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“Developing a Strong, Clear Thesis Statement” provided by University of Minnesota

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  • Develop a strong, clear thesis statement with the proper elements.
  • Revise your thesis statement.

purpose thesis statement in an essay

Developing a Strong, Clear Thesis Statement

provided by University of Minnesota

Have you ever known a person who was not very good at telling stories? You probably had trouble following his train of thought as he jumped around from point to point, either being too brief in places that needed further explanation or providing too many details on a meaningless element. Maybe he told the end of the story first, then moved to the beginning and later added details to the middle. His ideas were probably scattered, and the story did not flow very well. When the story was over, you probably had many questions.

Just as a personal anecdote can be a disorganized mess, an essay can fall into the same trap of being out of order and confusing. That is why writers need a thesis statement to provide a specific focus for their essay and to organize what they are about to discuss in the body.

Just like a topic sentence summarizes a single paragraph, the thesis statement summarizes an entire essay. It tells the reader the point you want to make in your essay, while the essay itself supports that point. It is like a signpost that signals the essay’s destination. You should form your thesis before you begin to organize an essay, but you may find that it needs revision as the essay develops.

Elements of a Thesis Statement

For every essay you write, you must focus on a central idea. This idea stems from a topic you have chosen or been assigned or from a question your teacher has asked. It is not enough merely to discuss a general topic or simply answer a question with a yes or no. You have to form a specific opinion, and then articulate that into a  controlling idea —the main idea upon which you build your thesis.

Remember that a thesis is not the topic itself, but rather your interpretation of the question or subject. For whatever topic your professor gives you, you must ask yourself, “What do I want to say about it?” Asking and then answering this question is vital to forming a thesis that is precise, forceful and confident.

A thesis is one sentence long and appears toward the end of your introduction. It is specific and focuses on one to three points of a single idea—points that are able to be demonstrated in the body. It forecasts the content of the essay and suggests how you will organize your information. Remember that a thesis statement does not summarize an issue but rather dissects it.

A Strong Thesis Statement

A strong thesis statement contains the following qualities.

strong thesis statement .  A thesis statement must concentrate on a specific area of a general topic. As you may recall, the creation of a thesis statement begins when you choose a broad subject and then narrow down its parts until you pinpoint a specific aspect of that topic. For example, health care is a broad topic, but a proper thesis statement would focus on a specific area of that topic, such as options for individuals without health care coverage.

Precision.  A strong thesis statement must be precise enough to allow for a coherent argument and to remain focused on the topic. If the specific topic is options for individuals without health care coverage, then your precise thesis statement must make an exact claim about it, such as that limited options exist for those who are uninsured by their employers. You must further pinpoint what you are going to discuss regarding these limited effects, such as whom they affect and what the cause is.

Ability to be argued.  A thesis statement must present a relevant and specific argument. A factual statement often is not considered arguable. Be sure your thesis statement contains a point of view that can be supported with evidence.

Ability to be demonstrated.  For any claim you make in your thesis, you must be able to provide reasons and examples for your opinion. You can rely on personal observations in order to do this, or you can consult outside sources to demonstrate that what you assert is valid. A worthy argument is backed by examples and details.

Forcefulness.  A thesis statement that is forceful shows readers that you are, in fact, making an argument. The tone is assertive and takes a stance that others might oppose.

Confidence.  In addition to using force in your thesis statement, you must also use confidence in your claim. Phrases such as  I feel  or  I believe  actually weaken the readers’ sense of your confidence because these phrases imply that you are the only person who feels the way you do. In other words, your stance has insufficient backing. Taking an authoritative stance on the matter persuades your readers to have faith in your argument and open their minds to what you have to say.

Even in a personal essay that allows the use of first person, your thesis should not contain phrases such as  in my opinion  or  I believe . These statements reduce your credibility and weaken your argument. Your opinion is more convincing when you use a firm attitude.

Examples of Appropriate Thesis Statements

Each of the following thesis statements meets several of the following requirements:

  • Specificity
  • Ability to be argued
  • Ability to be demonstrated
  • Forcefulness
  • The societal and personal struggles of Troy Maxon in the play Fences symbolize the challenge of black males who lived through segregation and integration in the United States.
  • Closing all American borders for a period of five years is one solution that will tackle illegal immigration.
  • Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet spoils the outcome for the audience and weakens the plot.
  • J. D. Salinger’s character in Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is a confused rebel who voices his disgust with phonies, yet in an effort to protect himself, he acts like a phony on many occasions.
  • Compared to an absolute divorce, no-fault divorce is less expensive, promotes fairer settlements, and reflects a more realistic view of the causes for marital breakdown.
  • Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts. In today’s crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not significant enough education to land a stable, lucrative job.

You can find thesis statements in many places, such as in the news; in the opinions of friends, coworkers or teachers; and even in songs you hear on the radio. Become aware of thesis statements in everyday life by paying attention to people’s opinions and their reasons for those opinions. Pay attention to your own everyday thesis statements as well, as these can become material for future essays.

Now that you have read about the contents of a good thesis statement and have seen examples, take a look at the pitfalls to avoid when composing your own thesis:

A thesis is weak when it is simply a declaration of your subject or a description of what you will discuss in your essay.

Weak thesis statement:  My paper will explain why imagination is more important than knowledge.

A thesis is weak when it makes an unreasonable or outrageous claim or insults the opposing side.

Weak thesis statement:  Religious radicals across America are trying to legislate their Puritanical beliefs by banning required high school books.

A thesis is weak when it contains an obvious fact or something that no one can disagree with or provides a dead end.

Weak thesis statement:  Advertising companies use sex to sell their products.

A thesis is weak when the statement is too broad.

Weak thesis statement:  The life of Abraham Lincoln was long and challenging.

Writing at Work

Often in your career, you will need to ask your boss for something through an e-mail. Just as a thesis statement organizes an essay, it can also organize your e-mail request. While your e-mail will be shorter than an essay, using a thesis statement in your first paragraph quickly lets your boss know what you are asking for, why it is necessary, and what the benefits are. In short body paragraphs, you can provide the essential information needed to expand upon your request.

Thesis Statement Revision

Your thesis will probably change as you write, so you will need to modify it to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your essay. Remember  that your thesis statement begins as a  working thesis statement , an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing.

Working thesis statements often become stronger as you gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.

The best way to revise your thesis statement is to ask questions about it and then examine the answers to those questions. By challenging your own ideas and forming definite reasons for those ideas, you grow closer to a more precise point of view, which you can then incorporate into your thesis statement.

Ways to Revise Your Thesis

You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:

1. Pinpoint and replace all nonspecific words, such as  people ,  everything ,  society , or  life , with more precise words in order to reduce any vagueness.

Working thesis:  Young people have to work hard to succeed in life.

Revised thesis:  Recent college graduates must have discipline and persistence in order to find and maintain a stable job in which they can use and be appreciated for their talents.

The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard. The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words like  people  and  work hard , the writer can better focus his or her research and gain more direction in his or her writing.

2. Clarify ideas that need explanation by asking yourself questions that narrow your thesis.

Working thesis:  The welfare system is a joke.

Revised thesis:  The welfare system keeps a socioeconomic class from gaining employment by alluring members of that class with unearned income, instead of programs to improve their education and skill sets.

A joke  means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience. By asking questions, the writer can devise a more precise and appropriate explanation for  joke . The writer should ask himself or herself questions similar to the 5WH questions. By incorporating the answers to these questions into a thesis statement, the writer more accurately defines his or her stance, which will better guide the writing of the essay.

3. Replace any  linking verbs  with action verbs. Linking verbs are forms of the verb  to be , a verb that simply states that a situation exists.

Working thesis:  Kansas City schoolteachers are not paid enough.

Revised thesis:  The Kansas City legislature cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers.

The linking verb in this working thesis statement is the word  are . Linking verbs often make thesis statements weak because they do not express action. Rather, they connect words and phrases to the second half of the sentence. Readers might wonder, “Why are they not paid enough?” But this statement does not compel them to ask many more questions. The writer should ask himself or herself questions in order to replace the linking verb with an action verb, thus forming a stronger thesis statement, one that takes a more definitive stance on the issue:

  • Who is not paying the teachers enough?
  • What is considered “enough”?
  • What is the problem?
  • What are the results

4. Omit any general claims that are hard to support.

Working thesis:  Today’s teenage girls are too sexualized.

Revised thesis:  Teenage girls who are captivated by the sexual images on MTV are conditioned to believe that a woman’s worth depends on her sensuality, a feeling that harms their self-esteem and behavior.

It is true that some young women in today’s society are more sexualized than in the past, but that is not true for all girls. Many girls have strict parents, dress appropriately, and do not engage in sexual activity while in middle school and high school. The writer of this thesis should ask the following questions:

  • Which teenage girls?
  • What constitutes “too” sexualized?
  • Why are they behaving that way?
  • Where does this behavior show up?
  • What are the repercussions?

In your career you may have to write a project proposal that focuses on a particular problem in your company, such as reinforcing the tardiness policy. The proposal would aim to fix the problem; using a thesis statement would clearly state the boundaries of the problem and tell the goals of the project. After writing the proposal, you may find that the thesis needs revision to reflect exactly what is expressed in the body. Using the techniques from this chapter would apply to revising that thesis.

Important Concepts

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What is a thesis statement? [with example]

purpose thesis statement in an essay

  • What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is a concise description of the goal of your work. This element is one of the most essential components of academic writing , as it tells your readers what they can expect in your paper.

A thesis statement is the main argument of your paper or thesis.

If you find yourself in the process of writing a a paper, but you don't know how to create a thesis statement , you've come to the right place. In the next paragraphs, you will learn about the most important elements of a thesis statement and how to come up with one.

  • Purpose of a thesis statement

A thesis statement highlights the main topic, shows how it will evolve, and conveys clearly the aim of your work. It does not only share the topic but it conveys the conclusion you came up with.

A good thesis statement provides directions for the development of the topic throughout the paper. In sum, this element of academic writing is crucial to sound research .

  • How to write the best thesis statement

You can create a great thesis statement by following the format we outlined in our guide How to write a thesis statement .

In general, you should adhere to the following tips to write the best thesis statement:

  • Focus the main idea of your thesis into one or two sentences.
  • Write the answer to the main question of your topic.
  • Clearly state your position in relation to the topic.
  • Do not state the obvious. Give a disputable stance that requires evidence.

Tip: To check if your thesis is clear, explain it to a peer or colleague. If they are confused, then you likely need to re-write it.

  • Thesis statement example

Here's an example of a thesis statement:

In what follows, I will explore Fiorina’s position in more depth, focusing especially on her claim that technology is "a great tool for democratization." Ultimately, I argue that the primary problem with Fiorina’s stance lies in her laissez-faire understanding of technology. By granting technology a kind of independent existence apart from human motivation and intent—by positing that "technology permits anybody to play," as if it possesses an autonomy all its own—Fiorina unwittingly opens the way for the very kind of discriminatory and undemocratic mechanisms that her position seemingly rejects.

Tip: Once you finish your paper, return to your thesis statement to make sure that it reflects what you actually wrote.

  • Frequently Asked Questions about thesis statements

A thesis statement is part of the introduction of your paper. It is usually found in the first or second paragraph to let the reader know your research purpose from the beginning.

In general, a thesis statement should have one or two sentences. It really depends on your academic and expertise level. Take a look at our guide about the length of thesis statements, for more insight on this topic.

Here is a list of Thesis Statement Examples that will help you understand better how to write them.

Yes. Every good essay should include a thesis statement as part of its introduction. Of course, if you are a high school student you are not expected to have an extremely elaborate statement. A couple of clear sentences indicating the aim of your essay will be more than enough.

Here is a great YouTube tutorial showing How To Write An Essay: Thesis Statements .

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Thesis Statements

Thesis statements establish for your readers both the relationship between the ideas and the order in which the material will be presented. As the writer, you can use the thesis statement as a guide in developing a coherent argument. In the thesis statement you are not simply describing or recapitulating the material;  you are taking a specific position that you need to defend . A well-written thesis is a tool for both the writer and reader, reminding the writer of the direction of the text and acting as a "road sign" that lets the reader know what to expect. 

A thesis statement has two purposes: (1) to educate a group of people (the audience) on a subject within the chosen topic, and (2) to inspire further reactions and spur conversation. Thesis statements are not written in stone. As you research and explore your subject matter, you are bound to find new or differing points of views, and your response may change. You identify the audience, and your thesis speaks to that particular audience.

Preparing to Write Your Thesis: Narrowing Your Topic

Before writing your thesis statement, you should work to narrow your topic.   Focus statements  will help you stay on track as you delve into research and explore your topic.

  • I am researching ________to better understand ________.
  • My paper hopes to uncover ________about ________.
  • How does ________relate to ________?
  • How does ________work?
  • Why is ________ happening?
  • What is missing from the ________ debate?
  • What is missing from the current understanding of ________? 

Other questions to consider:

  • How do I state the assigned topic clearly and succinctly?
  • What are the most interesting and relevant aspects of the topic?
  • In what order do I want to present the various aspects, and how do my ideas relate to each other?
  • What is my point of view regarding the topic?

Writing a Thesis Statement

Thesis statements typically consist of a single sentence and stress the main argument or claim of your paper.  More often than not, the thesis statement comes at the end of your introduction paragraph; however, this can vary based on discipline and topic, so check with your instructor if you are unsure where to place it.

Thesis statement should include three main components:​

  • TOPIC  – the topic you are discussing (school uniforms in public secondary schools)
  • CONTROLLING IDEA  – the point you are making about the topic or significance of your idea in terms of understanding your position as a whole (should be required) 
  • REASONING  – the supporting reasons, events, ideas, sources, etc. that you choose to prove your claim​​ in the order you will discuss them. This section varies by type of essay and level of writing. In some cases, it may be left out (because they are more inclusive and foster unity) 

A Strategy to Form Your Own Thesis Statement

Using the topic information, develop this formulaic sentence:

I am writing about_______________, and I am going to argue, show, or prove___________.

What you wrote in the first blank is the topic of your paper; what you wrote in the second blank is what focuses your paper (suggested by Patrick Hartwell in  Open to Language ). For example, a sentence might be:

I am going to write about senior citizens who volunteer at literacy projects, and I am going to show that they are physically and mentally invigorated by the responsibility of volunteering.

Next, refine the sentence so that it is consistent with your style. For example:

Senior citizens who volunteer at literacy projects are invigorated physically and mentally by the responsibility of volunteering.

Here is a second example  illustrating the formulation of another thesis statement. First, read this sentence that includes both topic and focusing comment:

I am going to write about how Plato and Sophocles understand the proper role of women in Greek society, and I am going to argue that though they remain close to traditional ideas about women, the authors also introduce some revolutionary views which increase women's place in society.

Now read the refined sentence, consistent with your style:

When examining the role of women in society, Plato and Sophocles remain close to traditional ideas about women's duties and capabilities in society; however, the authors also introduce some revolutionary views which increase women's place in society.

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