Establishing a Purpose and a Thesis

Read this review of how to develop a clear and articulate thesis.

General Purpose

Examine the general purpose of why you are speaking; every idea in your speech should connect to that purpose to reinforce your thesis.

Key Takeaways

  • Think of a speech as an inverted pyramid, with the topic being the widest section. From there, refine down into the purpose, followed by thesis, evidence, and arguments.
  • Speeches typically serve four general purposes: to inform, persuade, instruct, or entertain.
  • By taking a step back to examine the general purpose of the speech, a speaker reinforces his or her thoughts and ideas by making sure that everything presented to argue your case aligns to that general purpose. Anything that takes away from that purpose should be omitted from the speech.

Key Terms

  • Purpose: A result that is desired; an intention.
  • General: Giving or consisting of only the most important aspects of something, ignoring minor details; indefinite.

Understanding the General Purpose of Your Speech

Think of a speech as an inverted pyramid. The pyramid's widest point represents the most general purpose for the speech. As the speaker begins to refine the thesis and create supporting arguments, the pyramid gets narrower and narrower as he or she drives the point home. Many times, it is easy to focus on that narrowest point, but it is just as important to take a step back and consider the general purpose of the speech.

Picture of an inverted pyramid in a museum

Inverted Pyramid: Think of a speech as an inverted pyramid. From the general topic, the speech narrows as the speaker generates the thesis and main ideas.

From a broad standpoint, the speaker should ask, "What do I hope to achieve with speech? Is the aim to inform? Persuade? A little of both, perhaps? Or maybe entertain?" There are four basic types (and thus, purposes) of speeches: to inform, persuade, instruct, or entertain. Each of these speech types may contain a little bit from the other types, in order to create a compelling package and ultimately, to get the speech to that narrowest point.

For example, imaging a basic topic, such as Facebook. Consider the audience: to whom will the speaker be speaking? What is their age and knowledge base? A crowd of college students might have a much wider knowledge base than say, a crowd of elderly audience members – but not necessarily! There are plenty of grandmothers who could run circles around a 20-year-old on Facebook.

If the general purpose is to instruct, the speaker may conduct a demonstration on how to set up privacy settings on Facebook. As they further hone the purpose and thesis, the speech might trickle down into instruction about why it is important to specify your privacy settings.

Now imagine a speaker who wants to persuade an audience – for example, an elderly crowd – to adopt a technology like Facebook. The speaker may have to do some instruction, but they will also want to talk about the social network benefits of Facebook or the cognitive benefits of lifelong learning and technology use. Again, this speech takes a topic like Facebook and refines it down to a purpose, like persuasion. From there, the speaker can begin to craft a thesis, such as, "Facebook is a valuable tool for the elderly to remain connected to their loved ones while simultaneously boosting cognition and memory affected by aging".

Whatever the purpose of the speech, before diving into the specifics of the thesis, the speaker must make sure to take a step back to examine the broad, general purpose of why he or she is speaking. The speaker will want to make sure that every piece of evidence and thought in the speech connects to that general purpose, in order to present a reinforced theme to the audience.

Specific Purpose of a Speech

The specific purpose of a speech fuses the topic and general purpose.

Key Takeaways

  • Consider the general purpose of the speech: is it instructing, informing, persuading, or entertaining?
  • From there, incorporate the topic into the purpose. Is the speech instructing, informing, persuading, or entertaining about X?
  • Going from the general to the specific is all about refinement.
  • Crafting the speech is a balance of reinforcing the general purpose while being specific enough to make a case.

Key Terms

  • Specific: Explicit or definite.
  • Purpose: A result that is desired; an intention.

Specific Purpose

As previously stated, think of a speech as an inverted pyramid. As the speaker refines his or her purpose, the speech begins to narrow to its ultimate point. The widest part represents the topic, followed by the general purpose (instructing, informing, persuading, or entertaining).

From there, the next most-refined level is the specific purpose, which fuses the topic and general purpose. For example, if the topic is social media and the speaker's intention is to inform, the specific purpose would be to inform your audience about social media. The speaker might get more specific by focusing on a narrower subject within your topic, such as Twitter. In this case, a more specific purpose might be to inform the audience about the evolution of Twitter as a social media platform.

Going from the general to the specific is all about refinement. If the speech is too broad, the audience is left confused or unclear about what the speaker is saying or trying to achieve with the speech. At the same time, the speaker must temper just how specific to get in relation to the audience. How much do they already know about the subject? How might their demographics such as age, gender, culture, and education levels already inform that knowledge base?

By using the inverted pyramid model to outline exactly how to arrive at the speech's most specific, narrowest point, the speaker should avoid losing the audience by getting too specific at the wrong time.

But what if the speech has more than one purpose? As previously discussed, not all speeches conform strictly to the four general purposes for speaking. Some persuasive speeches may contain elements of informative or entertainment speeches. If this is the case, first identify the most important purpose of the speech. At the end of the day, what exactly is the speech trying to achieve? From there, subordinate the other, more specific purposes.

For example, when giving a persuasive speech about the rise of Twitter as a dominant form of social media, the speaker's general purpose is to persuade, and the specific purpose is to persuade about the notion that Twitter is a dominant form of social media. But the speaker may have other purposes, to show the "lighter side" about Twitter by talking about how some fake and parody accounts carry more weight than their official counterparts (such as the BP Oil magnate and the fake @BPGlobalPR account in the wake of the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010).

At the end of the day, the speaker is still trying to achieve the specific purpose to persuade your audience to believe that Twitter is a dominant social media platform. Using entertaining anecdotes as one part of your strategy would fall under that purpose, not alongside or above it.

Just keep picturing the inverted pyramid, getting closer and closer to the most specific points to assist in the refinement process of honing a topic into a specific purpose and a solid thesis with substantive evidence to make a case.

Photo of a wine cork screw

Specific Purpose: A speech should have a specific purpose, just as a corkscrew has the specific purpose of opening a bottle.

Defining the Thesis

Your thesis statement should clearly articulate the purpose and main points of your speech.

Key Takeaways

  • A thesis statement contains all the main points of your speech, captured in anywhere from one to three sentences.
  • A thesis lets your audience know what your speech is going to show, demonstrate or argue.
  • Introduce your thesis early in your speech and reiterate it again at the conclusion.
  • To craft your thesis statement, think about the take-home message you wish to leave with your audience. From there, refine and hone that message until you have one to five main points to use in order to achieve your speech's purpose.

Key Terms

  • Thesis: A concise summary of the argument or main points, usually one to three sentences long.

Your thesis statement should clearly articulate the purpose and main points of your speech. Think of the thesis as the rocket that will guide the spaceship, that is your speech. It is there at the beginning and, in some ways, it guides the trajectory of your speech.

Photo of a model rocket

Launch Your Speech by Defining Your Thesis: A well-defined thesis will launch and guide the trajectory of your speech like a well-made rocket.

Defining a thesis is essentially constructing the structural outline of your speech. When you have defined a thesis, you have essentially articulated to yourself what your speech is going to say, what position you will take up, as well as what is the speech's purpose. Use the work that you have done to narrow down the scope of the topic that your speech is about; determine the purpose your speech will serve, and define a thesis to construct the remainder of it.

Crafting Your Thesis

Begin looking very generally at your speech: what are you trying to accomplish with it? What is the takeaway message you wish to leave with your audience? From there, begin to refine and hone your thesis by getting more and more specific, until you are able to define anywhere from one to five main points that you seek to make with your speech. It is typically only one to three sentences long.

Thesis Placement

The thesis should be introduced near the beginning of your speech, usually at the conclusion of the introductory remarks. Its placement there is a way of introducing the audience to your specific topic. It should be a declarative statement, stating what position you will argue.

It is also particularly helpful to give a quick outline of just how you plan to achieve those goals in another few sentences, immediately following your thesis statement. At the end of the speech, you should restate your thesis (perhaps in a more concise form) in order to reassert to your audience what you have argued throughout the course of your speech.


Source: Lumen Learning,
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Last modified: Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 1:20 PM