Writing in college often takes the form of a statement: convincing others that you have an interesting and logical point of view on the topic you're studying. This is a skill that is regularly practiced in everyday life. Convince your roommate to clean up, your parents to lend you the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or politician.
In college, course assignments often ask you to present a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argumentation, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction to the topic, you set out your point of view on it directly and often in a single sentence. This sentence is the statement of the thesis, and serves as a summary of the argument that you will expose in the rest of the work.
What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement tells the reader how they will interpret the importance of the topic being discussed. It is a roadmap for work; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the work. It answers the question directly. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or topic, not the topic itself. The subject of an essay may be World War II or Moby Dick; or maybe the thesis should offer a way of understanding the war or the novel.
The thesis makes a claim that others might refute. It is usually a single sentence at the beginning of the essay (most of the time, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents the argument to the reader. The rest of the work, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes the tests that will persuade the reader of the logic of its interpretation.
If the task asks you to adopt a position or develop a statement on a topic, you may need to convey that position or statement 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 that you will include it. When in doubt, ask your professor if the assignment requires a thesis statement. When a task asks you to analyze, interpret, compare, and contrast, demonstrate cause and effect, or take a position on a topic, you'll likely be asked to develop a thesis and support it persuasively. (See our brochure on understanding tasks for more information.)
How is a thesis developed?
A thesis is the result of a long process of reflection. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before developing an argument on any topic, you need to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as contrasts or striking similarities), and think about the meaning of these relationships. Once you've done this reflection, you'll probably have a "working thesis" that presents a basic or main idea and an argument that you think you can support with evidence. It is likely that both the argument and the thesis will need adjustments throughout the process.
Writers use all sorts of techniques to stimulate their thinking and help them clarify relationships or understand the broader meaning of a topic and come up with a thesis statement. For more ideas on how to get started, check out our brainstorming brochure.
Tips for writing the thesis statement
An analytical article breaks down a topic or idea into its components, evaluates the topic or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.
Maybe, an expository (explanatory) work explains something to the audience.
An argumentative work makes a claim about a topic and justifies it with specific evidence. The statement can be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a statement of cause and effect, or an interpretation. The aim of the argumentative work is to convince the audience that the statement is true based on the evidence provided.
If you're writing text that doesn't fall into these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph might still be useful to your reader.
The statement of the thesis must be specific: it must cover only what is going to be treated at work and must be supported by specific evidence.
Or maybe the statement of the thesis usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a work.
The topic may change as it is written, so it may be necessary to revise the thesis statement to reflect exactly what has been discussed in the work.
Example of analytical thesis statement
An analysis of the college admissions process reveals a challenge facing counselors: accepting students with high test scores or students with a strong extracurricular history.
The work that follows should:
Explain the analysis of the university admission process
Explain the challenge facing admissions advisors
Example of expository thesis statement (explanatory)
The life of the typical university student is characterized by the time he spends studying, attending class and socializing with his peers.
The following document should:
Explain how students spend their time studying, attending class and socializing with their peers
Example of argumentative thesis statement
High school graduates should be required to take a year off from performing community service projects before entering college in order to increase their maturity and global awareness.
The work that follows should:
Make an argument and give evidence to support the claim that students must undertake community projects before entering college
How do I know if my thesis is solid?
If you have time, check with your teacher or make an appointment at the Writing Center for feedback. Even if you don't have time to get advice somewhere else, you can do some evaluation of the thesis on your own. When reviewing your first draft and your working thesis, ask yourself the following:
Do I answer the question? Rereading the question after constructing a working thesis can help you correct an argument that doesn't fit the focus of the question. If the question is not formulated as such, try to rephrase it. For example, "Discuss the effect of X on Y" can be reformulated as "What is the effect of X on Y?".
Have I taken a position that others might question or oppose? If your thesis is limited to expounding facts that no one would, or even might, disagree with, you may be merely offering a summary, rather than presenting an argument.
Other question we should ask ourselves
Is my thesis specific enough? Overly vague thesis statements do not usually have a solid argument. If your thesis contains words like "good" or "successful," see if you can be more specific: why is something "good"?
Does my thesis pass the "what's" test? If the reader's first answer is "So what?", you need to clarify, establish a relationship, or connect with a broader topic.
Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without ramsing? If your thesis and the body of your essay don't seem to go together, one of them has to change. It's okay to change your thesis to reflect the things you've discovered in the course of writing your essay. Remember that you should always reevaluate and revise your writing when necessary.
Does my thesis pass the "how and why" test? If the reader's first answer is "how?" or "why?", your thesis may be too open and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better view of your position from the start.
Easy tests to identify the strength of your thesis
Let's say you're taking a course on contemporary communication and the instructor hands you the following essay task: "Discuss the impact of social media on public awareness." When reviewing your notes, you could start with this working thesis:
Social media influences public awareness in a positive and negative way.
You can use the above questions to help you revise this general statement and turn it into a more robust thesis.
Do I answer the question?
You can analyze this by reformulating "discuss the impact" as "what is the impact?". In this way, you can see that you have answered the question only in a very general way with the vague "positive and negative forms".
Have I taken a position that others might question or oppose?
It's not likely. Only people who argue that social media has an exclusively positive or exclusively 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 its causes? Why are they negative? How are they negative? What are its causes?
Does my thesis pass the "So what?" test?
No. Why should someone care about the positive and/or negative impact of social media?
After reflecting on the answers to these questions, you decide to focus on the impact that interests you most and for which you have solid evidence
Since not all voices on social media are reliable, people have become much more critical consumers of information and therefore more informed voters.
This version is a much stronger thesis. Answer the question, take a specific position that others may question, and give an idea of why it's important.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Let's try another one. Suppose your literature teacher gives you 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 take a paper pad and write:
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a great American novel.
You start analyzing your thesis
Do I answer the question? No. The question asks you to analyze some aspect of the novel. Your thesis is a statement of general appreciation of the entire novel.
Think of the aspects of the novel that are important to its structure or meaning; for example, the role of storytelling, contrasting scenes between the bank and the river, or relationships between adults and children.
Now write you
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 question or oppose? Not really. This contrast is well known and accepted.
Is my thesis statement specific enough? He is succeeding: he has highlighted an important aspect of the novel for his research. However, it's not yet clear what your analysis will reveal.
Does my thesis pass the "how and why" test? Not yet. Compare the scenes in the book and see what you discover. Write freely, make lists, write down Huck's actions and reactions, and anything else you find interesting.
Does my thesis pass the "what's" test? What is the point of this contrast? What does it mean?".
After examining the evidence and considering your own ideas, write:
Through his contrasting scenes on the river and on the shore, Twain's Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must abandon "civilized" society and return to nature.
This final thesis presents an interpretation of a literary work based on the analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence of the novel that convinces the reader of your interpretation.
Examples of thesis statements
A thesis statement is a phrase that expresses the main idea of a research work or essay, such as an expository or argumentative essay. He makes a statement, directly answering a question.
As you can see in the examples of thesis statements below, you must be very specific, summarizing the points that will be exposed in your work and relying on specific tests. Usually, the thesis statement can be the last line of the first paragraph of your research or essay work.
Statement of the thesis: The bad and the good
It is worth reiterating that a strong thesis statement is specific. If you find yourself using general words like "good," then you're not delving deep enough.
For example, saying that "travelling around Europe is a good way to spend the summer" is not specific enough. Why is it good to travel around Europe? Take a closer look at the core of your topic and focus on very specific areas of travel around Europe that you can realistically cover and support with solid evidence.
"European solo travel requires independence, which, in the end, strengthens personal confidence." This is much more specific and targeted. Now you can fine-tune your research on solo travel around Europe, the need for independence and its positive effect on personal trust.
Here are six other examples of thesis statements for you to consider:
Bad: Everyone should exercise.
- Why should I? What does it give me?
Good: Americans should add exercise to their daily morning routine because it not only keeps their body at a healthy weight, but also reduces the risk of hypertension.
- Here we have made several specifications: Americans (not everyone), the morning routine (not the night), weight maintenance and the prevention of hypertension. Research becomes easier when you have very specific objectives.
Bad: High levels of alcohol consumption are bad for you.
- This is too broad. What are the specific harms of alcohol consumption that you would like to discuss?
Good: High levels of alcohol consumption have detrimental effects on personal health, such as weight gain, heart disease, and liver complications.
- Notice that we have been very specific in our reasons. In the statement of the thesis, it is not necessary that you indicate all the harms that you are going to expose (in fact, you should not do it, since you run the risk of it becoming an endless sentence), but you can point out the main areas that you are going to explore.
Bad: Reading can develop a child's analytical mind.
- Words like "may" are not strong enough. This thesis statement raises the question of how? If you're writing multiple paragraphs (or pages) about a topic, make sure you can safely defend each of your points.
Good: Reading develops children's minds by building understanding capacity, increasing vocabulary, and exposing them to new worlds they wouldn't otherwise find.
- Now, not only have we stated that reading is good, but we have provided a taste of all the benefits that we are going to bring to light in our article.
Bad: All retirees should move to Florida.
- Your research work or essay will have to delve into numerous supporting claims. This broad statement of thesis runs the risk of allowing him to go off on a tangent.
Ok: Retirees should move to Florida, where 75% of Americans decide to settle, because they will be given the opportunity to develop a wide range of friendships.
- From here, you can introduce a paragraph on the importance of friendship and then cite studies or testimonies that describe how people can discover these new and important relationships.
Bad: The Internet has improved the lives of many.
- Again, even if readers agree with this and your claim is true, how has the Internet improved people's lives? In addition, you must submit your thesis statement to the "What's in it for me? Why should readers care?
Well: the Internet serves as a means of quickly connecting people around the world, fostering new friendships and an exchange of ideas that would not have occurred before its creation.
- Although the Internet offers a number of benefits, we have decided to focus on its ability to foster new friendships and exchange ideas. We would also have to show that this could not have happened before the creation of the Internet, and that is a good thing. The more focused you are, the better the newspaper will be.
Bad: Organ donors must be compensated financially.
- Why? What happens to them to make you adopt this position?
Good: Given the exhausting surgery and life-long changes they endure, kidney donors should be financially compensated for their act of selflessness.
- There are many forms of organ donation in life. As in any good thesis, you have to be as specific as possible. Now, our position is clear and the reader will understand that we are about to describe the exhausting process of kidney donation as well as the lifestyle changes that lie ahead.
How to find the point of view
A good thesis statement develops from the reader's point of view. Be very careful not to develop a topic that only interests you. This is a tough but necessary question to ask yourself: will my readers have any reason to be interested in what I'm writing?
In the example above about travel around Europe, readers might be interested in travelling in Europe, but will they be interested in travelling alone and having more independence and confidence? Hopefully, the answer will be yes. Just make sure you examine all points of view before investing your valuable time in a well-written article.
A thesis statement is powerful on two fronts. First, it allows the reader to get excited about what, in particular, awaits them. Secondly, it is the reference point of the whole article.
She thinks of it as a loving mother who keeps her children away from danger. Essay writers run the risk of straying out of the way and into thick forests of unnecessary tangents. (That's why a well-planned scheme is also essential.) However, a solid statement of the thesis will help you maintain control. Check back and ask yourself if you've strayed from the topic.
Always be specific
When looking for a new home, real estate agents will tell you that there are three important factors: location, location, and location. When developing your single-sentence thesis statement, it is important that it be: specific, specific, specific. Write your thesis statement once and then rewrite it with greater specificity.
Also, make sure your audience will want to learn these new facts and possibly adopt these new opinions. Now you have a compass for all your work, which keeps you safe on the course.
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The Thesis Statement