Thesis Hints

Function of the Thesis

As a writer, everything you do sends a message to readers. Your thesis should be the best sentence in your paper. Everything else should be related to the thesis. If it isn’t, then it doesn’t belong there. Here’s an interesting definition: “The thesis is a provable opinion about which others may disagree.” A well-worded thesis sets out what you will prove and offers a glimpse at your logic. It may show the other side, too, if that’s what your task calls for.

What most Writers Fail to Do

Most people write essays where the body paragraphs don’t match up with what they say they’ll do in the paper. They have not reworded the working thesis that got them through the prewriting and drafting stages. Refine the thesis as you get a clearer idea of what you’ll be able to prove. Make sure that the thesis reflects what the paper actually does.

Another weak point occurs when writers string together several questions in their introduction–and then hit readers with their thesis. They haven’t answered the questions fully, and they are probably copying the questioning tactic from something they saw on television or read in a newspaper. Academic writing is a more formal situation, so “dress up” your style and the amount of previewing you will do. If you structure the introduction properly, the thesis will appear later in the introduction after it has been set up.

Preview what you will do in the paper. It’s always necessary. However, it can be as easy as listing your major paragraph topics. I’ll expect you to improve the introduction beyond these basic expectations. Preview at the start, though–and review with care at the end. If you don’t, we won’t care or remember.

Definition of Thesis

A thesis is a provable opinion about which reasonable people may disagree. You’re familiar with writing these. It is helpful to remember a few things about good thesis statements:

A thesis is an opinion , not a fact. It’s not useful to write a five-page paper with the thesis: “I really, strongly, vehemently believe that the Civil War was most likely fought between 1861 and 1865.” Prove something about which people disagree.

Using my famous “Goldilocks principle,” decide whether your thesis is appropriate to the scale of the assignment. Is it too large, too specific, or “just right” for your task? The answer depends on your audience, purpose, and assignment information, so read it!


Keep the tone confident. It’s a thesis statement, not a thesis question. You are the person answering questions, not just asking them (so don’t overuse rhetorical, unanswered questions). Avoid using “I” as well. For example, if I say, “Alice, close the door,” my statement assumes “I want you to close the door, Alice.” I didn’t need to say “I” to communicate here, right? The same usually goes with academic writing. Avoid “I” or “you.” (There’s nothing like me getting a paper with the writer carelessly mentioning “When you are pregnant. . .”)

Where it Goes

Placement ? Put the thesis near/at the end of the paragraph. Lead up to it with careful setup.

Finally, expect that you’ll rework the thesis as you go along. You might create a working thesis out of a question, turning it into an answer as you prewrite. Sharpen it as you proceed!

Editing Checklist

To help your editing and drafting, here are some questions you can ask/answer about the thesis:

  • Is the thesis limited enough for a short paper? How so?
  • Have you included enough strong points to prove your thesis?
  • What is the pattern your essay follows? List argument’s sides and rhetorical modes (i.e., definition, narration, compare and contrast, etc.).
  • Do you do enough to prove a number of points that support your thesis? (Remember that proving a point to doubting readers takes more time than you might expect.)
  • Where could you include additional information to make the argument more persuasive?
  • Did you refute at least one major opposing argument? Which one?
  • Describe two of the tones you adopted at different places in the essay, and tell why they are appropriate.
  • List your restated thesis that you put in the conclusion paragraph. (If you didn’t put one in, then write one here, copy it in your notes, and put it into the paper.)