A thesis can be found in many places—a debate speech, a lawyer’s closing argument, even an advertisement. But the most common place for a thesis statement (and probably why you’re reading this article) is in an essay.
Whether you’re writing an argumentative paper, an informative essay, or a compare/contrast statement, you need a thesis. Without a thesis, your argument falls flat and your information is unfocused. Since a thesis is so important, it’s probably a good idea to look at some tips on how to put together a strong one.
What is a “thesis statement” anyway?
You may have heard of something called a “thesis.” It’s what seniors commonly refer to as their final paper before graduation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That type of thesis is a long, well-written paper that takes years to piece together.
Instead, we’re talking about a single sentence that ties together the main idea of any argument. In the context of student essays, it’s a statement that summarizes your topic and declares your position on it. This sentence can tell a reader whether your essay is something they want to read.
2 Categories of Thesis Statements: Informative and Persuasive
Just as there are different types of essays, there are different types of thesis statements. The thesis should match the essay.
For example, with an informative essay, you should compose an informative thesis (rather than argumentative). You want to declare your intentions in this essay and guide the reader to the conclusion that you reach.
To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you must procure the ingredients, find a knife, and spread the condiments.
This thesis showed the reader the topic (a type of sandwich) and the direction the essay will take (describing how the sandwich is made).
Most other types of essays, whether compare/contrast, argumentative, or narrative, have thesis statements that take a position and argue it. In other words, unless your purpose is simply to inform, your thesis is considered persuasive. A persuasive thesis usually contains an opinion and the reason why your opinion is true.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best type of sandwich because they are versatile, easy to make, and taste good.
In this persuasive thesis statement, you see that I state my opinion (the best type of sandwich), which means I have chosen a stance. Next, I explain that my opinion is correct with several key reasons. This persuasive type of thesis can be used in any essay that contains the writer’s opinion, including, as I mentioned above, compare/contrast essays, narrative essays, and so on.
2 Styles of Thesis Statements
Just as there are two different types of thesis statements (informative and persuasive), there are two basic styles you can use.
The first style uses a list of two or more points. This style of thesis is perfect for a brief essay that contains only two or three body paragraphs. This basic five-paragraph essay is typical of middle and high school assignments.
C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is one of the richest works of the 20th century because it offers an escape from reality, teaches readers to have faith even when they don’t understand, and contains a host of vibrant characters.
In the above persuasive thesis, you can see my opinion about Narnia followed by three clear reasons. This thesis is perfect for setting up a tidy five-paragraph essay.
In college, five paragraph essays become few and far between as essay length gets longer. Can you imagine having only five paragraphs in a six-page paper? For a longer essay, you need a thesis statement that is more versatile. Instead of listing two or three distinct points, a thesis can list one overarching point that all body paragraphs tie into.
Good vs. evil is the main theme of Lewis’s Narnia series, as is made clear through the struggles the main characters face in each book.
In this thesis, I have made a claim about the theme in Narnia followed by my reasoning. The broader scope of this thesis allows me to write about each of the series’ seven novels. I am no longer limited in how many body paragraphs I can logically use.
Formula for a Strong Argumentative Thesis
One thing I find that is helpful for students is having a clear template. While students rarely end up with a thesis that follows this exact wording, the following template creates a good starting point:
___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.
Conversely, the formula for a thesis with only one point might follow this template:
___________________ is true because of _____________________.
Students usually end up using different terminology than simply “because,” but having a template is always helpful to get the creative juices flowing.
The Qualities of a Solid Thesis Statement
When composing a thesis, you must consider not only the format, but other qualities like length, position in the essay, and how strong the argument is.
Length: A thesis statement can be short or long, depending on how many points it mentions. Typically, however, it is only one concise sentence. It does contain at least two clauses, usually an independent clause (the opinion) and a dependent clause (the reasons). You probably should aim for a single sentence that is at least two lines, or about 30 to 40 words long.
Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.
Strength: Finally, for a persuasive thesis to be strong, it needs to be arguable. This means that the statement is not obvious, and it is not something that everyone agrees is true.
Example of weak thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make because it just takes three ingredients.
Most people would agree that PB&J is one of the easiest sandwiches in the American lunch repertoire.
Example of a stronger thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun to eat because they always slide around.
This is more arguable because there are plenty of folks who might think a PB&J is messy or slimy rather than fun.
Composing a thesis statement does take a bit more thought than many other parts of an essay. However, because a thesis statement can contain an entire argument in just a few words, it is worth taking the extra time to compose this sentence. It can direct your research and your argument so that your essay is tight, focused, and makes readers think.
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A thesis statement is one sentence that expresses the main idea of a research paper or essay. It makes a claim, directly answering a question. A thesis statement must be very specific, indicating statements that are about to be made in your paper and supported by specific evidence. Generally, your thesis statement can be the last line of the first paragraph in your research paper or essay.
It's worth reiterating that a good thesis statement is specific. If you find yourself using general words like "good," then you're not digging deep enough. For example, "European travel is a good way to spend your summer," is not specific enough. Why is European travel good? Further examine the heart of your topic and focus on very specific areas of European travel that you can realistically cover and support with solid evidence. "Solo European travel requires independence which, in the end, bolsters personal confidence." Now, you can hone in your research on solo travel through Europe, the need for independence, and its positive effect on personal confidence.
Finding Your Point of View
A good thesis statement is developed from the point of view of the reader. Be very careful you're not developing a topic that is of interest to you alone. This is a harsh yet necessary question to ask yourself: will my readers have any reason to care about what I'm writing? In the example above, readers might be interested in European travel but will they be interested in solo travel, and greater independence and confidence? Hopefully the answer is yes; just make sure you examine all viewpoints before investing your valuable time in a well-written piece.
A thesis statement is powerful on two fronts. First, it allows the reader to get excited about what, specifically, is coming their way. Second, it stands as the point of reference for your entire paper. Think of it as a loving mother steering her children away from danger. Essay writers run the risk of getting off track and wandering into thickly-wooded forests of needless tangents. (This is also why a well-planned outline is essential.) However, a strong thesis statement will help keep you in check; have you wandered off topic?
Thesis Statement Examples: Bad vs. Good
Bad: Everyone should exercise.
Why should I? What's in it for me?
Good: Americans should add exercise to their daily morning routine because it not only keeps their bodies at a healthy weight but also reduces the risk of high blood pressure.
Here, we've made several specifications i.e. Americans (not everyone), the morning routine (not the evening), weight maintenance, and high blood pressure prevention. Your research actually becomes easier when you have very specific objectives.
Bad: High levels of alcohol consumption are bad for you.
This is too broad. What are the specific detriments of alcohol consumption that you would like to discuss?
Good: High levels of alcohol consumption have detrimental effects on your personal health, such as weight gain, heart disease, and liver complications.
Notice we got very specific in our reasons why. In your thesis statement, you don't need to state every single detriment you're going to lay out (in fact, you shouldn't as it will risk becoming a run-on sentence) but you can point to the main areas you will explore.
Bad: Reading can develop a child's analytical mind.
Words like "can," aren't strong enough. This thesis statement begs the question of how? If you're about to write several paragraphs (or pages) about a topic make sure you can confidently defend every point you make.
Good: Reading develops a child's mind by fostering comprehension skills, increasing vocabulary, and exposing them to new worlds they might not otherwise encounter.
Now, we've not just stated that reading is good, we've provided a sampling of all the benefits we're about to bring to light in our paper.
Bad: All retirees should relocate to Florida.
Your research paper or essay will need to delve into numerous supporting claims. This broad thesis statement runs the risk of allowing you to go off on several tangents.
Good: Retirees should relocate to Florida, where 75% of Americans choose to settle, because you will afford yourself the opportunity to develop a wide array of friendships.
From here, you can introduce a paragraph on the importance of friendship and then cite studies or testimonials describing how people can discover these important new relationships.
Bad: The Internet has improved the lives of many.
Again, while readers may agree with this and your statement may be true, how has the Internet improved people’s lives? Also, you should run your thesis statement past the "What's in it for me" test. Why should readers care?
Good: The Internet serves as a means of expediently connecting people all across the globe, fostering new friendships and an exchange of ideas that wouldn't have occurred prior to its inception.
While the Internet offers a plethora of benefits, we're choosing to hone in on its ability to foster new friendships and exchange ideas. We'd also have to prove how this couldn't have happened prior to the Internet's inception – and that is good. The tighter your focus, the better your paper.
Bad: Organ donors should be financially compensated.
Why? What happens to them that causes you to take this stance?
Good: Given the grueling surgery and lifelong changes they endure, kidney donors should be financially compensated for their act of self-sacrifice.
There are many forms of living organ donation. As with any good thesis, you want to get as specific as possible. Now, our stance is clear and the reader will understand that we're about to describe the grueling process of kidney donation as well as any forthcoming lifestyle changes.
Always Be Specific
When searching for a new home, realtors will tell you there are three important factors: location, location, and location. When developing your one-sentence thesis statement, it is important for you to be: specific, specific, specific. Write your thesis statement once and then rewrite it again with greater specificity. Also, make sure your audience will want to learn these new facts and possibly embrace these new opinions. Now, you have a compass for your entire paper, keeping you safely on course.