Developing a Working Thesis Statement

Learning Objectives

  • Evaluate the role of a working thesis statement

Thesis Angles

Most writers can easily create a topic: squirrels, television viewing, the Patriot Act, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The more difficult part is creating an angle. But the angle is necessary as a means of creating interest and as a means of indicating the type and organization of the information to follow. Remember that a basic thesis sentence has both a topic and an angle. The topic is what you’re writing about, but the angle covers the main idea of what you’re conveying about that topic. For example, in the following thesis, the topic is exercise, and the angle is that it leads to benefits:

  • A regular exercise regime leads to multiple benefits, both physical and emotional.

Thesis Angles

Click on each of the thesis angles in the box below that you want to learn more about.

So what about this thesis sentence?

  • Adult college students have different experiences than traditionally-aged college students.

As a reader, you understand intuitively that the information to come will deal with the different types of experiences that adult college students have. But you don’t quite know if the information will deal only with adults, or if it will compare adults’ experiences with those of typical college students. And you don’t quite know what type of information will come first, second, third, etc.

Realize that a thesis sentence offers a range of possibilities for specificity and organization. As a writer, you may opt to pique reader interest by being very specific or not fully specific in your thesis sentence. The point here is that there’s no one standard way to write a thesis sentence.

Sometimes a writer is more or less specific depending on the reading audience and the effect the writer wants to create. Sometimes a writer puts the angle first and the topic last in the sentence, or sometimes the angle is even implied. You need to gauge your reading audience and you need to understand your own style as a writer. The only basic requirements are that the thesis sentence needs a topic and an angle. The rest is up to you.

Watch IT

This video reviews the importance of thesis statements and provides examples of how good thesis statements can guide your essay.

You can find the transcript for “How to Write a Killer Thesis Statement by Shmoop” here (opens in new window).

Thesis Creation

At what point do you write a thesis sentence? Of course, this varies from writer to writer and from writing assignment to writing assignment. You’ll usually do some preliminary idea development first, before a thesis idea emerges. And you’ll usually have a working thesis before you do the bulk of your research, or before you fully create the supporting details for your writing.

Think of the thesis as the mid-point of an hourglass.

You develop ideas for writing and prewriting, using various strategies, until a main idea or assertion emerges. This main idea or assertion becomes your point to prove—your working thesis sentence.

Once you have a working thesis sentence with your main idea, you can then develop more support for that idea, but in a more focused way that deepens your thinking about the thesis angle.

Realize that a thesis is really a working thesis until you finalize the writing. As you do more focused research, or develop more focused support, your thesis may change a bit. Just make sure that you retain the basic thesis characteristics of topic and angle.

Thesis Checklist

Thesis Checklist

When you draft a working thesis, it can be helpful to review the guidelines for a strong thesis. The following checklist is a helpful tool you can use to check your thesis once you have it drafted.

Common Problems

Although you have creative control over your thesis sentence, you still should try to avoid the following problems, not for stylistic reasons, but because they indicate a problem in the thinking that underlies the thesis sentence.

Thesis Problems

Thesis too broad

Hospice workers need support.

The sentence above actually is a thesis sentence; it has a topic (hospice workers) and an angle (need support). But the angle is very broad. When the angle in a thesis sentence is too broad, the writer may not have carefully thought through the specific support for the rest of the writing. A thesis angle that’s too broad makes it easy to fall into the trap of offering information that deviates from that angle.

Thesis too narrow

Hospice workers have a 55% turnover rate compared to the general health care population’s 25% turnover rate.

The above sentence really isn’t a thesis sentence at all, because there’s no angle idea to support. A narrow statistic, or a narrow statement of fact, doesn’t offer the writer’s own ideas or analysis about a topic. A clearer example of a thesis statement with an angle of development would be the following:

The high turnover rate in hospice workers (55 percent) compared to the general health care population (25 percent) indicates a need to develop support systems to reverse this trend.

Where to Place a Thesis?

In the U.S., it’s customary for most academic writers to put the thesis sentence somewhere toward the start of the essay or research paper. The focus here is on offering the main results of your own thinking in your thesis angle and then providing evidence in the writing to support your thinking.

A legal comparison might help to understand thesis placement. If you have seen television shows or movies with courtroom scenes, the lawyer usually starts out by saying, “My client is innocent!” to set the scene, and then provides different types of evidence to support that argument. Academic writing in the U.S. is similar; your thesis sentence provides your main assertion to set the scene of the writing, and then the details and evidence in the rest of the writing support the assertion in the thesis sentence.

NOTE: Although the usual pattern is “thesis sentence toward the start,” there may be reasons to place the thesis elsewhere in the writing. You may decide to place the thesis sentence at the end of the writing if your purpose is to gradually induce a reading audience to understand and accept your assertion. You may decide to place the thesis sentence in the middle of the writing if you think you need to provide relatively complicated background information to your readers before they can understand the assertion in your thesis.

As a writer, you have the option of placing the thesis anywhere in the writing. But, as a writer, you also have the obligation to make the thesis sentence idea clear to your readers. Beginning writers usually stick with “thesis sentence toward the start,” as it makes the thesis prominent in the writing and also reminds them that they need to stick with providing evidence directly related to that thesis sentence’s angle.

Link to Learning

Use this thesis generator from SUNY Empire State College to help you make your thesis statement—just plug in some of the details, and it can help you come up with a solid foundation!

Try It


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