Thesis statements are hard to write. There, I said it. As an English major people usually assume that I have some sort of internal thesis generator that spits out finely tuned arguments instantly. This is not true. I often spend an embarrassing amount of time wading through poorly drafted theses (yes, that is the plural) before I finally land on something that works.
That being said, your thesis is important and it deserves a lot of time and attention. It can be difficult to figure out exactly what a good thesis looks like, especially because many professors seem to be unable to present a good definition of what a thesis is. Basically, a thesis statement is a sentence (or several sentences) that outlines the argument you will be defending in your paper. This can seem like a bit of a vague definition, but if you break up the goals of your thesis, it becomes a lot more manageable.
A good thesis statement accomplishes three purposes:
- It introduces the topic at hand and gives a reader an idea of what to expect out of the paper.
- It presents your argument.
- It demonstrates the importance of your argument, giving the reader more reason to be invested in your essay.
Let’s look at some examples of possible thesis statements, and see whether or not they accomplish these goals.
- This is a paper about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions.
This thesis accomplishes goal number 1, but it doesn’t accomplish the other two goals. For a thesis to successfully present the argument of your paper, someone needs to be able to disagree with it. Because there is no opposing viewpoint to this statement, it does not function as a successful thesis. Your thesis should be a strong argument, which the reader can choose to agree or disagree with.
- Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions introduced several conventions to the field of autobiography, which helped to create and define the genre of the confessional.
This thesis is better, in that it does present an argument. A potential reader could disagree with the idea that Confessions defined the confessional genre, so this thesis accomplishes both of the first two goals of a successful thesis. However, this thesis does not accomplish the third goal. There should be some sort of importance to your argument; maybe your thesis has implications outside of the specific argument that you’re making, or maybe there is a specific benefit to thinking about the topic in the way that you advocate. In argumentative essays, an easy way to demonstrate the importance of your argument is to provide a “call to action”, in which you ask the reader to do something with your information, such as advocate a change in policy. In literary critiques, it can be helpful to pull your thesis outside of the text and talk about broad implications of your arguments. It is difficult to create a thesis that accomplishes all three of your goals, but it is crucial for having a successful essay.
- Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions introduced several conventions to the field of autobiography, which helped to create and define the genre of the confessional. Because many of these conventions persist within the confessional genre to this day, gaining an understanding of the devices used within Confessions can provide valuable context to contemporary confessional novels.
Although this thesis is a bit wordy, it does accomplish all three of the goals of a successful thesis. The reader knows what you plan to discuss in the paper, what you are going to argue about your topic, and why it is important. Presenting a fully developed thesis, such as this one, will allow you to write a strong essay.
Writing a thesis with this much depth is tricky. Personally, I find it extremely difficult to break through to a thesis that accomplishes more than the first two goals right away. Something that I have often noticed in my own writing is that I will write an entire paper on what I think is my thesis, only to find that a more in-depth, well-developed thesis appears in for the first time in the conclusion. If you’re having trouble with your thesis, it may be a good idea to begin writing your paper, and only finalize your thesis once you have already started analyzing your topic. Not only does this take the pressure off of you in the beginning, it allows you plenty of time to truly develop your ideas before you draft your actual thesis.
Thesis statements are hard, but they are important, and they are certainly writeable. If you have a good understanding of your topic and its importance, your thesis is in there somewhere. The only real obstacle is teasing it out and refining it so that it best reflects your thoughts. Good luck.
- state the general topic of your essay
- state the specific point, claim, or area of investigation that you will be arguing or examining in your essay
- indicate the reasons that you will give to support your argument or develop your point.
- indicate the subdivisions or general method of organisation used in your essay
- be the last sentence of your introduction
Examples of Good Thesis Statements
Look at the following thesis statements. Which of the three types (analytical, expository or argumentative) do they exemplify? Look at the feedback when you have decided.
- In order to completely understand the possible problems arising from Poland's entry into the EU, three main areas of EU policy should be examined in detail: agricultural policy, broader fiscal policy and foreign policy.
- When compiling a business proposal, one has to consider questions of capital, consumer demand and competition.
- The status of women has improved remarkably since the 60s, thanks mostly to increased educational opportunities and and legislative reform.
- The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that, contrary to the opinion of many experts, the potential benefits of learning vocabulary methodically, by word field, are considerable.
First, look through this list of common mistakes made when writing thesis statements.
To summarise, the major errors tend to be that:-
- The thesis statement consists of an empty observation, rather than making an assertion.
- INSTEAD OF: Industrial emissions contribute to global warming.
- WRITE: Of all the factors that contribute to global warming, industrial emissions are considered the most significant, and national governments should be forced to regulate their carbon-dioxide levels by means of multilateral treaties.
- The thesis statement is underdeveloped and vague, and needs to be made more specific and narrow.
- INSTEAD OF: The enlargement of the EU has led to considerable debate.
- WRITE: The expansion of the EU to include 10 new member states has sparked considerable debate concerning the issues of subsidies, constitutional unity and the limits of integration.
- The thesis statement exceeds the scope of the essay, i.e., is too broad to be discussed thoroughly.
- INSTEAD OF: There have been many cases of human rights violations in the recent past.
- WRITE: Recent developments in Western, democratic societies such as anti-terrorism legislation, which allows imprisonment without trial, have highlighted to human rights activists that, even here, their work is far from complete.
- The thesis statement is too detailed or wordy. The arguments should be summarised in the introduction and developed in subsequent paragraphs.
- INSTEAD OF: Communication is the most important aspect of language learning, as learners only learn to use expressions and grammatical constructions correctly when they communicate and use these constructions actively. A practical understanding of a wide range of expression can only be attained by means of communication, never by methodically learning of grammar.
- WRITE: Recent studies show that, whilst grammar should not be neglected in a foreign language syllabus, it plays a far less significant role in developing the language skills of the avarage learner than active communication.
- The thesis statement introduces several unrelated points, rather than the main points of the argument.
- INSTEAD OF: With societies becoming increasingly diverse, the question of how to integrate immigrant populations is becoming increasingly urgent, and we are also being confronted with an increasing number of different cultures and lifestyles.
- WRITE: With societies becoming increasingly diverse, questions concerning integration and assimilation, and the extent to which the culture of the host country should take precedence over that of the immigrant, are provoking increasing debate.
Now rewrite each of the thesis statements below, turning each into an effective thesis statement for a 2-3 page essay. You must think carefully about what would be an appropriate topic for an essay of this length - be careful not to choose a topic that is either too broad or too narrow.
- Choosing a career is very difficult.
- It is important to visit foreign countries.
- In this essay I am going to talk about social problems in Germany.
- Humans are inflicting more and more damage on the environment.
- The nuclear family is a thing of the past.
Complete the following thesis statements by adding the specific points, claims or areas of investigation that you think should feature in the essay.
- The life expectancy of the average person is increasing because of ...
- Technology is changing our lives in three important areas: ...
- A teacher must have the following qualities: ...
- The purpose of this paper is to examine...
- Owning an automobile is a necessity both...
- Poverty has numerous negative consequences for society, including...
- The main difficulties affecting foreign students at university are...
- Living together before marriage is becoming increasingly popular for three main reasons: ...
Source for exercise 2: Alice Oshima and Ann Hogue, Writing Academic English, 2nd Edition (New York: Longman, 1991), pp.81f.