- Recognize an argumentative thesis
A strong, argumentative thesis statement should take a stance about an issue. It should explain the basics of your argument and help your reader to know what to expect in your essay.
This video reviews the necessary components of a thesis statement and walks through some examples.
Key Features of Argumentative Thesis Statements
Below are some of the key features of an argumentative thesis statement. An argumentative thesis is debatable, assertive, reasonable, evidence-based, and focused.
An argumentative thesis must make a claim about which reasonable people can disagree. Statements of fact or areas of general agreement cannot be argumentative theses because few people disagree about them. Let’s take a look at an example:
- Junk food is bad for your health.
This is not a debatable thesis. Most people would agree that junk food is bad for your health. Also what kind of junk food? Is there a way to make this thesis a bit more specific? A debatable thesis might be:
- Because junk food is bad for your health, the size of sodas offered at fast-food restaurants should be regulated by the federal government.
Reasonable people could agree or disagree with the statement. With this thesis statement, there is a more specific type of junk food (sodas), and there is call-to-action (federal regulation).
An argumentative thesis takes a position, asserting the writer’s stance. Questions, vague statements, or quotations from others are not argumentative theses because they do not assert the writer’s viewpoint. Let’s take a look at an example:
- Federal immigration law is a tough issue for American citizens.
This is not an arguable thesis because it does not assert a position. Start by asking questions about how to make this statement more specific. Which laws? What is the “tough issue” and why is it difficult? Take a look at this revision.
- Federal immigration enforcement law needs to be overhauled because it puts undue financial constraints on state and local government agencies.
This is an argumentative thesis because it asserts a position that immigration enforcement law needs to be changed. The “undue financial restraints” gives the writer a position to explore more.
An argumentative thesis must make a claim that is logical and possible. Claims that are outrageous or impossible are not argumentative theses. Let’s take a look at an example:
- City council members are dishonest and should be thrown in jail.
This is not an argumentative thesis. City council members’ ineffectiveness is not a reason to send them to jail unless they have broken the law. A more useful question is to ask why are they dishonest? What can they do to improve?
- City council members should not be allowed to receive cash incentives from local business leaders.
This is an arguable thesis because it is possible and reasonable to set ethical practices for business leaders.
An argumentative thesis must be able to be supported by evidence. Claims that presuppose value systems, morals, or religious beliefs cannot be supported with evidence and therefore are not argumentative theses. Let’s take a look at an example:
- Individuals convicted of murder have committed a sin and they do not deserve additional correctional facility funding.
This is not an argumentative thesis because its support rests on religious beliefs or values rather than evidence. Let’s dig a bit deeper to think about what specifically you can address as a writer and why it is important to your argument. Let’s take a look at this revision:
- Rehabilitation programs for individuals serving life sentences should be funded because these programs reduce violence within prisons.
This is an argumentative thesis because evidence such as case studies and statistics can be used to support it. The subject is a bit more specific (individuals serving life sentences) and the claim can be supported with research (programs that reduce violence within prisons).
An argumentative thesis must be focused and narrow. A focused, narrow claim is clearer, more able to be supported with evidence, and more persuasive than a broad, general claim. Let’s take a look at an example:
- The federal government should overhaul the U.S. tax code.
This is not an effective argumentative thesis because it is too general (Which part of the government? Which tax codes? What sections of those tax codes?). This is more of a book-length project and it would require an overwhelming amount of evidence to be fully supported. Let’s take a look at a revision:
- The U.S. House of Representatives should vote to repeal the federal estate tax because the revenue generated by that tax is negligible.
This is an effective argumentative thesis because it identifies a specific actor and action and can be fully supported with evidence about the amount of revenue the estate tax generates. By starting with a too broad focus, you can ask questions to create a more specific thesis statement.
In the practice exercises below, see if you can recognize and evaluate argumentative thesis statements. Keep in mind that a sound argumentative thesis should be debatable, assertive, reasonable, evidence-based, and focused. If you choose the incorrect response, read why it is not an argumentative thesis.