.
The above sample starts off with a wordy, general statement about biographies. But the main topic isn’t about biographies of all types, it’s specifically about one book, Black Elk Speaks.

Blueprinting: Planning Your Essay

17 Oct 2000 — originally posted by Nicci Jordan, UWEC Junior
08 Dec 2000 — first posted here. Maintained by Prof. Jerz.
13 Dec 2003 — links updated
22 Sep 2006 — moderate revisions by Jerz
29 Oct 2011 — updated by Jerz
14 June 2015 — minor adjustments

A blueprint is a rough but specific plan, or outline, which defines the structure of your whole essay. The blueprint, usually located within the thesis statement, is a brief list of the points you plan to make, compressed into just a few words each, in the same order in which they appear in the body of your paper.Hochstein, Jordan, and Jerz

Thesis Reminders
A thesis reminder is a direct echo of the thesis statement. In a short paper, the topic sentence of each paragraph should repeat words or phrases from the thesis statement.Dennis G. Jerz

Timed Essays: Planning and Organizing in a Crunch

Jerz > Writing > Academic > [ Titles | Thesis Statements | Blueprinting | Quoting | Citing | MLA Format ]

The blueprint, typically found in the thesis paragraph, is a list of the topics you plan to cover in oder to prove your thesis. A useful blueprint will preview the relationship between all sub-points (or at least list the points) in the order they will appear in the body of your paper, before the paper launches into details about the first sub-point.

Including a good blueprint will not only help your reader follow your argument, it will help your writing. It’s easier to add a room, move a hallway, or redesign a whole wing at the blueprinting stage, rather than tearing down sections of a partially-built house.

This paper will explore the economic, racial, and religious messages in Huckleberry Finn in order to argue [your thesis goes here].
Pretty dry, but it gets the job done. Don’t wait until you run out of “economic” details to mention the “racial” topic for the very first time.)
The Great Depression’s lasting impact on the structure of the working class family, thegoals of public school education, and the social attitudes of a whole generationexplain why [your thesis goes here]”.
Note that listing topics is really not enough — a good reasoning blueprint explains the thesis, so you need a good thesis in order to have a good blueprint. See “Thesis Statements: How to Write Them in Academic Essays.”)
The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
A reader who encounters the list “attention to cultural detail, use of Indian words, and direct quotes from Black Elk” will expect your paper to treat each of those subjects, in that order. A five-paragraph paper might have an introduction, one supporting paragraph on each topic, and a conclusion. A longer paper might devote several pages to each supporting point.

If your paper begins with a rambling introduction that serves up chunks that you recall from lectures and random web pages, the reader will have a hard time picking out your main point (because you don’t really have one).

The Great Depression was an important time in our nation’s history.  Unemployment, urban decay, and a sense of hopelessness filled almost every part of human life.  People tried many different ways to relieve their tensions, from religious revivals, to Jazz music, to membership in the Communist party.  Average people who were suffering in their daily lives often looked for things that would help them deal with the consequences of living in the industrial age. They often sought escapist entertainment in the form of movies.  One such movie was Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. In that film, “The Little Tramp” symbolizes the simple human values that are threatened by industrialism.
The author of the above passage not only wastes time composing five sentences before getting to her thesis (the very last sentence), she also clouds the issue by bringing up topics (religion, music, and Communism) that she has no intention of ever mentioning again. The following revision introduces just the three main points that drive the rest of the paper.
In Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, his character “The Little Tramp” symbolizes the simple human values that are threatened by industrialism: leisure, self-reliance, and compassion.
The above revision is simply the [slightly edited] last sentence of the original wordy and vague paragraph.  This clear, direct thesis statement helps the student and reader focus on the task at hand.  The blueprint is very short — just a list of three terms; but even that is enough to communicate how the rest of the paper will work.

Serial Organization (weak integration)

In this example, we see a series of stand-alone paragraphs.

Sticking to one idea or per paragraph often leads to summary.

If I have to plough read all the details about the subject of the yellow paragraph before I see even the first mention of the topics of the blue and pink paragraphs, I will have no idea where your argument is going.

A stronger introduction would at least mention how your paper will connect the dots.

Revision: Some Attempt to Organize

In this revision below, we see an updated introduction, with a blueprint — represented here as colored text in the first paragraph, that refers to the content of the following three supporting paragraphs.

Before we see all the gory details of the gold paragraph, we are introduced to the blue and pink topics. The black sentence in the first paragraph comes right out and states, in brief, the conclusion that you will develop in the final paragraph.

An academic paper is not a mystery novel. Don’t save your best stuff for last. Give it away in your thesis statement, and use the body of your paper to prove your claim.

A clear intro would synthesize these multiple points into a coherent argument, rather than just offering a list of “things to talk about.”

 For more details about organizing, see Blueprinting: Using the Thesis Paragraph to Plan Your Essay.

The list of topics you plan to address in the body of your paper is important, but I’m using letters so that you can focus more closely on the structures that link those ideas.

This paper will talk about A, B, and C.
Yes, this is a clear list of three points, but an academic author has do more than “talk about” a string of sub-topics. A strong reasoning blueprint will knit those topics together in order to defend a position on a topic.
X is better than Y.
That’s kind of stark; this paper has a purpose, but the thesis statement doesn’t offer a reasoning blueprint. Or, to use a different metaphor, the paper doesn’t point out the landmarks we will use as we navigate our way from our starting point to our destination.

Examples of thesis statements with a reasoning blueprint:

Note that the reasoning blueprint introduces subpoints that the reader will expect you to cover in the same order.

For reasons A, B, and C, X is better than Y.
X is better than Y, for reasons A, B, and C.

For a short paper (1 or 2 pages), with a simple argument that fits the small space well, the above blueprint is probably fine.

  • Readers will expect the paper to have sections on A, B, and C, and they will expect each of those sections to support the claim that X is better than Y.
  • You might instead have a section on X that covers the benefits of A, B, and C, and then a section on Y that covers the drawbacks of A, B, and C, all knitted together in a conclusion.

Personal essays and reflection papers may require no sources other than the author’s opinions and personal experiences, but a college research paper will require deep engagement with outside sources. For the next example, we’ll assume your instructor accepts Smith as a credible source for this paper.

Because of problems P and Q, Smith’s plan X will not actually deliver all the benefits that Smith promises when he rejects Y.

The reader will expect a section on P and Q, a section on why Smith says he rejected Y and preferred X, and then a section on why Smith was wrong. (Did he exaggerate? rely on outdated data? overgeneralize?)  If this student simply started listing accurate details — “talking about” problems P and Q — then it would be confusing and frustrating for the reader to encounter, at the top of page 3, a critique of Smith’s promises about plan X.
Although Jones is right to point out that X does a better job than Y does when it comes to problem A, in community P, incidents of problem A are so rare that community P should should still stick with Y, because only Y will help us avoid problems B and C (which are more common than usual in community P).
The above example makes a complex claim. If you want to make this argument, but you start your paper “talking about” X and then “talking about” Y, your reader may miss the whole point — which is that, despite the fact Jones is right about why X is good, community P would be better served by Y.

Below is an even more complex argument, which demonstrates a college-level ability to sift through ideas from multiple sources.

While experts Smith, Jones, Brown, and Lee all support X instead of Y, their research fails to account for special case W, which would cause big disasters A, B, and C if exposed to X, and which will provide huge benefits P and Q if exposed to Y. Although X is still a good option in most cases, no solution will be complete unless people affected by W have the freedom to choose Y.
The above is a very complex blueprint; as you can see, the idea here is so complex that the author has split the thesis statement and the reasoning blueprint up into separate sentences. That’s perfectly fine.

Use “Thesis Reminders” for Transitions

No matter how good your thesis, your writing is worth little if it does not cohere (hold together) and demonstrate to the reader how each new point advances the main idea. You can accomplish both goals by providing your reader with thesis reminders.

thesis reminder is a direct echo of the thesis statement, used as a transition between supporting points.

The next point I want to talk about is…
Not a good transition, because it does nothing to help the reader understand how the supporting points fit into the master plan of your paper.

A good thesis sentence has three main parts: the limited subject (what your paper is about), the precise opinion (what you’re trying to say about that subject), and the blueprint (what this web page is about). (See: “Thesis Statements“)

Here are two examples of using the thesis and the blueprint to maintain coherence.

Example 1

Thesis: Restoring old houses is rewarding because it is excitingrelaxing, and satisfying.

Topic Sentence #1 with reminder

Part of the reward in restoring old houses lies in the excitement of discovering the original interior.

Topic Sentence #2 with reminder:

Not only is there excitement in restoring old houses, but working with one’s hands is relaxing.

Topic Sentence #3 with reminder:

However excited and relaxed you may be when you have finished restoring your house, nothing beats the satisfaction found in viewing the completed project.

Example 2:

Thesis: Becoming a ski patroller turned out to be harder than I thought because of the studying, the skiing, and the time demands.

Topic Sentence #1 with reminder:

The first hurdle to becoming a ski patroller was the amount of studying required to learn the medical terms, symptoms and signs, and treatments.

Topic Sentence #2 with reminder:

It isn’t enough to pass the first aid and CPR exams; a ski patroller also has to train for and demonstrate skiing proficiency and toboggan handling on the slope.

Topic Sentence #3 with reminder:

Studying and ski training are both very time consuming, yet, even after ski patrollers pass all the exams, they still must commit themselves to skiing many hours regardless of the weather or snow conditions.

You Don’t Need Exactly Three Points!

If you are writing a more complex essay, you may use a different format, but you still must include blueprints and reminders.

For example, a critical essay may have a thesis, antithesis, and a synthesis.  The antithesis presents all the arguments against your thesis, and a synthesis is a kind of compromise, in which you attempt to prove that, whatever points your opponents might have in their favor, your thesis still stands.

Each of these sections may have 3 or more points, which are united by local blueprints and local reminders, capped off by local conclusions, and worked into by the tapestry of the whole argument.

Varieties of Blueprints

These are all acceptable ways to blueprint in a thesis statement.

Renting a new apartment during college is exciting because it promotes independence, rewards responsibility, and allows creativity.
This is one sentence, with commas separating each blueprint item.

 

Taking Professor Jerz’s Technical writing course is a wise choice.  It focuses on correct grammar.  It allows students to gain experience in the outside world.  And it permits students to budget their time.
This example is okay but a bit choppy — here, having a separate sentence for each point is pretty much a waste of words. (But see revision, below.)
Taking Professor Jerz’s Technical writing course is a wise choice.  It focuses on one of Jerz’s favorite things: correct grammar.  It amplifies textbook knowledge by providing students with valuable experiences outside the classroom.  And it forces students to learn time management — a skill that many college students lack.
This example is a bit more complex — the sentences which introduce the blueprint items are actually delivering some of the paper’s argument; hence, there’s a reason why each point needs a separate sentence.A student who has nothing more to say about a point than, for instance, “time management is a skill that many college students lack” is not going to want to give away that one idea in the blueprint; instead, he or she will try to create an entire paragraph around that one idea.

The result will be wordy and boring. By contrast, a student who can slip an interesting observation into the blueprint, and then follow up with even moreintelligent and insightful things in the body of the paper, is demonstrating much more advanced writing skill.

Use Good Structure

The order of the points in the blueprint should perfectly parallel the points in the essay. If you say you are going to talk about “ships, shoes, and sealing wax,” but your essay starts with “sealing wax,” then your blueprint is distorted.

Here is an example of a different kind of distortion — faulty parallelism.

Taking Professor Jerz’s Technical Writing course is a wise choice because it focuses on correct grammar and allowing students to gain experience in the outside world.  Students are also permitted to budget their time.
What is wrong with this example? How could it be fixed?
  • The number of ideas the writer wants to portray is unclear (does “correct grammar and allowing students…” count as one point or two?).
  • Nothing stands out as a main idea.  The sentence could easily confuse the reader, because the main focus is unclear.
  • Faulty parallelism is a grammatical error.  Flaws in the grammar of your thesis statement can be devastating to the overall effectiveness of the essay.

Note: A thesis statement amounts to nothing if the paper is not completely focused on that main point.  Proper blueprinting facilitates the coherency of the thesis throughout the rest of the essay.

05 Nov 2000; originally posted by Nicci Jordan, UWEC Junior

17 Jan 2001 — updated and expanded by Dennis G. Jerz
21 May 2002 — minor tweaks
23 Mar 2012 — modest updates
10 Jun 2015 — adjustments and formatting


Related Links
Jordan and Jerz
Thesis Statements
A thesis statement is the main idea that your essay supports. The thesis statement has 3 main parts: thelimited subject, the precise opinion, and the blueprint.Hochstein, Jordan, and Jerz
Thesis Reminders
A thesis reminder is a direct echo of the thesis statement. In a short paper, the topic sentence of each paragraph should repeat words or phrases from the thesis statement.

One thought on “Blueprint Thesis Essay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *