TOEFL IBT Independent Writing Task: Four Things You Need to Know About Creating a Thesis

Perhaps the most important part of a TOEFL independent writing task, the introduction, forecasting a specific direction to your writing, is what your readers see first. And, what is an introduction without a thesis statement, a sentence which blueprints what will happen in the rest of your essay? It is like a lock without a key, cookies without milk, or a rose without thorns. Need I go on? There are four essential characteristics to a well-written thesis statement: sharply-focused, clearly written, arguable, and not based entirely upon beliefs. The sample thesis statements in this article will be based on the following writing prompt:

Sample Writing Prompt: Some say it is better to change jobs frequently. Others say it is better to work for a company of all of one's life. Which view do you support? Use specific reasons and details to support your opinion.
Sharply-focused
First of all, a thesis statement needs to be sharply-focused around the writing task.
  • Unfocused thesis: It is much better to change jobs frequently. I will support my position with the following reasons.
Too predictable and unfocused, the "I will support my position for the following reasons" thesis does not give a specific direction to the body paragraphs.
  • Focused thesis: Changing jobs frequently allows for more job advancement opportunities, better on-the-job training, and a higher salary, which is why I support the first view.
That the writer includes advancement, job training, and salary as key points in the thesis will make it easy to create focused topic sentences followed by adequate supporting details in the body paragraphs.
Clearly written
Second of all, in addition to being sharply-focused, a thesis statement should be clearly written and not in any way unclear.
  • Unclear thesis: Personally, I think working for a company for all of one's life is the best way, which I why I agree with the latter view.
Using the word "best" in the thesis is a judgmental and unclear word that can be interpreted in a variety of ways and, most likely, will lead the body paragraphs into an unclear direction.
  • Clear thesis: Personally, I think working for a company for all of one's life will create better job security, a more lucrative retirement plan, and a lot less stress for the worker, which I why I agree with the latter view.
Unlike the unclear thesis statement, this statement has an easy-to-understand plan, and it will be easy for the writer to provide adequate supporting details in the body paragraphs to defend these points.
Arguable
Third of all, since the independent writing task is asking you to take and defend a position, your thesis statement should be arguable and not based simply on facts.
  • Unarguable thesis (too factual): Many employees will change jobs frequently. However, I will work for my father's company until he retires.
Lacking an assertion, this thesis statement simply states two facts which can not be defended in the body paragraphs. It is likely that the rest of the essay will follow a factual or informative tone instead of the required argumentative tone.
  • Arguable thesis: Since I plan to work in my father's company in a few years, changing jobs allows me to learn accounting, marketing, and managerial skills, all on-the-job experience that I will not be able to get if I stay loyal to one company.
Simply not just stating facts, this thesis has an argument that the writer will need to defend in the body paragraphs, particularly in showing how accounting, marketing, and managerial skills can more efficiently learned by changing jobs frequently.
Not based entirely upon beliefs or philosophies
Fourth of all, while you can provide beliefs in your essay, your thesis should not be based only on them. Instead, you should frame your thesis so that is is grounded in evidence, later forcing you to provide specific facts and details to support why you believe the way you do.
  • Too philosophical thesis: In choosing between the two positions, working for one's company all of one's life is the nobler, fairer way to work. After all, it will help fulfill our sense of purpose of why we exist as humans. It is what separates human beings from animals.
Similar to the unclear and unfocused thesis statements, the "too philosophical thesis" will not move the body paragraphs in a clear and focused direction. Even worse, within the 30 minute time constraint, the writer will find it nearly impossible to provide specific details and examples to support the ideas of why staying loyal to one company is nobler, fairer, and more life defining. In effect, it is not grounded in evidence.
  • Sufficiently grounded in evidence: In choosing between the two positions, working for one's company all of one's life will encourage loyalty, improve job security, and create less tension among co-workers, thus making the person a more complete and satisfied human being.
This thesis statement asserts that staying loyal to one company will foster loyalty, job security, and less tension in the workplace. Although it does say a person can be a more complete and satisfied human being, this is NOT the focus of the thesis, so it will not have be to defended in the body paragraphs with specific evidence.
When completing TOEFL iBT independent writing practice tests, you should make sure that your TOEFL iBT writing specialists evaluates your thesis statements according to these four characteristics.
Michael Buckhoff is the co-founder and materials writer for Better TOEFL Scores, Composition and Linguistics Professor, TOEFL Specialist, ESL Master Instructor, and Placement and Testing Coordinator for California State University, San Bernardino. A CSUSB professor since 1994, Michael Buckhoff (michael@csusb.edu) has been helping students pass the TOEFL exam.
To begin improving your TOEFL iBT score, take the first step today by subscribing to S.T.E.A.L.T.H., the one and only 7 Step System to Pass the TOEFL Test: http://www.bettertoeflscores.com


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