Thesis Statement

Establishing the Thesis Statement

Thesis or Focus

Once you have a specific, narrow topic, you’ll want to be sure you bring that specific topic into your essay effectively and maintain focus on that specific topic. It can be easy to wander off topic in a long research paper, but a good research paper always has a strong focus. Information that does not directly relate to supporting your point or maintaining your focus shouldn’t be included in your research essay.

Some research assignments will require a specifically stated thesis statement, while other projects will simply require that you maintain a strong focus, without requiring a specific thesis. (21)

Drafting a Debatable Thesis

A thesis statement expresses the central arguments and establishes the focus of a piece of writing. Here is a simple formula for the thesis statement:

Narrowed Topic + Main Ideas = Thesis Statement

An effective thesis statement for a research argument should be debatable. Because humans communicate in a variety of ways, the following thesis statement on text messaging fits the criteria for a debatable thesis:

Although text messaging can often be a convenient mode of communication, overreliance on the practice can lead to insincerity, confusion, and a lack of depth in human communication.

This is certainly an open topic for debate, as many people born in the last two decades view text messaging as the preferred method for staying in touch with friends and family. But the practice is not without controversy. M.I.T. communications theorist Sherry Turkle has interviewed many young people who admit to avoiding important face-to-face conversations because of their discomfort with spontaneous conversation. (1)

Stating Your Thesis

Most traditional research essays will require some kind of explicitly stated thesis. This means you should state your thesis clearly and directly for your readers. A thesis is a statement of purpose, one to two sentences long, about your research, that is often presented at the beginning of your essay to prepare your audience for the content of your whole research paper. Your thesis is often presented at the end of your introductory paragraph or paragraphs.

Your thesis statement should state your topic and, in a persuasive research essay, state your assertion about that topic. You should avoid simply “announcing” your thesis and should work to make it engaging. A good thesis will answer the “so what?” question your audience might have about your research paper. A good thesis statement will tell your readers what your research paper will be about and, specifically, why it is important.

You should avoid thesis statements that simply announce your purpose. For example, in a research paper on health care reform, you should avoid a thesis statement like this:

In this essay, I will write about health care in the United States.

Instead, a good thesis statement on health care reform in the United States would be more specific and make a point that will help establish a clear purpose and focus for your essay. It might look something like this:

Although health care reform is a controversial topic in the United States, the need for strong reform is important, as too many Americans are living without access to health care.

Of course, not all research papers are persuasive. Some research papers can also be analytical. In developing a thesis for an analytical essay, you won’t make an argument, but you’ll still want to provide a specific statement about the purpose of your essay. A good analytical thesis statement might look something like this:

Analysis of high school dropout rates reveals that an emphasis on standardized testing plays a role in higher dropout rates among American high school boys, resulting in what some educational researchers call “the boy crisis.”(22)

Implying Your Thesis

Not all research papers will require an explicitly stated thesis. Some research papers in some fields will simply require a strong focus. You can maintain a strong focus in your essay without an explicitly stated thesis by thinking about an implied thesis for your research paper. With an implied thesis, your point is never stated directly, but your paper does have a clear focus or point. Even if you’re not stating your thesis directly, you should keep your implied thesis in mind as you write. All papers require a specific focus, and a good research paper will maintain that focus throughout. (23)

Identifying the Subdivisions of Your Essay

The body of your essay should feature the bulk of your research and support your thesis statement. Complex subjects often have numerous components that require discussion. Consider our sample thesis statement from the previous section:

Although text messaging can often be a convenient mode of communication, overreliance on the practice can lead to insincerity, confusion, and a lack of depth in human communication.

A research essay on this topic might logically explore these subdivisions in the order they are listed in the thesis statement. The essay would likely have an introduction that is a page or two in length, and then each of the three subdivisions would also stretch to a few pages.

The first subdivision on the lack of sincerity in some text messages might explore the subject from the perspective of texting to commemorate celebrations (graduations, anniversaries, and birthdays, for instance) and important life events, texting as a means of ending romantic relationships, and the nature of how we use punctuation in text messages. In fact, according to a recent study that was reported on NPR’s All Things Considered , researchers “at Binghamton University have found that ending your text with a period—full stop—may make you seem more insincere” (“You Should…”). These are the kinds of research findings that would support your viewpoint that text messaging is probably not the best option for communicating in some important situations.

Your next two subdivisions would cover the ways in which text messaging can lead to confusion in the communication act (typos, autocorrected terminology, and lack of emotional nuance), and also the lack of depth or complexity (language erosion) that often accompanies the practice.

It may be useful to think of each subdivision as a smaller essay that is subsumed within your larger argument. These subdivisions support your thesis by using examples, opinions, and theories, and you can connect them with transitional sentences or you can use headings to organize your essay. (1)