Single Most Important Academic Skill

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, and this is my own opinion, so take it with a grain of salt.

The key skill to learn as soon as possible:

Understand the idea of a thesis, and start to identify the thesis in everything you read and hear.

And by "thesis", I’m not talking about an especially long final undergrad or graduate paper. What I mean is that every good piece of writing has a controlling idea.

It’s the argumentative edge. It’s what you are arguing about or for.

Without a thesis, your paper will likely be “a tour through the miscellaneous.” (Isn’t that a great phrase?) Avoid the meandering tour.

Find a thesis—in your own thinking and in your readings—and you will be going straight to the core of the issue. Your reading comprehension will skyrocket, your retention will improve, and your writing will become more clear and well-reasoned.

Thesis. Make it your primary practice. Ignore it at your academic peril.

Additional Resources:

  • For three great tips to writing a good thesis statement, click here.
  • For more advanced tips on clarifying the thesis of a paper, check out Strengthen Your Argument.
  • Harvard Writing Center has a great article on understanding and developing a thesis.