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 in urban spaces, television viewing and young people, the Patriot Act and democracy, or tragedy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The more difficult part is creating an angle, or your major claim about a topic. The angle is necessary for your readers as a means of creating interest and 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 physical and emotional benefits.

Thesis Angles

Hover your cursor over the circles below to read more about thesis angles.

Let’s take a look at a thesis statement.

  • College students have experiences.

As a reader, you understand intuitively that the writer will deal with the different types of experiences that adult college students may have. However, you may not know what is significant about this age group and why it matters. How can we be more specific about who we are writing about and what is interesting about the topic? Let’s take a look at a revision that is a bit more specific.

  • College students over 30 have different work experiences that benefit their studies.

See the difference? We now have a specific topic (college students over 30) and a specific angle (their work experiences) along with why it matters (their work history will benefit their student skills). 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. Click through these slides to see a sample of a thesis checklist.

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 more support.

The sentence above actually is a thesis sentence; it has a topic (hospice workers) and an angle (need support). But the angle is too broad. When the angle in a thesis sentence is too broad, the writer needs to add specific support for the topic. A thesis angle that’s too broad may lead to a disorganized paper or you may lose sight of what you are trying to examine as a writer.

Thesis too narrow

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

The above sentence reads like a narrow statistic, or a narrow statement of fact, and does not 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.

This thesis moves us away from one location, and adds an idea on how to “reverse this trend.” The readers will not only learn about the topic, they will also understand the angle of the writer.

Where to Place a Thesis?

For writers in the United States, it is 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 United States 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. If you are not sure what to do, always consult your assignment and ask your teacher if you need guidance.

As a writer, you have the option of placing the thesis anywhere in the writing. For college assignments, you may be asked to make the thesis sentence idea clear to your readers. College writers usually stick with “thesis sentence toward the start,” as it makes the thesis prominent in the writing.

Link to Learning

Need help understanding thesis statements? Try 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! This is where you can use some of your prewriting or brainstorming to plug in details to create a working thesis statement. This is a great resource you can use in other classes.

Try It