It’s not a part of your work. It is your work.
In college, when I wasn’t laboring over papers of my own, I spent my time in the basement of Oglethorpe’s library, tutoring my fellow students in the art of crafting a decent essay. The conversation was the same almost every time. They’d hand me their work and wait nervously while I read it through, and then I’d say,
“Great. So what’s your thesis statement?”
Usually, that question would undo them. They’d say, “I think it’s…” and then a long stream of inconsistent thought clouds that didn’t add up to any strong conclusion. Or, they’d put their head in their hands and admit defeat, knowing they’d been found out. Surprisingly often, they would just stare at me blankly, as if I’d asked them why they didn’t write the essay in Japanese.
Slowly they’d realize they had just written 3, or 8, or even 20 pages, and every paragraph was a new argument, a discombobulated addition to an already falling apart idea. They had no idea, really, what they were trying to say.
The source of this disorganization was often a misunderstanding about what exactly a thesis statement should be. For many students, it was just some sentence somewhere in the beginning of an essay that sort of expresses an important idea that needs to be in the paper somewhere. What it really ought to be is a blueprint—a succinct, one sentence work of art that will be the plum line for every sentence before and after it. It’s not a part of your work. It is your work.
Now that my job is in a cool building in east Atlanta instead of a library basement, I have to explain what the world of branding is all about. People usually think I am describing a marketing firm, or an ad agency, so I take them back to the thesis statement: marketing may be a part of what our clients do, but branding is the blueprint that matters for everything they do.
Our whole Brand Strategy process is essentially the larger, more beautiful version of that same simple question: “What’s your thesis statement?”
Once you know that, your next twenty pages (or projects, or business decisions, or ad campaigns) will be a breeze.
PS: Thanks to Intern B-Taves for the sweet graphic!