Whether you are writing a short essay or a doctoral dissertation, your thesis statement will arguably be the most difficult sentence to formulate. This wikiHow will guide you through the process of writing one.
1. Determine the type, purpose, and audience of your paper.
2. Ask a question, then make the answer your thesis statement.
3. Take a stance, then ensure that it is provable.
4. State it in two parts: a clear topic and a brief summary of what you will say.
5. Limit the thesis to one or two sentences.
Typographical errors are likewise easier to spot by someone who is unaware of what was meant and therefore must go by what was said. This is an important function, because typos have an uncanny ability to survive readings and re-readings. If there is anything that could survive a nuclear attack, it is probably typographical errors.
The one area in which editors have an important advantage over authors is in reading what is said without prior knowledge of what it means. An author reviewing what he has written may automatically interpret ambiguous passages in the way he intended, while an editor can see that there are alternative meanings that accord with the words just as well as what the author had in mind. An author may also subconsciously interpolate missing words, while an editor can more easily see that some words are missing.
Even for a magazine, the case for house style is seldom compelling. Where a magazine has a very distinctive style, as Time magazine did back in the days when founder Henry Luce was running it, then a house style made sense, because that was what readers expected when they bought the magazine. However, the old Time magazine style—speaking Lucely, as it were—was highly exceptional, even in its day. For most magazines, house style is just an arbitrary set of local fetishes that matter to no one but those insiders petty enough to care.
A high price to pay? Not really. It all depends on what you’ve gotten for it. A one-day-at-a-time rationalist would say that I got my way on one book at the cost of a hassle. But he would be wrong, as such people often are. Anyone who grew up in a tough neighborhood knows that reputation is what keeps people from bothering you. (In my case, it was the reputation of my dog.) Years after this episode, the editor of a nationally prominent newspaper very tentatively offered one or two editorial suggestions on an article of mine, saying, “Your reputation has preceded you.” That’s what a reputation is supposed to do.
The crucial point in whatever strategy is used is to minimize the editor’s ability to waste your time, especially via the copy-editor, who has much more time available. When a copy-editor is talking with you on the phone about a manuscript, he is at work, getting paid—and preventing you from doing your other work. Changing that asymmetry is the key. It isn’t easy, and I haven’t always been successful, but it might be useful to look at one case where a counter-strategy worked.
Remembering General MacArthur’s warning against getting bogged down in a land war in Asia, I decided not to become engaged with the copy-editor over all these changes, and instead wrote directly to the principal editor. In a brief note, I explained that the duties of my regular job did not permit me the luxury of spending time educating an obviously ignorant copy-editor. However, in the spirit of compromise and reasonableness, I enclosed a fresh, unedited manuscript and declared myself ready to resume work on the book just as soon as I received this new manuscript back, copy-edited in a wholly different spirit by a different copy-editor.
For this project, we are also guided by the original This I Believe series and the to those who wrote essays in the 1950s. Their advice holds up well. Please consider it carefully in writing your piece.
Be personal: Make your essay about you; speak in the first person. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Tell a story from your own life; this is not an opinion piece about social ideals. Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.
I do not arbitrarily dismiss copy-editors’ suggestions. I usually consider them and find them to be stupid beyond belief. That is hardly surprising. In fact, what is surprising is that anyone would authorize people who are not writers, and who do not know the subject matter, to over-ride people who are writers and who do know the subject matter. Add to this the fact that a book may be written and rewritten over a period of years, while the copy-editor has at most only a few weeks in which to second-guess all the stylistic decisions that were made by the author after far more deliberation.
One phrase for which there is no rhyme or reason is “light editing.” You are better off believing in the tooth fairy than believing that these words have any concrete meaning. Whatever the particular editor is used to doing will be called “light editing.” To those of us who believe in the innate depravity of man, the behavior of editors is not hard to explain. What is difficult to understand is why writers put up with it. Perhaps a new writer is so anxious to see his name in print that he will submit to anything to achieve that transient glory. But there are writers of reputation and renown who whine helplessly to friends and colleagues about how some editor has butchered their work.
The best editor I ever had was Midge Decter, who has written books of her own. She had very little to say and what she said made sense—both of which should qualify her for the editors’ hall of fame. Indeed, I went back to her for advice years later, long after she had left editing, and re-organized The Vision of the Anointed on her advice. But she never tried to micro-manage my style.