Karen Asserts That A Thesis Statement

How to Write a Thesis Statement

What is a Thesis Statement?

Almost all of us—even if we don’t do it consciously—look early in an essay for a one- or two-sentence condensation of the argument or analysis that is to follow. We refer to that condensation as a thesis statement.

Why Should Your Essay Contain a Thesis Statement?

  • to test your ideas by distilling them into a sentence or two
  • to better organize and develop your argument
  • to provide your reader with a “guide” to your argument

In general, your thesis statement will accomplish these goals if you think of the thesis as the answer to the question your paper explores.

How Can You Write a Good Thesis Statement?

Here are some helpful hints to get you started. You can either scroll down or select a link to a specific topic.

How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned
How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned
How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One

How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned

Almost all assignments, no matter how complicated, can be reduced to a single question. Your first step, then, is to distill the assignment into a specific question. For example, if your assignment is, “Write a report to the local school board explaining the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class,” turn the request into a question like, “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” After you’ve chosen the question your essay will answer, compose one or two complete sentences answering that question.

Q: “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?”

A: “The potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class are . . .”


A: “Using computers in a fourth-grade class promises to improve . . .”

The answer to the question is the thesis statement for the essay.

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How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned

Even if your assignment doesn’t ask a specific question, your thesis statement still needs to answer a question about the issue you’d like to explore. In this situation, your job is to figure out what question you’d like to write about.

A good thesis statement will usually include the following four attributes:

  • take on a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree
  • deal with a subject that can be adequately treated given the nature of the assignment
  • express one main idea
  • assert your conclusions about a subject

Let’s see how to generate a thesis statement for a social policy paper.

Brainstorm the topic.
Let’s say that your class focuses upon the problems posed by changes in the dietary habits of Americans. You find that you are interested in the amount of sugar Americans consume.

You start out with a thesis statement like this:

Sugar consumption.

This fragment isn’t a thesis statement. Instead, it simply indicates a general subject. Furthermore, your reader doesn’t know what you want to say about sugar consumption.

Narrow the topic.
Your readings about the topic, however, have led you to the conclusion that elementary school children are consuming far more sugar than is healthy.

You change your thesis to look like this:

Reducing sugar consumption by elementary school children.

This fragment not only announces your subject, but it focuses on one segment of the population: elementary school children. Furthermore, it raises a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree, because while most people might agree that children consume more sugar than they used to, not everyone would agree on what should be done or who should do it. You should note that this fragment is not a thesis statement because your reader doesn’t know your conclusions on the topic.

Take a position on the topic.
After reflecting on the topic a little while longer, you decide that what you really want to say about this topic is that something should be done to reduce the amount of sugar these children consume.

You revise your thesis statement to look like this:

More attention should be paid to the food and beverage choices available to elementary school children.

This statement asserts your position, but the terms more attention and food and beverage choices are vague.

Use specific language.
You decide to explain what you mean about food and beverage choices, so you write:

Experts estimate that half of elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar.

This statement is specific, but it isn’t a thesis. It merely reports a statistic instead of making an assertion.

Make an assertion based on clearly stated support.
You finally revise your thesis statement one more time to look like this:

Because half of all American elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar, schools should be required to replace the beverages in soda machines with healthy alternatives.

Notice how the thesis answers the question, “What should be done to reduce sugar consumption by children, and who should do it?” When you started thinking about the paper, you may not have had a specific question in mind, but as you became more involved in the topic, your ideas became more specific. Your thesis changed to reflect your new insights.

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How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One

1. A strong thesis statement takes some sort of stand.

Remember that your thesis needs to show your conclusions about a subject. For example, if you are writing a paper for a class on fitness, you might be asked to choose a popular weight-loss product to evaluate. Here are two thesis statements:

There are some negative and positive aspects to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.

This is a weak thesis statement. First, it fails to take a stand. Second, the phrase negative and positive aspects is vague.

Because Banana Herb Tea Supplement promotes rapid weight loss that results in the loss of muscle and lean body mass, it poses a potential danger to customers.

This is a strong thesis because it takes a stand, and because it's specific.

2. A strong thesis statement justifies discussion.

Your thesis should indicate the point of the discussion. If your assignment is to write a paper on kinship systems, using your own family as an example, you might come up with either of these two thesis statements:

My family is an extended family.

This is a weak thesis because it merely states an observation. Your reader won’t be able to tell the point of the statement, and will probably stop reading.

While most American families would view consanguineal marriage as a threat to the nuclear family structure, many Iranian families, like my own, believe that these marriages help reinforce kinship ties in an extended family.

This is a strong thesis because it shows how your experience contradicts a widely-accepted view. A good strategy for creating a strong thesis is to show that the topic is controversial. Readers will be interested in reading the rest of the essay to see how you support your point.

3. A strong thesis statement expresses one main idea.

Readers need to be able to see that your paper has one main point. If your thesis statement expresses more than one idea, then you might confuse your readers about the subject of your paper. For example:

Companies need to exploit the marketing potential of the Internet, and Web pages can provide both advertising and customer support.

This is a weak thesis statement because the reader can’t decide whether the paper is about marketing on the Internet or Web pages. To revise the thesis, the relationship between the two ideas needs to become more clear. One way to revise the thesis would be to write:

Because the Internet is filled with tremendous marketing potential, companies should exploit this potential by using Web pages that offer both advertising and customer support.

This is a strong thesis because it shows that the two ideas are related. Hint: a great many clear and engaging thesis statements contain words like because, since, so, although, unless, and however.

4. A strong thesis statement is specific.

A thesis statement should show exactly what your paper will be about, and will help you keep your paper to a manageable topic. For example, if you're writing a seven-to-ten page paper on hunger, you might say:

World hunger has many causes and effects.

This is a weak thesis statement for two major reasons. First, world hunger can’t be discussed thoroughly in seven to ten pages. Second, many causes and effects is vague. You should be able to identify specific causes and effects. A revised thesis might look like this:

Hunger persists in Glandelinia because jobs are scarce and farming in the infertile soil is rarely profitable.

This is a strong thesis statement because it narrows the subject to a more specific and manageable topic, and it also identifies the specific causes for the existence of hunger.

Produced by Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

What is an argument?

An argument takes a stand on an issue that is debatable. It seeks to persuade an audience of a point of view in much the same way that a lawyer argues a case in a court of law. It is NOT a description or a summary.

  • This is an argument: “Although it may seem that internal discord and external barbarian invasions were separate problems for the Roman Empire in the fourth century, these developments were fundamentally interrelated and formed the single most important explanation for the long-term decline of Rome.”
  • This is not an argument: “In this paper, I will elucidate the reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire in the two tumultuous centuries leading up to the sack of its capital city in 410 by the notorious Visigoth king Alaric.”

What is a thesis?

A thesis statement states the main argument of your project and describes, briefly, how you will prove your argumentIn other words, it also states how you will organize your body of evidence in support of the argument.

  • This is an vague argument, and not yet a thesis: “The Roman Empire fell due to multiple interrelated reasons.”
  • This is a thesis: “The barbarian invasions from the late third to the early fifth century were a direct result of policy changes by the Roman government responding to political struggles within the empire, culminating in the collapse of the Roman Empire at the hands of the Germanic tribes from the north.”

A thesis makes a specific statement to the reader about what you will be trying to argue. Your thesis can be more than one sentence, but should not be longer than a paragraph. Do not state evidence or use examples in your thesis paragraph.

A Thesis Helps You and Your Reader

Your blueprint for writing:

  • Helps you focus and clarify your ideas.
  • Provides a “hook” on which you can “hang” your topic sentences.
  • Can (and should) be revised as you further refine your evidence and arguments. New evidence often requires you to change your thesis.
  • Gives your paper a unified structure and point.

Your reader’s blueprint for reading:

  • Serves as a “map” to follow through your paper.
  • Keeps the reader focused on your argument.
  • Signals to the reader your main points.
  • Engages the reader in your argument.

Tips for Writing a Good Thesis

  • Find a Focus: Choose a thesis that explores an aspect of your topic that is important to you, or that allows you to say something insightful about your topic. For example, if your project seeks to analyze women’s domestic labor during the late fifteenth century, you might decide to focus on the products they produced at home.
  • Look for Patterns: After determining a general focus, go back and look more closely at your evidence. As you re-examine your evidence and identify patterns, you will develop your argument and some conclusions. For example, you might find that as men’s access to professional training increased, women made fewer textiles at home, though they generally retained their production of butter and ale.

Strategies for Developing a Thesis Statement

Here are four ways to begin to develop your thesis. These will not necessarily result in a finished product, but will give you a place to start.

Strategy 1: Spend time ruminating over your topic. Make a list of the ideas you want to include in the essay, and then think about how to group them under several different headings. Often, you will see an organizational plan emerge from the sorting process.

Strategy 2: Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.

Main Idea: Women’s domestic labor during the later Middle Ages contributed to the growth of the early industrial economy in Europe.

Strategy 3: Use a formula to develop a working thesis statement (which you will need to revise later). Here are a few examples:

  1. Although most readers of _________ have argued that _________, closer examination shows that _________.
  1. ________ used _________ and _________ to prove that _________.
  1. Historical event “X” is a result of the combination of _________, _________, and _________.

Strategy 4: Since your project instructions asks you to develop a specific historical question, turn the question into an assertion and give reasons for your statement.

Research Question: How did women’s domestic labor change between 1348 and 1500? How were changes in their work important to late medieval economic culture in Germany?

Beginning thesis: Between 1348 and 1500 women’s domestic labor changed as women stopped producing home-made textiles, although they continued to produce butter and ale. With the cash women earned from the sale of butter and ale they purchased cloth imported from Flanders and Italy, which in turn, helped increase early industrial production in those areas.

These strategies all should help you develop two characteristics all thesis statements should have: they state an argument and they reveal how you will make that argument. Your thesis probably still needs revising but these strategies may provide a good start.

Refine, Refine, Refine

As you work on your project, your ideas will change and so will your thesis. Here are examples of weak and strong thesis statements.

  • Unspecific thesis: “Francis of Assisi was an important figure in the development of Christian attitudes about nature.”

This thesis lacks an argument. Why was Francis an important leader?

  • Specific thesis: “Francis of Assisi offered a new interpretation of Christian asceticism that responded to the frustrations felt my many urban dwellers with the commercial economy of the thirteenth century, while using simple religious language that attracted people who were uncomfortable with impenetrable scholastic theology of the period.”

This thesis has an argument: Francis’s interpretation of Christianity became popular because it satisfied two different frustrations felt by many people in thirteenth-century Europe.

  • Unspecific thesis: “At the end of the fifteenth century French women faced difficulty when they attempted to enter universities.”

No historian could argue with this general statement and uninteresting thesis.

  • Specific thesis: “At the end of the fifteenth century French women experienced misogynist attacks from scholastics when they petitioned to enter universities primarilybecause theologians were concerned with protecting the monopoly that males had on priesthood, which was required for entry into academia.”

This thesis statement asserts that theologians attacked women who wanted a formal education because they feared that if women were allowed into universities they would be granted clerical status, which might threaten the male monopoly on priesthood.

Making an Argument

Your thesis is defenseless without you to prove that its argument holds up under scrutiny. Your reader expects you to provide all of the evidence to prove your thesis. There are two categories of evidence that you can use:

  • Primary sources: treatises, letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, government documents, an organization’s meeting minutes and pamphlets.
  • Secondary sources: articles and books that explain and interpret historical events.

How can you use this evidence?

  • Make sure the examples you select from your available evidence address your thesis.
  • Use evidence that your reader will deem credible. This means sorting through your sources, and identifying the clearest and fairest. It also means paying careful attention to the credibility of the source. This is especially important when dealing with web-based sources. Be sure to understand the biases and shortcomings of each piece of evidence. When in doubt consult with your professor or teaching assistant.
  • Avoid broad generalizations that your reader may question by appealing to specific evidence.
  • Use evidence to address an opposing point of view. How do your sources give examples that refute another historian’s interpretation?

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