Thesis Sentence

Any text written to inform, react, apply, analyze or persuade has a main idea. In the article about Crisco, for example, the main idea is that Crisco was one of the first food products to introduce and popularize marketing by brand, which allowed them to focus on concepts such as reliability and purity instead of ingredients. The main idea is not stated directly in one sentence, but is presented clearly in the article nonetheless.

On the other hand, if you look at the article “Everyday Life as a Text,” you’ll find a direct statement of the author’s main idea in the sentence that comes right after the introduction: “the data-intensive monitoring of everyday life offers some measure of soft control over audiences in a digital media landscape.”

In both cases, the “Crisco” article written to inform, and the “Everyday Life as Text” article written to persuade, a main idea is clear. If you thought consciously about your experience reading these articles, you might have identified their clarity as a good characteristic, as it helped you, as a reader, understand the message the author wanted to convey.

As a writer, you owe that same clarity to your reader. You do that through key sentences in your essay:

  • thesis sentence
  • topic sentences (explained on the next page)

Thesis – A Writer’s and Reader’s Map

In the days before Google Maps, when you went on a road trip, you needed to know the route. Say you’re in Utah, going to Moab from Salt Lake. You’d need to know to travel through Provo, then Spanish Fork, and – this is important – take the Highway 6 exit from I-15 at Spanish Fork. Highway 6 will lead to Helper and Price, where it merges with Highway 191 and leads to Green River and then on to Moab. You’d get the general idea in your head and mentally check off each town as you pass. If you miss the exit for Hwy 6 that leads to Price, you’ll find yourself 70 miles down I-15 in Scipio and, if you stop at one of the two gas stations for instructions, you’ll realize you’ve added 74 miles and an hour to your drive. It would be an adventure.

Your audience, often your instructor and peers, aren’t likely to be as adventurous. In fact, if you tell them you’re going one place and then go somewhere else, they may feel mistreated and annoyed. Academic writing is usually not a whimsical road trip. It’s more like your audience needs a ride to their job interview and they need to get there on time. Your thesis is your roadmap.

When composing your thesis, think, “What do I want my audience to know or think when they are done reading my essay?” Answer this question, and you’re on your way to a good thesis. Your thesis will probably change many times as you are composing and drafting, but in your final draft, the destination should be clear.

Your thesis outlines the essay

Consider this thesis for an essay whose purpose is to analyze the writing style of a document rather than the subject of that document:

Anne Lamott, in her essay “Shitty First Drafts,” effectively reassures her readers that the writing process is messy and doesn’t need to be perfect in the first drafting stages. She uses her ethos as a writer to convince her readers to shun perfectionism, pathos to help readers connect emotionally through her humor, and logos, suggesting a logical solution to overcoming the fear of writing: simply write a terrible first draft.

Notice a few things in this thesis:

  1. It makes a debatable assertion about a topic – the destination it intends to go to.
  2. It’s longer than one sentence, which is o.k.
  3. It uses guiding words to show what the essay will talk about, and in what order. Just as map will show you to drive through Provo, Spanish Fork, Helper, Price, and Green River to get to Moab, the thesis tells your audience they will read about ethos, pathos, and logos, which are writing devices.  Your reader will expect to read about them in that order.

Your thesis will help you set up a map or idea outline of an essay. The points in your thesis will be the sections of your outline.

DESTINATION (Thesis):

You and your passengers have all agreed to go to Moab, and they trust you as the driver to take them there. (You should arrive in Moab without delays or detours.)

THESIS (Destination):

Anne Lamott is effective in helping her readers know they don’t have to write perfect drafts. (By the end of the essay, readers should see that Anne Lamott is effective.)

MAPPED ROUTE (Outline):

  1. Provo
  2. Spanish Fork to Highway 6
  3. Pass through Helper and Price
  4. Highway 191 to Green River then Moab

OUTLINE (Mapped Route):

  1. She uses ethos (credibility)
  2. She also uses pathos (emotion/humor)
  3. She uses logos (a logical solution)
  4. Final destination: Lamott is effective

Don’t confuse major points for paragraphs. According to the outline above, the essay will have three major points: ethos, pathos, and logos. To properly cover the subject, you’ll want to have a few paragraphs for each of the points.

More About Thesis Sentences

A thesis sentence offers your main idea. In essays, a thesis sentence usually comes toward or at the end of the introductory paragraph, after you acclimate your reader to your topic. A thesis sentence is more than just a topic, though. It’s made up of a topic and an angle, which is an insight into, assertion, or claim about the topic. Together, the topic and angle make up the main idea. To put it another way, a thesis sentence makes a promise to your reader of 1) what you will be writing about (your topic), and 2) what your main assertion is about your topic (your angle). For college essays, make sure you always include a thesis sentence to keep yourself on track supporting your main idea, and to make that main idea absolutely clear for your reader.

Remember that a thesis is not a simple statement of what you will be writing about (topic). You always need to include that angle – your insight, assertion, or claim – about your topic in order to have an actual thesis sentence.

Not a Thesis: In this paper, I’m writing about current scientific research on cancer.

  • topic = current scientific research on cancer
  • angle = ? what’s the claim about this research?

Thesis: Current scientific research on cancer suggests that there are specific environmental factors that trigger specific types of cancer.

  • topic = current scientific research on cancer
  • angle = specific environmental factors trigger specific types
  • promise = the essay will offer evidence on specific environmental triggers for specific cancers

Not a Thesis: My husband and I decided that we are both “messy” people.

  • topic = messiness
  • angle = ? so what? what’s the debatable point?

Thesis: Although my husband defines “messy” differently than I do, we both agree that “messiness” resides in four qualities of mind, which we both–unfortunately–seem to share.

  • topic = messiness
  • angle = four qualities constitute messiness
  • promise = explanation and examples of the four qualities

In addition to having a topic and an angle, a good thesis sentence needs to be:

  • debatable – otherwise, you simply have a topic and not an angle or claim
  • supportable with reasons, examples, and evidence – otherwise, you may information that’s not logical
  • appropriate in scope – otherwise, you may be making a claim that’s too broad to support logically within a short essay, or a claim that’s too narrow to be supported with more than a few sentences or paragraphs

An excellent thesis sentence also:

  • includes an arguable issue or concept that can be analyzed with some complexity
  • sets that issue or concept in an interesting context

Thesis sentence examples

  • Basic Thesis: Online learning is becoming more prevalent and takes many different forms. (has a topic and angle, and is supportable, but the angle is broad. The angle would be more interesting if it offered an argument about an issue related to online learning.)
  • Good Thesis: Strong thesis: While most observers see it as a transformation of higher education, online learning is better thought of an extension of higher education in that it reaches learners who aren’t disposed to participate in traditional campus-based education.(has a topic and angle, angle is arguable, supportable, and well-specified)
  • Excellent Thesis: Online learning appears to be a promising way to better integrate higher education with other institutions in society, as online learners integrate their educational experiences with the other realms of their life, promoting the freer flow of ideas between the academy and the rest of society. (has a topic and angle, angle is arguable, supportable, and well-specified, angle contains implications that set the argument within a broader context)

  • Basic Thesis: Scientists disagree about the likely impact in the U.S. of the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM), an agricultural pest native to Australia. (has a topic and an angle, and the angle is supportable, but the angle is broad. The angle would be more interesting if it offered an argument about an issue related to the light brown apple moth.)
  • Good Thesis: Research findings to date suggest that the decision to spray pheromones over the skies of several southern Californian counties to combat the light brown apple moth was poorly thought out. (has a topic and angle, angle is arguable, supportable, and well-specified)
  • Excellent Thesis: Together, the scientific ambiguities and the controversial response strengthen the claim that industrial-style approaches to pest management are inherently unsustainable. (has a topic and angle, angle is arguable, supportable, and well-specified, angle contains implications that set the argument within a broader context)

How to Write a Thesis Sentence

After you prewrite for an essay, a usual next step is to create a working thesis sentence in order to start writing a draft. Know that you don’t have to create a perfect thesis sentence as you start writing; that’s why it’s called a “working thesis.” You just have to make sure you have a working topic and angle. You may edit and refine your working thesis sentence as you write, as long as you retain a topic and an angle.

The following video explains how to write a thesis sentence.

Regardless of how complicated the subject is, almost any thesis can be constructed by asking and then answering a question—this is one method of creating a thesis that works for many writers.

  • A question mark drawn in yellow chalk on black pavementQuestion: What are the benefits of using computers in a second-grade classroom?
    • Thesis: Computers provide second graders an early advantage in simple searching techniques.
  • Question: Why is the Mississippi River so important in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn?
    • Thesis: The Mississippi River symbolizes both division and progress in Huckleberry Finn, as it separates Huck and Jim while still providing the best chance for them to get to know one another.
  • Question: Why do people seem to get angry at vegans, feminists, and other “morally righteous” subgroups?
    • Thesis: Through careful sociological study, we’ve found that people naturally assume that “morally righteous” people look down on them as “inferior,” causing anger and conflict where there generally is none.

Then tailor your thesis to the type of paper you’re writing; the purpose of your essay will help you write a strong thesis.

  • Analytical: Breaks down something to better examine and understand it.
    • Thesis: The dynamic between different generations sparks much of the tension in King Lear, as age becomes a motive for the violence and unrest that rocks the king.
  • Argumentative: Makes a claim, or backs up an opinion, to change other peoples’ minds.
    • Thesis: Without the steady hand and specific decisions of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the U.S. would never have recovered from the great depression of 1929-1939.
  • Informative: Teaches or illuminates a point.
    • Thesis: The explosion of 1800’s philosophies such as Positivism, Marxism, and Darwinism undermined and refuted established religions’ focus on other-worldliness to instead focus on the real, tangible world.

Most thesis sentences for college essays will be analytical, or a combination of analytical and argumentative. If a writing assignment calls for an “essay” without any other explanation, assume that you’ll need to create and support an analytical or analytical/argumentative thesis sentence.

The following video offers an excellent explanation of how to write an analytical thesis sentence. As you view, make sure to pause the video at the points indicated, and try working on sample thesis sentences. (The video will open in a new window when you click on the image.)

Video thumbnail for Analytical Thesis Statement

USEFUL RESOURCE:

To help develop thesis sentences, you can use SUNY Empire State College’s Thesis Generator. For a general, non-research thesis, use the Persuasive Thesis option.

try it

decorative imageAll of the samples below are basic thesis statements. Try to make each basic thesis sentence stronger, applying the characteristics of a strong thesis sentence and aiming for a good or excellent thesis as your goal. There are many possible ways to develop these basic thesis statements. After trying it yourself, look at the possible answers to get some more ideas.

  1. Attending college as an adult student is difficult.

  1. Reading – both reading to a child and teaching a child to read – helps that child develop.

 

try it again…

Which of the samples below is a good thesis—with a clear topic and an angle that provides an assertion—for an essay based on ideas a reader develops from reading the article “How Crisco Toppled Lard?” Choose all sample thesis sentences that could be used for an essay intended to react to, apply concepts from, or analyze a concept developed from reading the text.

  1. When compared to Crisco, lard actually may be a healthier alternative to use for baking.
  2. Successful brand marketing relies on a number of factors, including a clear purpose, a focused customer base, creative messaging and, most of all, a public willing to accept the message, which needs to address current public sentiment.
  3. Because images in advertising art reflect their historic context, you can infer what’s important to the general public at different eras through analyzing ads.
  4. Crisco has a long and varied history.
  5. The use of fat has fallen out of favor in a health-conscious society; however, there are scientific reasons to use fat in baking as well as to include fats in a human diet, reasons we should be teaching in school so that students can make informed food choices.