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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CRLS Research Guide
Writing A Thesis StatementTip Sheet 13
Ask these questions:
What is it?
A thesis statement is a strong statement that you can prove with evidence. It is not a simple statement of fact. A thesis statement should be the product of your own critical thinking after you have done some research. Your thesis statement will be the main idea of your entire project. It can also be thought of as the angle or point of view from which you present your material.
When do I write it?
You will develop a thesis statement about your research topic after you have written a Statement of Purpose and done some actual research into the topic. You will then present your thesis statement in your introduction, prove it with evidence in the body of your paper, project, or presentation, and finally restate it along with a summary of your evidence in your conclusion.
How do I write it?
- Look again at your Statement of Purpose
- Look at the kinds of information you have been finding while taking notes.
- Decide what kind of statement you have enough evidence to prove.
(Be sure that you have done enough research to make a strong argument. You may be challenged.)
- Write that as your thesis statement.
There are many ways to approach writing a thesis statement.
Just make sure that it is not simple a fact and that you can support it with good evidence from reliable sources.
Here are some ways to approach it:
- Define a problem and state your opinion about it
- Discuss the current state of an issue or problem and predict how it might resolve
- Put forth a possible solution to a problem
- Look at an issue/topic from a new, interesting perspective
- Theorize how the world might be different today if something had/had not happened in the past
- Compare two or more of something similar and give your rating about them (cars, authors,computers, colleges, books)
- Put out your ideas about how something was influenced to be the way it is or was (music, art, political leadership, genocide)
What does it look like?
"I want to learn about what has influenced the music of 50 cent."
The music of 50 cent has been heavily influenced by (you fill in the blank).
"I want to find out some ways to stop teen gang activity."
Teen gang activity in the United States can be stopped by a combined approach which consists of supervised youth programs, more job availability, and closer family relationships.
Teenage gang activity can only be stopped with early education in the public school systems.
"I want to know how close we are to a cure for AIDS."
Although much research has gone into finding a cure for the AIDS virus, we are no closer to a real cure than we were when the disease first became known.
After years of research , scientists are on the verge of discovering a cure for the AIDS virus.
"I want to know why Christians and Muslims fought so hard with each other during the middle ages."
Even though Christians and Muslims were supposedly fighting for religious dominance in the medieval world, their motives were strongly affected by the desire for land and economic power.
Medieval Christians and Muslims were fighting exclusively for deeply held religious beliefs.
You can see that there is more than one way to write a thesis statement, depending on what you find out in your research and what your opinion is.