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Thesis: in Context

Example 1, Thesis in a Literary Research Paper

The following introductory paragraph is excerpted from a literary research paper on the role of humor as a survival mechanism in Native American culture as depicted in the novel Tracks, by Louise Erdrich. The thesis of the literary research paper appears at the end of the introduction. Click on the highlighted portion of the text for commentary on how the introduction focuses the reader’s attention on the topic and introduces the thesis.


“Native American Humor: Powerful Medicine in Louise Erdrich's Tracks” by Leslie Gregory

An old adage claims that laughter is the best medicine to cure human ailments.  Although this treatment might sound somewhat unorthodox, its value as a remedy can be traced back to ancient times when Hypocrites, in his medical treatise, stressed the importance of  “a gay and cheerful mood on the part of the physician and patient fighting disease” (Bakhtin 67).  Aristotle viewed laughter as man’s quintessential privilege:  “Of all living creatures only man is endowed with laughter” (Bakhtin 68).  In the Middle Ages, laughter was an integral part of folk culture. “Carnival festivities and the comic spectacles and ritual connected with them had an important place in the life of medieval man” (Bakhtin 5).  During the trauma and devastation of German bombing raids on London during World War II, the stubborn resilience of British humor emerged to sustain the spirit of the people and the courage of the nation.  To laugh, even in the face of death, is a compelling force in the human condition.  Humor, then, has a profound impact on the way human beings experience life.  In Louise Erdrich’s novel Tracks, humor provides powerful medicine to a Chippewa tribe struggling for their physical, spiritual, and cultural survival at the beginning of the twentieth century. 

Gregory, Leslie. “Native American Humor: Powerful Medicine in Louise Erdrich's Tracks.” Ampersand 1:2 (1998). 17 August 2004. <>

Example 2, Thesis in a Magazine Article 

In this article writer Donovan Webster travels Nevada’s “Extraterrestrial Highway” to investigate a desert saloon and inn that attracts UFO enthusiasts and other visitors by the hundreds. To learn more about how Webster introduces and develops his thesis (which is implied rather than explicit, or directly stated), click on the highlighted passages for commentary.

“Inexplicable Moments” by Donovan Webster 

Except for the silvery images of bulbous-eyed aliens that decorate the place, the boxy structure at one end of the only paved street in Rachel, Nevada, looks pretty much like any other roadhouse in the American West. But what goes on inside this saloon and, some say, in the night sky overhead has rendered the Little A'Le'Inn (get it?) one of the most intriguing spots on earth.

Each year, thousands are drawn to this windswept town of about 100 year-round residents as if by supernatural force. "The thing that gets us attention," the inn's motherly proprietress, Pat Travis, is telling me, "is our location — we're about 25 miles from Area 51. Many people think Uncle Sam is hiding at least nine alien spacecraft out there. Many also believe six alien beings, not all of them dead, are kept there, too: a large- and a small-nosed gray, an orange, a blue, one reptile and a humanoid."

Pat's husband, a tall, white-haired gent named Joe, stands behind the long bar peering out a window at the birdbath he's just refilled. Sunset drapes the desert in gold. "Some people say this is a little crazy," he concedes. "But everybody still comes and looks — beautiful folks from all over the world." As if on cue, a dark-haired woman walks through the door and sits at the bar. She orders a soda, revealing a European accent. "Where you from?" Joe asks.

"The Netherlands," she replies. "I'm on a business trip. I've heard so much about this place — the spacecraft, the aliens, your restaurant — I had to see it."

"There's what I mean," Joe says to me. "I don't think about us as some sort of alien spot. We're more like a crossroads."

Rachel wasn't even a crossroads, much less a town, until fairly recently. Silver miners started settling the hills and valley near Tempiute Mountain in the late 1800s. Union Carbide opened a tungsten mine in the 1970s, which sparked modest growth. A bar and restaurant on the north end of town, called the Rachel Bar and Grill, was a struggling concern until Pat and Joe Travis bought it in the summer of 1988. Although they didn't know it then, they were on the verge of something strange and wonderful.

Sprawling southwest of Rachel is an expanse of desert much larger than the state of Connecticut, all of it off-limits to the public. This is the Nellis Air Force Range and the Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site. Area 51, named after the grid it occupies on an old map, is located within this forbidden region. It came into existence in 1955 when Lockheed landed there to test the U-2, a high-altitude surveillance plane. The top-secret base later became a proving ground for successive generations of high-tech prototypes, including the F-117A Stealth fighter. For the first 34 years of its existence, local miners and ranchers tolerated their mysterious neighbor. Sonic booms rattled the valleys daily, and some nights people would look up and see strange, fluttering lights or oddly shaped aircraft. Most of the phenomena could be explained. Some, however, could not — especially the hovering points of light that, in an eye-blink, shifted position in the sky.

Shortly after the Travises purchased the inn, a self-described physicist named Bob Lazar shattered Rachel's placid existence. Lazar claimed that he had worked at a facility south of Area 51 on a project to "reverse engineer" one of nine captured alien flying saucers held there, dismantling it to see how it worked. Lazar's story got big play on a Las Vegas television station. Much of it didn't check out, but word of Lazar's intriguing assertion spread quickly, drawing ever-growing numbers of the inquisitive, confused and downright alien-addled to Rachel. "I remember thinking at the time that we were a business," Pat Travis says, "and whether we believed in aliens or not, God had put this opportunity in our laps. It was ours to use."

The Travises added seven rooms to their establishment for overnight guests. They also rechristened the place the Little A'Le'Inn. Within a few years, Nevada designated the stretch of deserted Highway 375 fronting Rachel "The Extraterrestrial Highway," and for a while TV and movie producers became as common in town as ranchers. "On peak days," Pat says, "we get hundreds of people through here. The curious, the skeptics and a lot of people who claim they've had 'encounters."

Among the inn's unique visitors have been a 300-pound transvestite who believes he was abducted by aliens, and a character who purports to be an interstellar emissary from the planet Draconis. He calls himself Merlyn Merlin II. "I've had commercial airline pilots come in and tell me they've seen UFO's," Pat says. "Most of them don't report it because of the hassles they'd get. But they want to talk about it. So that's what we do here: allow people to come and talk freely, and listen."

The inn sponsors twice-yearly symposiums attended by everyone from serious UFO scholars to less reliable thinkers. There's also an annual "Walk to the Boundary," during which hundreds of people hike up to the unambiguous signs delineating the Nellis property line. They read: "Warning. Restricted Area," and one even cautions "Use of Deadly Force Authorized."

The Travises maintain a good-natured open-mindedness about what they hear, but they've had some inexplicable moments of their own. "My niece and I saw a saucer-shaped light moving erratically in the sky several weeks ago," Pat tells me. "And about a month ago, Joe and I were driving back from Vegas, and I saw this round object, like a circle of translucent light, moving along the side of the highway. I said to Joe, ‘Did you see that?' And he said, ‘Yeah, but I thought I was imagining it.'"

Joe points to the inn's back door. "That door is solid steel. It's facing the sunset right now, and no light from the sun is getting inside, right? But a few years back, we were sitting here and a cylinder of light about three inches across shot through the steel and then stopped — it stopped — about six feet into the room. It illuminated the doorjamb in blue. We both witnessed it, and we've never found anyone who could explain it."

I look around the room. Near that back door, a wall is plastered with photographic images of what are said to be aliens and flying saucers. My favorite shows a cowboy pouring a can of beer down a horse's throat as a saucer streaks through the sky. I start to order the house specialty, the Alien Burger, then have second thoughts. "Don't worry," Pat reassures me. "It's made out of beef."


Webster, Donovan. “Inexplicable Moments.” Smithsonian Magazine Jan. 2000. 27 Sept. 2002. <>

Example 3, Thesis in a Scientific Article

“On Being the Right Size“ was written by British geneticist John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (1892-1964). In this article, Haldane explores the fascinating science underlying size differences in animal species, asserting that for each animal, including humans, there is an optimum size. In the essay’s conclusion (which is not included here), Haldane applies that same concept of “right size” to human institutions, including government.  Click on the highlighted text for commentary.

“On Being the Right Size” by J.B.S. Haldane

One of the most obvious differences between different animals are differences of size, but for some reason the zoologists have paid singularly little attention to them. In a large textbook of zoology before me I find no indication that the eagle is larger than the sparrow, or the hippopotamus bigger than the hare, though some grudging admissions are made in the case of the mouse and the whale. But yet it is easy to show that a hare could not be as large as a hippopotamus, or a whale as small as a herring. For every type of animal there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form.

Let us take the most obvious of possible cases, and consider a giant man sixty feet high—about the height of Giant Pope and Giant Pagan in the illustrated Pilgrim’s Progress of my childhood. These monsters were not only ten times as high as Christian, but ten times as wide and ten times as thick, so that their total weight was a thousand times his, or about eighty to ninety tons. Unfortunately the cross sections of their bones were only a hundred times those of Christian, so that every square inch of giant bone had to support ten times the weight borne by a square inch of human bone. As the human thigh-bone breaks under about ten times the human weight, Pope and Pagan would have broken their thighs every time they took a step. This was doubtless why they were sitting down in the picture I remember. . . .

To turn to zoology, suppose that a gazelle, a graceful little creature with long thin legs, is to become large, it will break its bones unless it does one of two things. It may make its legs short and thick, like the rhinoceros, so that every pound of weight has still about the same area of bone to support it. Or it can compress its body and stretch out its legs oblique to gain stability, like the giraffe. I mention these two beasts because they happen to belong to the same order as the gazelle, and both are quite successful mechanically, being remarkably fast runners.

Gravity, a mere nuisance to Christian, was a terror to Pope, Pagan, and Despair. To the mouse and any smaller animal it presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.

An insect, therefore, is not afraid of gravity; it can fall without danger, and can cling to the ceiling with remarkably little trouble. It can go in for elegant and fantastic forms of support like that of the daddy-longlegs. But there is a force which is as formidable to an insect as gravitation to a mammal. This is surface tension. A man coming out of a bath carries with him a film of water of about one-fiftieth of an inch in thickness. This weighs roughly a pound. A wet mouse has to carry about its own weight of water. A wet fly has to lift many times its own weight and, as everyone knows, a fly once wetted by water or any other liquid is in a very serious position indeed. An insect going for a drink is in as great danger as a man leaning out over a precipice in search of food. If it once falls into the grip of the surface tension of the water—that is to say, gets wet—it is likely to remain so until it drowns. A few insects, such as water-beetles, contrive to be unwettable; the majority keep well away from their drink by means of a long proboscis....

*  *  *

Such are a very few of the considerations which show that for every type of animal there is an optimum size….


Haldane, J.B.S. “On Being the Right Size.“ On Being the Right Size and Other Essays. Ed. John Maynard Smith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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