How to Write 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
• to test your ideas by distilling
them into a sentence or two
• to better organize and develop
• 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 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 that 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 dass,” turn that request into a question like “What are the potential benefits of
using computers in a fourth-grade class?” After you’ve chosen the one 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
A: Using computers in a fourth—grade
class promises to improve
How to Develop a Thesis Statement If the Topic Is Not Assigned
If your assignment doesn’t ask a
specific question, or If there is no specific assignment, 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 attributes:
• it deals with a subject that can
be adequately treated given the nature of the assignment.
• it expresses one main idea.
• it takes on a subject upon which
reasonable people could disagree.
• it asserts your conclusions about
Here’s how to generate a thesis statement
for a social policy paper. Let’s say that your class focuses on the problems posed by drug addiction. You find that
you are interested in the problems of crack babies, babies born to mothers addicted to crack cocaine. 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 crack
Your readings on the topic, however, have
led you to the conclusion that not only do these babies have a difficult time surviving premature births and withdrawal symptoms,
but their lives will be even harder as they grow up because they are likely to be raised in an environment of poverty and
neglect. You think that there should be programs to help these children. You
change your thesis statement to look like this:
Programs for crack kids.
This fragment not only announces your subject,
but it focuses on one main idea: programs. Furthermore, it raises a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree, because
while most people might agree that something needs to be done for these children, not everyone would agree on what should
be done or who should do it. Still, the fragment is not a thesis statement because your reader doesn’t know your conclusions
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 in addition to programs for crack babies,
the government should develop programs to help crack children cope and compete. You revise your thesis statement to look like
More attention should be paid to the environment crack kids grow up in.
This statement asserts your position, but
the terms more attention and the environment are vague. You decide to explain what you mean about the environment are vague. You decide to explain what you mean about the environment, so you write:
Experts estimate that half of crack babies will grow up in hone environments lacking rich cognitive and emotional
This statement is specific, but it isn’t
a thesis. It merely reports a statistic instead of making an assertion. You revise your thesis statement again to look like
half of all crack babies are likely to grow up in homes lacking good cognitive and emotional stimulation, the federal government
should finance programs to supplement parental care for crack kids.
Notice that this thesis answers the question,
“What should be done for crack kids, and why?” 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 also
became more specific to reflect your new insights. Your ideas about a topic may change over the process of writing a paper.
Keep in mind that your thesis statement may need to be revised as you write and revise your paper, to reflect your changing
ideas on a subject.
How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement From a
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 for such a paper:
There are many positive and negative aspects to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.
This is a weak thesis, because it fails
to take a stand. In addition, the phrase negative and positive aspects is vague.
Because the 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 consumers.
This is a strong thesis statement because it takes a stand, and because
A strong thesis justifies discussion
It should be possible for reasonable people
to disagree on the subject you’re exploring in your paper. Because a good thesis indicates your point of view on this
subject, it should justify discussion of the topic. 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 statement because
it merely states an observation. It doesn’t justify any discussion on the topic, so your reader is likely to stop reading
your essay after encountering it.
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; thus, it justifies discussion of this topic. A good strategy for creating
a strong thesis is to show how a topic is controversial. Readers wilt be interested in reading the rest of your essay to see
how you support your point.
A strong thesis expresses one main idea
Readers need to be able to see that your
paper has one main point. If your thesis 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
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 be made clearer. One way to revise the thesis statement 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 statement because
it shows the relationship between two ideas. Hint: a great many dear and engaging thesis statements contain words like because,
since, so, although, unless, and however.
A strong thesis
statement is specific
A strong thesis statement shows your reader
exactly what your paper will be about. Making your thesis statement specific will also help you restrict your paper to a manageable
subject. For example, if you’re writing a 7 to 10 page paper on hunger, you might say:
World hunger has many causes and effects.
This is a weak thesis statement for two major masons. First, world hunger can’t be discussed thoroughly in
7 to 10 pages. Second, many causes and effects is vague; you need to identify specific causes and effects. A revised thesis
might look tike this:
Hunger persists in Appalachia
because jobs are scarce and farming in the infertile soil is rarely profitable.
This is a strong thesis because it narrows the subject to a more specific and manageable topic, and it also identifies
some specific causes for the existence of hunger.
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