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Posted by on Jul 27, 2017

Stay Focused on YOUR thesis

Many students are familiar with the feedback, “you need to focus more!”

But what does that mean?

Nine times out of ten, students choose topics/arguments that are too broad and then they skim across the surface of the issue. Creating an argumentative and original thesis is the first step. But then once you’ve passed the introductory paragraph you need to maintain focus.

Here is a concrete way to think about focus: whatever the key words in your thesis might be, you should see them repeated in every paragraph in the body of your essay. This is especially true in short (less than five pages) papers – you don’t have the luxury in going off on tangents.


So if you claim that the film 300 is really just American propaganda designed to incite hatred of Islamic culture (and particularly Iran), then every paragraph better hammer back at this idea. If you have a paragraph without the words “hate,” “Islam,” “propaganda,” and “Iran” in it, you probably should reconsider your approach. The paragraph without these key words is leading your reader off on a tangent. You’ve taken your reader on a detour without any signposts to show them the way back to your main idea – or a road to get back.

If you are a writer with good skills, you can allow your reader to wander a little, but you need to bring them back; often students leave their reader hanging – for instance, with a history of Frank Miller’s (author of the original graphic novel) work including his reinvention of the Batman story in his landmark Dark Knight graphic novel.

You might feel that you have done some good research and given some broad context to your investigation of the film. But the reader is wondering (after reading an incendiary opening paragraph that opens up the propaganda claim) what Batman and other works have to do with Iran and xenophobia.

As a writer, you have at least two options.

  1. You can delete the paragraph giving background on Frank Miller.
  2. You can tie the paragraph on Frank Miller to your thesis.

It’s always a shame to throw away good writing…so why not use the paragraph? Chances are you can analyze your existing writing to bring it back around to your thesis – which will make your writing feel ‘focused.’

For example:

Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight in the mid-eighties as a retelling of the Batman story. He is credited with bringing a serious, almost sadistic feel to the story and in helping launch a modern age of graphic novels and comics. In The Dark Knight the authorities are helpless, Gotham City overrun by criminals. Who can save us? Try a rich white guy with a butler…propaganda that argues our collective fate rests in the hands of an American capitalist.

If the history of Miller’s work focuses on examples like these, then it will be easy to tie everything back to 300 and its own propaganda (that a force of buff white guys can fight of tens of thousands of Middle-Eastern and Africans…reasserting Western superiority)…giving your reader a satisfying ‘snap’ as they realize your direction and appreciate your restating of the main thesis.

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