Process: Writing a Thesis Statement

Thesis statements are easy to construct if you:

  1. can condense your secondary sources — that you’ve read and understood — into a “main idea and argument” grid (explained below);
  2. answer a framework of organizational questions (also below).

These two steps can help to ensure that your thesis simultaneously situates an idea within a particular “conversation” and specifies a unique perspective/makes a new argument/contribution to the conversation.

Condensing Secondary Sources

  1. Include some brief information each of your secondary sources (books, journal articles, etc.) on a grid so that you can organize the authors’ main ideas and perspectives in one space. For instance:
Secondary Sources Grid
Author Main Idea Argument
Jones Climate change policy Climate change policy is at a standstill because the government is concerned about economic growth
Smith Climate change policy Climate change policy ought to be communicated as an ethical imperative because that will motivate the public to respond
Taylor Climate change policy Climate change policy needs to be communicated to the public by interdisciplinary teams of academics and politicians


    1. Once you’ve created an organizational table, you’ll want to examine it for commonalities/linkages among the authors’ ideas and arguments. In the example above, all authors have written about climate change policy, so now you know that you’ll need to include something like this phrase, “climate change policy,” in your thesis statement. Regarding the authors’ arguments, Jones argues about how climate change policy is affected by the government’s concern with economic growth; Smith argues that it needs to be communicated as an ethical imperative; and Taylor argues that it needs to be communicated by interdisciplinary teams.


    1. Given this information, the first half of your thesis – which explains the specific topic – needs to explain to the audience/reader that you are writing specifically about climate change policy. The second half of your thesis – which contextualizes the argument – needs to explain to the audience/reader your interpretation of these authors’ arguments. For instance, you may choose to argue that:
        1. climate change policy regarding the effect of government policies about economic growth is the greater imperative for accomplishing more effective climate change policies in the U.S.
      1. ethical imperatives are the motivating factor for encouraging the public to respond – causing academic institutions to work with government officials/decision-makers in responding to the public’s opinion/support of climate change policy as an ethical concern
    2. The examples above are hypothetical; and only two of the many, creative possibilities for interpreting an argument out of a specific topic. Whereas an argument seeks to persuade an audience/reader about a way of interpreting others’ information, a topic simply describes how to categorize/identify where the argument “fits” (i.e. which generalized group of people would be concerned with reading your writing)


  1. Hint: oftentimes, the authors of academic journal articles conclude their arguments by suggesting potential research questions that they believe ought to be addressed in future scholarship. These suggestions can potentially provide some really excellent information about how to begin articulating a unique argument about a specific topic.