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How to Create an Effective Thesis Statement in 5 Easy Steps
Creating a thesis statement can be a daunting task. It’s one of the most important sentences in your paper, and it needs to be done right. But don’t worry — with these five easy steps, you’ll be able to create an effective thesis statement in no time.
Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas
The first step is to brainstorm ideas for your paper. Think about what you want to say and write down any ideas that come to mind. This will help you narrow down your focus and make it easier to create your thesis statement.
Step 2: Research Your Topic
Once you have some ideas, it’s time to do some research on your topic. Look for sources that support your ideas and provide evidence for the points you want to make. This will help you refine your argument and make it more convincing.
Step 3: Formulate Your Argument
Now that you have done some research, it’s time to formulate your argument. Take the points you want to make and put them into one or two sentences that clearly state what your paper is about. This will be the basis of your thesis statement.
Step 4: Refine Your Thesis Statement
Once you have formulated your argument, it’s time to refine your thesis statement. Make sure that it is clear, concise, and specific. It should also be arguable so that readers can disagree with it if they choose.
Step 5: Test Your Thesis Statement
The last step is to test your thesis statement. Does it accurately reflect the points you want to make? Is it clear and concise? Does it make an arguable point? If not, go back and refine it until it meets all of these criteria.
Creating an effective thesis statement doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With these five easy steps, you can create a strong thesis statement in no time at all.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples
Published on January 11, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on August 15, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . It usually comes near the end of your introduction .
Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.
You can write your thesis statement by following four simple steps:
- Start with a question
- Write your initial answer
- Develop your answer
- Refine your thesis statement
Table of contents
What is a thesis statement, placement of the thesis statement, step 1: start with a question, step 2: write your initial answer, step 3: develop your answer, step 4: refine your thesis statement, types of thesis statements, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about thesis statements.
A thesis statement summarizes the central points of your essay. It is a signpost telling the reader what the essay will argue and why.
The best thesis statements are:
- Concise: A good thesis statement is short and sweet—don’t use more words than necessary. State your point clearly and directly in one or two sentences.
- Contentious: Your thesis shouldn’t be a simple statement of fact that everyone already knows. A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up.
- Coherent: Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper.
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The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction .
The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts and among young people more generally is hotly debated. For many who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education: the internet facilitates easier access to information, exposure to different perspectives, and a flexible learning environment for both students and teachers.
You should come up with an initial thesis, sometimes called a working thesis , early in the writing process . As soon as you’ve decided on your essay topic , you need to work out what you want to say about it—a clear thesis will give your essay direction and structure.
You might already have a question in your assignment, but if not, try to come up with your own. What would you like to find out or decide about your topic?
For example, you might ask:
After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the research process and writing process .
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Now you need to consider why this is your answer and how you will convince your reader to agree with you. As you read more about your topic and begin writing, your answer should get more detailed.
In your essay about the internet and education, the thesis states your position and sketches out the key arguments you’ll use to support it.
The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education because it facilitates easier access to information.
In your essay about braille, the thesis statement summarizes the key historical development that you’ll explain.
The invention of braille in the 19th century transformed the lives of blind people, allowing them to participate more actively in public life.
A strong thesis statement should tell the reader:
- Why you hold this position
- What they’ll learn from your essay
- The key points of your argument or narrative
The final thesis statement doesn’t just state your position, but summarizes your overall argument or the entire topic you’re going to explain. To strengthen a weak thesis statement, it can help to consider the broader context of your topic.
These examples are more specific and show that you’ll explore your topic in depth.
Your thesis statement should match the goals of your essay, which vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing:
- In an argumentative essay , your thesis statement should take a strong position. Your aim in the essay is to convince your reader of this thesis based on evidence and logical reasoning.
- In an expository essay , you’ll aim to explain the facts of a topic or process. Your thesis statement doesn’t have to include a strong opinion in this case, but it should clearly state the central point you want to make, and mention the key elements you’ll explain.
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :
- Ask a question about your topic .
- Write your initial answer.
- Develop your answer by including reasons.
- Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.
The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .
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How to write a thesis statement, what is a thesis statement.
Almost all of us—even if we don’t do it consciously—look early in an essay for a one- or two-sentence condensation of the argument or analysis that is to follow. We refer to that condensation as a thesis statement.
Why Should Your Essay Contain a Thesis Statement?
- to test your ideas by distilling them into a sentence or two
- to better organize and develop your argument
- to provide your reader with a “guide” to your argument
In general, your thesis statement will accomplish these goals if you think of the thesis as the answer to the question your paper explores.
How Can You Write a Good Thesis Statement?
Here are some helpful hints to get you started. You can either scroll down or select a link to a specific topic.
How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One
How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned
Almost all assignments, no matter how complicated, can be reduced to a single question. Your first step, then, is to distill the assignment into a specific question. For example, if your assignment is, “Write a report to the local school board explaining the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class,” turn the request into a question like, “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” After you’ve chosen the question your essay will answer, compose one or two complete sentences answering that question.
Q: “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” A: “The potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class are . . .”
A: “Using computers in a fourth-grade class promises to improve . . .”
The answer to the question is the thesis statement for the essay.
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How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned
Even if your assignment doesn’t ask a specific question, your thesis statement still needs to answer a question about the issue you’d like to explore. In this situation, your job is to figure out what question you’d like to write about.
A good thesis statement will usually include the following four attributes:
- take on a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree
- deal with a subject that can be adequately treated given the nature of the assignment
- express one main idea
- assert your conclusions about a subject
Let’s see how to generate a thesis statement for a social policy paper.
Brainstorm the topic . Let’s say that your class focuses upon the problems posed by changes in the dietary habits of Americans. You find that you are interested in the amount of sugar Americans consume.
You start out with a thesis statement like this:
This fragment isn’t a thesis statement. Instead, it simply indicates a general subject. Furthermore, your reader doesn’t know what you want to say about sugar consumption.
Narrow the topic . Your readings about the topic, however, have led you to the conclusion that elementary school children are consuming far more sugar than is healthy.
You change your thesis to look like this:
Reducing sugar consumption by elementary school children.
This fragment not only announces your subject, but it focuses on one segment of the population: elementary school children. Furthermore, it raises a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree, because while most people might agree that children consume more sugar than they used to, not everyone would agree on what should be done or who should do it. You should note that this fragment is not a thesis statement because your reader doesn’t know your conclusions on the topic.
Take a position on the topic. After reflecting on the topic a little while longer, you decide that what you really want to say about this topic is that something should be done to reduce the amount of sugar these children consume.
You revise your thesis statement to look like this:
More attention should be paid to the food and beverage choices available to elementary school children.
This statement asserts your position, but the terms more attention and food and beverage choices are vague.
Use specific language . You decide to explain what you mean about food and beverage choices , so you write:
Experts estimate that half of elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar.
This statement is specific, but it isn’t a thesis. It merely reports a statistic instead of making an assertion.
Make an assertion based on clearly stated support. You finally revise your thesis statement one more time to look like this:
Because half of all American elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar, schools should be required to replace the beverages in soda machines with healthy alternatives.
Notice how the thesis answers the question, “What should be done to reduce sugar consumption by children, and who should do it?” When you started thinking about the paper, you may not have had a specific question in mind, but as you became more involved in the topic, your ideas became more specific. Your thesis changed to reflect your new insights.
How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One
1. a strong thesis statement takes some sort of stand..
Remember that your thesis needs to show your conclusions about a subject. For example, if you are writing a paper for a class on fitness, you might be asked to choose a popular weight-loss product to evaluate. Here are two thesis statements:
There are some negative and positive aspects to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.
This is a weak thesis statement. First, it fails to take a stand. Second, the phrase negative and positive aspects is vague.
Because Banana Herb Tea Supplement promotes rapid weight loss that results in the loss of muscle and lean body mass, it poses a potential danger to customers.
This is a strong thesis because it takes a stand, and because it's specific.
2. A strong thesis statement justifies discussion.
Your thesis should indicate the point of the discussion. If your assignment is to write a paper on kinship systems, using your own family as an example, you might come up with either of these two thesis statements:
My family is an extended family.
This is a weak thesis because it merely states an observation. Your reader won’t be able to tell the point of the statement, and will probably stop reading.
While most American families would view consanguineal marriage as a threat to the nuclear family structure, many Iranian families, like my own, believe that these marriages help reinforce kinship ties in an extended family.
This is a strong thesis because it shows how your experience contradicts a widely-accepted view. A good strategy for creating a strong thesis is to show that the topic is controversial. Readers will be interested in reading the rest of the essay to see how you support your point.
3. A strong thesis statement expresses one main idea.
Readers need to be able to see that your paper has one main point. If your thesis statement expresses more than one idea, then you might confuse your readers about the subject of your paper. For example:
Companies need to exploit the marketing potential of the Internet, and Web pages can provide both advertising and customer support.
This is a weak thesis statement because the reader can’t decide whether the paper is about marketing on the Internet or Web pages. To revise the thesis, the relationship between the two ideas needs to become more clear. One way to revise the thesis would be to write:
Because the Internet is filled with tremendous marketing potential, companies should exploit this potential by using Web pages that offer both advertising and customer support.
This is a strong thesis because it shows that the two ideas are related. Hint: a great many clear and engaging thesis statements contain words like because , since , so , although , unless , and however .
4. A strong thesis statement is specific.
A thesis statement should show exactly what your paper will be about, and will help you keep your paper to a manageable topic. For example, if you're writing a seven-to-ten page paper on hunger, you might say:
World hunger has many causes and effects.
This is a weak thesis statement for two major reasons. First, world hunger can’t be discussed thoroughly in seven to ten pages. Second, many causes and effects is vague. You should be able to identify specific causes and effects. A revised thesis might look like this:
Hunger persists in Glandelinia because jobs are scarce and farming in the infertile soil is rarely profitable.
This is a strong thesis statement because it narrows the subject to a more specific and manageable topic, and it also identifies the specific causes for the existence of hunger.
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Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements
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This resource provides tips for creating a thesis statement and examples of different types of thesis statements.
Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement
1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing:
- An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.
- An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.
- An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.
If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.
2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.
3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.
4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.
Thesis Statement Examples
Example of an analytical thesis statement:
The paper that follows should:
- Explain the analysis of the college admission process
- Explain the challenge facing admissions counselors
Example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:
- Explain how students spend their time studying, attending class, and socializing with peers
Example of an argumentative thesis statement:
- Present an argument and give evidence to support the claim that students should pursue community projects before entering college
The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is a sentence in a paper or essay (in the opening paragraph) that introduces the main topic to the reader. As one of the first things your reader sees, your thesis statement is one of the most important sentences in your entire paper—but also one of the hardest to write!
In this article, we explain how to write a thesis statement in the best way possible. We look at what to include and the steps to take for writing your own, along with plenty of thesis statement examples to guide you.
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What is a thesis statement?
The goal of a thesis statement is to let your reader know what your paper or essay is about. It helps your reader understand the greater context and scope of your topic, plus it lets your readers know what to expect from the rest of the work.
A secondary benefit of a thesis statement is that it makes it easier to search for papers on a particular topic, especially in the realm of academic writing like research papers and thesis papers (which are sometimes known as dissertations when written for doctoral degrees). For example, if you’re writing a paper of your own, you’ll want to look up other papers to use as evidence and sources . You can simply scan the thesis statements of several papers to see which match your topic and could be worthwhile sources to cite.
How to write a thesis statement: Basics
Before we get into details, here are the basic steps for how to write a thesis statement:
- Develop the best topic to cover in your paper
- Phrase your topic as a question-and-answer
- Add some polish
We ’ ll describe each of those steps in more detail below, but we wanted to share a quick guide. Also, we ’ ll provide some thesis statement examples and talk about how to write a thesis statement for different kinds of essays: persuasive, compare-and-contrast, expository, and argumentative essays.
The thesis statement is located at the beginning of a paper, in the opening paragraph, making it an essential way to start an essay . A thesis statement isn’t necessarily the first sentence in an essay; typically you’ll want to hook the reader in an engaging way in the opening sentence before inserting your central idea or argument later in the first paragraph. A thesis statement is often confused with a topic sentence , the first sentence in a paragraph, because they both introduce the central idea of what follows. You can think of thesis statements as the topic sentence of your entire paper.
What to include in a thesis statement (with examples)
Thesis statements are a necessary part of paper and essay writing , but different formats have different rules and best practices. Below, we break down how to write a thesis statement for the most common types of papers.
How to write a thesis statement for expository and argumentative essays
Expository and argumentative essays are some of the most common types of academic papers. Because they don’t have a formal abstract like research papers, they rely on their thesis statements to provide an overview of what’s discussed.
Thesis statements for argumentative and expository essays should use strong and decisive language; don’t be wishy-washy or uncertain. You want to take a stand right in the opening so that your readers understand what your paper is trying to show.
Moreover, thesis statements for these essays should be specific, with some minor details to hint at the rest of the paper. It’s not enough to merely make your point; you also want to provide some basic evidence or background context to paint a full picture.
If your paper dives into different subtopics or categories, try to fit them into the thesis statement if you can. You don’t have to get into details here, but it’s nice to mention the different sections at the top so that the reader knows what to expect.
Thesis statement examples
Despite the taboo, insects make an excellent food source and could stem humanity’s looming food shortage, based on both their protein output and the sustainability of farming them.
The backlash to rock ’n’ roll music in the ’50s by religious groups and traditionalists actually boosted the genre’s popularity instead of diminishing it as intended.
How to write a thesis statement for persuasive essays
Similar to argumentative essays, persuasive essays follow many of the same guidelines for their thesis statements: decisive language, specific details, and mentions of subtopics.
However, the main difference is that, while the thesis statements for argumentative and expository essays state facts, the thesis statements for persuasive essays state clear opinions . Still, the format is the same, and the opinions are often treated like facts, including conclusive language and citing evidence to support your claims.
Furthermore, unlike with other essays, it’s appropriate to make emotional connections in a thesis statement in persuasive essays. This can actually be a clever strategy to start your essay off on a more personal, impactful note.
Advertising should not be allowed in public schools because it’s a distraction from studies and may lead to misguided priorities among the school board, to say nothing of the materialist culture it promotes.
Exotic pets provide the same love and companionship as conventional pets, so the laws regulating which animals can and cannot be kept as pets should be more relaxed.
How to write a thesis statement for compare-and-contrast essays
Thesis statements for compare-and-contrast essays are tricky because you have at least two topics to touch on instead of just one. The same general guidelines apply (decisive language, details, etc.), but you need to give equal attention to both your topics—otherwise, your essay will seem biased from the start.
As always, your thesis statement should reflect what’s written in the rest of your essay. If your essay spends more time comparing than contrasting, your thesis statement should focus more on similarities than differences.
It sometimes helps to give specific examples as well, but keep them simple and brief. Save the finer details for the body of your essay.
Sean Connery and Daniel Craig are the two most popular actors to portray James Bond, but both have their own distinct and at times contradictory interpretations of the character.
How to write a thesis statement in 3 steps
Now that you know what you’re aiming for, it’s time to sit down and write your own thesis statement. To keep you on track, here are three easy steps to guide you.
1 Brainstorm the best topic for your essay
You can’t write a thesis statement until you know what your paper is about, so your first step is choosing a topic.
If the topic is already assigned, great ! That’s all for this step. If not, consider the tips below for choosing the topic that’s best for you:
- Pick a topic that you’re passionate about. Even if you don’t know much about it, it’ll be easier to learn about it while writing if you’re genuinely interested.
- Narrow down your topic to something specific; otherwise, your paper will be too broad and perhaps too long. Just make sure it’s not too specific, or you won’t have enough to write about. Try to find a happy medium.
- Check beforehand that there are enough strong, credible sources to use for research. You don’t want to run out of referential material halfway through.
Once you’ve chosen a topic—and the angle or stance you want to take—then it’s time to put the idea for your thesis sentence into words.
2 Phrase your topic as a question and then answer it
It’s not always easy to fit your entire thesis into just one sentence, let alone one that’s written clearly and eloquently. Here’s a quick technique to help you get started.
First, phrase your topic as a question. For example, if you want to write about Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy, ask yourself, “What influences did Gandhi have on society after his death?”
If you already know the answer, write it down—that’s a good start for your thesis statement. If you don’t know the answer, do some preliminary research to find out; you can certainly use what you discover as evidence and sources in your essay’s body paragraphs .
3 Add some polish
Chances are, your first attempt at a thesis statement won’t be perfect. To get it to its best, try revising , editing , and adding what’s missing.
Remember the core traits for thesis statements we mentioned above: decisive language, a happy medium of specific but not too specific details, and mention of subtopics. If you’re struggling to contain everything in a single sentence, feel free to move the secondary information to the following sentence. The thesis statement itself should only have what’s most necessary.
If you’re in doubt, read your thesis statement to a friend and ask them what they think your paper is about. If they answer correctly, your thesis statement does its job.
Next comes the hard part—writing the rest! While the bulk of the writing lies ahead, at least you’ve nailed down your central idea. To plot out your supporting argument, follow our advice on essay structure and let your ideas flow.
What this handout is about.
This handout describes what a thesis statement is, how thesis statements work in your writing, and how you can craft or refine one for your draft.
Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion—convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.
What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement:
- tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
- is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
- directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
- makes a claim that others might dispute.
- is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper (most often, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.
If your assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft. The assignment may not explicitly state that you need a thesis statement because your instructor may assume you will include one. When in doubt, ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement. When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue, it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it persuasively. (Check out our handout on understanding assignments for more information.)
How do I create a thesis?
A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis” that presents a basic or main idea and an argument that you think you can support with evidence. Both the argument and your thesis are likely to need adjustment along the way.
Writers use all kinds of techniques to stimulate their thinking and to help them clarify relationships or comprehend the broader significance of a topic and arrive at a thesis statement. For more ideas on how to get started, see our handout on brainstorming .
How do I know if my thesis is strong?
If there’s time, run it by your instructor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own. When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis, ask yourself the following :
- Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question. If the prompt isn’t phrased as a question, try to rephrase it. For example, “Discuss the effect of X on Y” can be rephrased as “What is the effect of X on Y?”
- Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
- Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to be “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
- Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
- Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.
Suppose you are taking a course on contemporary communication, and the instructor hands out the following essay assignment: “Discuss the impact of social media on public awareness.” Looking back at your notes, you might start with this working thesis:
Social media impacts public awareness in both positive and negative ways.
You can use the questions above to help you revise this general statement into a stronger thesis.
- Do I answer the question? You can analyze this if you rephrase “discuss the impact” as “what is the impact?” This way, you can see that you’ve answered the question only very generally with the vague “positive and negative ways.”
- Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not likely. Only people who maintain that social media has a solely positive or solely negative impact could disagree.
- Is my thesis statement specific enough? No. What are the positive effects? What are the negative effects?
- Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? No. Why are they positive? How are they positive? What are their causes? Why are they negative? How are they negative? What are their causes?
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? No. Why should anyone care about the positive and/or negative impact of social media?
After thinking about your answers to these questions, you decide to focus on the one impact you feel strongly about and have strong evidence for:
Because not every voice on social media is reliable, people have become much more critical consumers of information, and thus, more informed voters.
This version is a much stronger thesis! It answers the question, takes a specific position that others can challenge, and it gives a sense of why it matters.
Let’s try another. Suppose your literature professor hands out the following assignment in a class on the American novel: Write an analysis of some aspect of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. “This will be easy,” you think. “I loved Huckleberry Finn!” You grab a pad of paper and write:
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.
You begin to analyze your thesis:
- Do I answer the question? No. The prompt asks you to analyze some aspect of the novel. Your working thesis is a statement of general appreciation for the entire novel.
Think about aspects of the novel that are important to its structure or meaning—for example, the role of storytelling, the contrasting scenes between the shore and the river, or the relationships between adults and children. Now you write:
In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.
- Do I answer the question? Yes!
- Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not really. This contrast is well-known and accepted.
- Is my thesis statement specific enough? It’s getting there–you have highlighted an important aspect of the novel for investigation. However, it’s still not clear what your analysis will reveal.
- Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? Not yet. Compare scenes from the book and see what you discover. Free write, make lists, jot down Huck’s actions and reactions and anything else that seems interesting.
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? What’s the point of this contrast? What does it signify?”
After examining the evidence and considering your own insights, you write:
Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.
This final thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence from the novel that will convince the reader of your interpretation.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.
Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.
Ramage, John D., John C. Bean, and June Johnson. 2018. The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing , 8th ed. New York: Pearson.
Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers , 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.
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Formulating a Thesis
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In an argumentative paper, your thesis statement expresses what it is that you want to prove and, ultimately, what you will support with the main arguments in your body paragraphs. Any good thesis statement will:
- have a clearly established topic ,
- make a claim that answers a question about that topic,
- have a reason that supports the claim, and
- be specific .
The general model of your thesis statement will look something like this:
Deciding on a Topic
Ideally, you should write about something that you care about or at least that you have an opinion about. But let’s be honest, we don’t find interest in every subject we come across. If you find yourself in this situation, pick a topic that is controversial ; that people don’t see eye to eye on. Picking a topic like this means that you will grab the reader’s attention and establish a clear sense of direction.
Formulating the Question
For argumentative papers, your thesis statement should be an assertive proposition; somebody should be able to either agree or disagree with it. One way to ensure that you’ll come out with an assertive thesis statement is to ask yourself a “yes” or “no” question about your topic.
Answering the Question
Now that you’ve formulated the question, you have to take a side. If you already feel strongly about something, run with it. If you don’t feel particularly compelled to either side of an argument, don’t worry. You should take some comfort knowing that because there is often times a lot of grey area, there are a lot of interesting points that can be made for either side. If you run into this problem, take a chance and see where it takes you . After answering “yes” or “no” you need to shape your response into a claim and then support it with a reason .
Teachers will tell you that your thesis statement needs to be specific but this is a very subjective and sometimes unhelpful instruction. And so because it’s not altogether easy to define, perhaps the better question is, “How do I make my thesis specific?” To a large extent, making your thesis specific will depend upon how much reading and studying you’ve done on the topic. The more you read and understand the subject matter, the more precise and detailed questions you’ll be capable of asking.
Nonetheless, it’s important that you consult your professor or a tutor on this. Sometimes, we may feel that our subject is adequately narrow but a second set of eyes will help to sheer away some of the excess. Don’t be ashamed of asking for help and don’t be afraid of rejecting your old ideas for new ones. In the end, you’ll find that working in dialogue with others can really improve your writing skills.
Let’s say you’re taking a psychology class and you decide to write on the subject of Freud. Let’s go through the steps.
- Decide on a topic – Freud as an individual, of course, is much too broad of a topic and not controversial so maybe we could pick one of his ideas, like his theory of the unconscious .
- Formulate a question – Freud’s theory about the unconscious is a subject of great controversy in the field of psychology. Many believe that the idea of repression tied up with the notion of the unconscious fails to account for mental illness as Freud thought it did. Thus, the unconscious’s relation to mental illness is something we can formulate into a question: Does the unconscious adequately account for mental illness?
- Answer the Question – In our research, we may find ultimately that we agree with Freud’s detractors. Some would say that Freud’s theory doesn’t adequately account for mental illness because it fails to take into account that some conditions are not caused by repression of the unconscious but by chemical imbalances in the brain. So ultimately, we will answer “no,” to our question. And, as stated above, when we answer the question, we don’t want to return with just a “yes” or “no” but to provide the sense in which we’re disagreeing (i.e. Freud’s theory fails in accounting for mental illness) and then providing a reason (i.e. because it fails to account for biologically based mental illnesses). Put all together: No, Freud’s theory fails in accounting for mental illness because it doesn’t account for conditions that have a biological basis.
Now we have all the raw materials for our thesis statement. If I use the structure at the beginning and piece everything together (topic, claim, reason), I get the following:
Freud’s theory of the unconscious is inadequate in accounting for mental illness because it fails to account for conditions that are of a strictly biological origin.
Now, we have a thesis! Of course, you don’t have to stop there. You may find in more reading and studying that you want to make your statement even more specific. Writing is a process and one that isn’t always linear (in fact, it rarely is). This means that you’ll probably go back to redefine your thesis statement a few times and that’s okay! Best of luck!
Examples Often times, it’s difficult to take abstract directions and strategies such as those listed above and apply them to your specific subject area. For that reason, we’ve provided a series of sample thesis statements showing how these strategies can be applied at a more specific level.
Art History Panofsky and his followers’ interpretation of van Eyck’s double portrait is a misunderstanding of the overall artistic intent of the piece. The painting is not a celebration of the sacrament of marriage but rather that of an alliance between two rich and important Italian merchant families with all the financial and social benefits that might be expected to accrue therefrom. (Edwin Hall)
Film Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner cannot be labeled science fiction because the designation fails to consider the full scope of the film’s structure and style as postmodern film noir. (Online)
History The Russian Revolution of 1917 cannot be labeled an authentic Marxist revolution. Despite widespread worker discontent, the organization of the revolution by Lenin’s “vanguard” was premature, foregoing the development of working class consciousness, an essential step in Marx’s overthrow of the bourgeoisie.
Philosophy Immanuel Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative is inadequate as an ethical theory insofar as it only accounts for an individual’s intentions behind their actions, not the lived consequences of the actions themselves.
Theology The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith is a dangerous precedent in the state’s attitude toward religious practice. In denying the defendants their unemployment benefits by virtue of their ceremonial ingestion of peyote, they emaciate the value of religious freedom, strictly confining it to the private sphere. (Thomas Powers)
- Thesis Formulation (Printable)
- Stasis Questions (Printable)
- Purdue's Guide to Thesis Statements
- UNC-Chapel Hill Intro to Library Research Consists of a series of self-paced instructional modules designed to introduce students to important research concepts and to guide them in the use of the UNC Libraries.
After reading the above information on outlining, attempt the writing activity below for further practice.
- Writing Activity: Formulating a Thesis
- Thesis Formulation Writing Activity Answers
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How to Write an Effective Thesis Statement
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Jonathan Wlodarski is pursuing a Ph.D. in English and teaches introductory-level English courses.
What Is a Thesis Statement?
A thesis statement is typically one sentence that appears in the first paragraph of an essay that captures the essay's purpose. Think of the thesis statement as a one-sentence summary that tells the reader exactly what an essay says.
Rather than writing your essay like a puzzle, keeping the reader in suspense about what conclusion you'll reach by the end, use the thesis statement like a treasure map to give the reader a sense of your essay's direction. Tell them the conclusion up front, so they know where your piece is headed.
Once you've done your research and found your sources, craft a thesis statement that clearly indicates the direction your essay will take. As you write, think about how each paragraph connects to your thesis. If you're struggling to understand how a particular idea relates directly to the thesis statement, it may be a sign that you've diverged from the purpose of the essay.
THESIS STATEMENT DEFINITION
A thesis statement is a one-sentence declaration of intention — a summation of the main idea your essay will explain at length. An effective thesis statement will make a unique claim or seek to answer an important question.
Tips for Writing a Good Thesis Statement
Essays should be based on a specific argument. Check your thesis statement to see if the central idea of your writing is too vague. If you argue for something overly general — for example, an argument that all pop music is bad — your essay will try to conquer too many ideas and be unfocused.
Refine your argument to be more specific. Perhaps you'll say that pop music suffers from repetitive chord progressions or that pop songs have unimaginative lyrics. These narrower claims allow you to easily marshall evidence in support of your thesis.
Make a Clear Argument
Often, you need to write a paper within a very limited set of parameters — usually a few thousand words at most. Within a prescribed framework, you won't have space on the page to fully address multiple arguments.
If a reader can't ascertain the direction your essay will take from reading the thesis statement alone, then revise it to ensure your main point is stated plainly. If you're struggling to make your argument clear, try formulating your thesis statement using this template: "In this paper, I argue that __________."
Because some writing instructors forbid or disapprove of the first-person point of view in academic essays, you may have to change your thesis statement later; however, using this template reminds you what your argument should be, which is a helpful early drafting technique.
Take a Strong Stance
When writing your essay's thesis statement, ask whether it is a statement that can be argued with. For example, if your thesis statement is, "Computers are a popular technology in today's society," your essay might not be advancing a position so much as stating an objectively true fact.
Most essays will require you to take a stance, not make an observation, so craft a thesis statement that actually puts forward a unique perspective.
Question Your Assumptions
As you formulate the thesis statement of your essay, ask yourself what assumptions your argument is based on. In other words, what must your readers assume to be true before they can even begin to accept your argument?
Be particularly aware of your intended audience. For example, does your argument rely on a religious or moral code to prove that it is inherently right? If you are writing a paper for a class in Christian ministry, a dogmatic argument might be appropriate; for a sociology paper, however, such arguments don't hold water.
Think about the ways in which your argument may not hold up for people who don't subscribe to your viewpoints, then revise or re-approach your thesis statement so that your argument doesn't depend on those assumptions.
Don't Hide Your Thesis
Keep in mind that your thesis statement should come near the beginning of your essay. Conventional wisdom dictates that it should appear by the end of the first paragraph, though the exact positioning may vary, depending on how much introduction your specific essay requires. In any case, it should generally come at the end of your introduction to the material — the final statement your reader sees at the beginning, before moving into the body of your argument.
To some extent, it's also important not to overthink your thesis statement. Don't dress up a thesis statement with fancy language, and don't be too clever in how you set the stage for your argument; both of these strategies sometimes disguise a weak central thesis. Whoever your professor is, they will appreciate you getting to the point in a clear, concise manner.
Types of Thesis Statements
Argumentative essays ask students to make the case for a particular perspective, or to persuade the reader to agree with the writer's point of view by the time they reach the essay's conclusion. In these essays, a thesis statement should be a clear picture of the argument you will make over the course of your essay.
In an American history class, you are asked to argue about the dominant cause of the War of 1812. Your thesis statement might look like, “The War of 1812 was a direct result of British arms sales to native tribes in the American West.”
In an ethics class, you are asked to argue about the moral obligation to help people in need. Your thesis statement might read, “By virtue of a social contract, we do have a moral obligation to help one another.”
In analytical essays, writers must communicate their interpretation of a given source or set of sources. In these essays, a thesis statement will explain the conclusion that your analysis has led you to. It may also be helpful to forecast your analysis by explaining which specific points you'll be examining. A helpful formula to get started with this kind of thesis statement is: "In this essay, I argue __________ by examining ____, ____, and ____."
In an English class, you've been asked to write an essay that analyzes how a persuasive article about climate change was constructed. Your thesis statement might say, “In this paper, I argue that Johnson relies too heavily on personal anecdotes and interviews, rather than scientific data, to establish the threat of climate change.”
In a psychology class, your assignment is an essay that analyzes the connection between depression and childhood trauma based on several studies you've researched. Your thesis statement might read, “Based on the data from these three studies, it's clear that there is a direct link between childhood trauma and clinical depression emerging in adults.”
Expository essays ask writers to provide an informational breakdown of a topic, educating readers using specific details. It may be hard to understand how a thesis statement is of use in an expository essay because expository writing often does not advance an argument. Even so, a controlling statement near the beginning of the essay that summarizes your point is useful. By communicating clearly what the intention of your writing is, you can ensure that each new piece of information supports the central idea you are building.
A helpful formula for guiding your expository essay is: "In this essay, I will teach my reader __________." As you work toward this goal, you can revisit this sentence later and rework it into an effective thesis statement.
In a biochemistry class, you've been asked to write an essay explaining the impact of bisphenol A on the human body. Your thesis statement might say, “This essay will make clear the correlation between bisphenol A exposure and hypertension.”
In a gender studies class, you must write an essay that explains third-wave feminism. Your thesis statement might read, “Third-wave feminism built upon the work of earlier generations of feminists to advocate for an expanded view of what being a woman means.”
Especially in composition and creative writing classes, you might be asked to write essays that draw upon your personal experiences. Prompts for personal essays might include writing about your experiences with race or your development as a writer, and these essays are often centered on a moment of realization or revelation. You can distill these themes into a thesis statement for your personal essay. While there may be no central argument in a thesis like this, there is always an organizing principle, such as change, destiny, growth, or irony.
In a creative writing class, you have to write an essay about how the place you grew up shaped you. Your thesis statement might look like, “Growing up on the farm taught me how to be more patient.”
In a composition class, you have to write an essay about the first time you realized how your gender was part of your identity. Your essay's thesis statement might read, “Because I was yelled at for playing with dolls as a kid, I understood that I didn't fit the narrow constraints of masculinity as my family defined it.”
Some Final Thoughts
Crafting an effective thesis statement is a useful exercise not just in college, but in your everyday life. It teaches you to examine ideas, organize them into a central theme or argument, and to persuasively mobilize evidence in support of this argument — a skill useful in many careers and personal endeavors.
Explore More College Resources
Strategies for writing a compelling thesis statement.
How to Write a Conclusion Paragraph for an Essay
How to write an essay introduction.
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