- Identify strong thesis statements
The thesis statement is the key to most academic writing. The purpose of academic writing is to offer your own insights, analyses, and ideas—to show not only that you understand the concepts you’re studying, but also that you have thought about those concepts in your own way and agreed or disagreed, or developed your own unique ideas as a result of your analysis. The thesis statement is the one sentence that encapsulates the result of your thinking, as it offers your main insight or argument in condensed form.
We often use the word “argument” in English courses, but we do not mean it in the traditional sense of a verbal fight with someone else. Instead, you “argue” by taking a position on an issue and supporting it with evidence. Because you’ve taken a position about your topic, someone else may be in a position to disagree (or argue) with the stance you have taken. Think about how a lawyer presents an argument or states their case in a courtroom—similarly, you want to build a case around the main idea of your essay. For example, in 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted “The Declaration of Sentiments,” she was thinking about how to convince New York State policymakers to change the laws to allow women to vote. Stanton was making an argument.
Some consider all writing a form of argument—or at least of persuasion. After all, even if you’re writing a letter or an informative essay, you’re implicitly trying to persuade your audience to care about what you’re saying. Your thesis statement represents the main idea—or point—about a topic or issue that you make in an argument. For example, let’s say that your topic is social media. A thesis statement about social media could look like one of the following sentences:
- Social media harms the self-esteem of American pre-teen girls.
- Social media can help connect researchers when they use hashtags to curate their work.
- Social media tools are not tools for social movements, they are marketing tools.
A basic thesis sentence has two main parts:
- Topic: What you’re writing about
- Angle: What your main idea is about that topic, or your claim
Example Thesis Statements
Thesis: A regular exercise regime leads to multiple benefits, both physical and emotional.
Topic: Regular exercise regime
Angle: Leads to multiple benefits
Thesis: Adult college students have different experiences than typical, younger college students.
Topic: Adult college students
Angle: Have different experiences
Thesis: The economics of television have made the viewing experience challenging for many viewers because shows are not offered regularly, similar programming occurs at the same time, and commercials are rampant.
Topic: Television viewing
Angle: Challenging because shows shifted, similar programming, and commercials
When you read all of the thesis statements above, can you see areas where the writer could be more specific with their angle? The more specific you are with your topic and your claims, the more focused your essay will be for your reader.
Identifying the Thesis Statement
You’ll remember that the first step of the reading process, previewing, allows you to get a big-picture view of the document you’re reading. This way, you can begin to understand the structure of the overall text. The most important step of understanding an essay or a book is to find the thesis statement.
A thesis consists of a specific topic and an angle on the topic. All of the other ideas in the text support and develop the thesis. The thesis statement is often found in the introduction, sometimes after an initial “hook” or interesting story; sometimes, however, the thesis is not explicitly stated until the end of an essay. Sometimes it is not stated at all. In those instances, there is an implied thesis statement. You can generally extract the thesis statement by looking for a few key sentences and ideas.
Most readers expect to see the point of your argument (the thesis statement) within the first few paragraphs. This does not mean that it has to be placed there every time. Some writers place it at the very end, slowly building up to it throughout their work, to explain a point after the fact. Others don’t bother with one at all but feel that their thesis is “implied” anyway. Beginning writers, however, should avoid the implied thesis unless certain of the audience. Almost every professor will expect to see a clearly discernible thesis sentence in the introduction.
Thesis statements vary based on the rhetorical strategy of the essay. Thesis statements typically share the following characteristics:
- presents the main idea
- is one sentence
- tells the reader what to expect
- summarizes the essay topic
- presents an argument
- is written in the third person (does not include the “I” pronoun)
The following “How to Identify a Thesis Statement” video offers advice for locating a text’s thesis statement. It asks you to write one or two sentences that summarize the text. When you write that summary, without looking at the text itself, you’ve most likely paraphrased the thesis statement.
Writing a Thesis Statement
Remember your thesis should answer two simple questions: What topic are you writing about, and what is your position, or angle, on the topic?
A thesis statement is a single sentence (or sometimes two) that provides the answers to these questions clearly and concisely. Ask yourself, “What is my paper about, exactly?” Answering this question will help you develop a precise and directed thesis, not only for your reader, but for you as well.
A good thesis statement will:
- Consist of just one interesting idea
- Be specific and written clearly
- Have evidence to support it
A good basic structure for a thesis statement is “they say, I say.” What is the prevailing view, and how does your position differ from it? However, avoid limiting the scope of your writing with an either/or thesis under the assumption that your view must be strictly contrary to their view.
Following are some typical thesis statements:
- Although many readers believe Romeo and Juliet to be a tale about the ill fate of two star-crossed lovers, it can also be read as an allegory concerning a playwright and his audience.
- The “War on Drugs” has not only failed to reduce the frequency of drug-related crimes in America but actually enhanced the popular image of dope peddlers by romanticizing them as desperate rebels fighting for a cause.
- The bulk of modern copyright law was conceived in the age of commercial printing, long before the Internet made it so easy for the public to compose and distribute its own texts. Therefore, these laws should be reviewed and revised to better accommodate modern readers and writers.
- The usual moral justification for capital punishment is that it deters crime by frightening would-be criminals. However, the statistics tell a different story.
- If students really want to improve their writing, they must read often, practice writing, and receive quality feedback from their peers.
- Plato’s dialectical method has much to offer those engaged in online writing, which is far more conversational in nature than print.
Thesis Problems to Avoid
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.
Practice identifying strong thesis statements in the following interactive.
argument: in writing, the argument is the main stance, claim, or position that is supported with evidence
explicit thesis: a clear and direct statement of the writer’s claim
thesis statement: a statement of the topic of the piece of writing and the angle the writer has on that topic