At some point in high school, and certainly in college, you will be assigned an essay topic or asked to write a persuasive or argumentative or expository essay on a topic of your choice. Arguably the most important part of any essay is its thesis statement. A good thesis statement can make the difference between an average essay and a great one.
Defining a Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is one or two sentences -- often, but not always, placed at the end of an essay's first paragraph -- that tell the reader what specific idea the writer explores in the essay. The thesis statement is important for both writer and reader. It tells the reader why she is reading the essay and what she will learn, and it keeps the writer focused while writing.
Preparing to Write Your Thesis Statement
Ask yourself what kind of essay you are writing. Is it an expository essay, in which you explain a concept or idea to the reader? Or is your goal to persuade your audience to adopt a particular view, which will need to be supported with evidence? Research your topic to gather facts, information and evidence. Also, analyze your research to figure out how different pieces of information fit together. How does your research confirm or contradict what you already know or thought? What new ideas come out of it? For example, you might consider an argumentative essay about anti-gay laws and policies in the U.S. or another country, but while researching, you read about the Nuremberg laws in 1930s Germany that preceded the Holocaust. Suddenly you have a whole new angle: whether attacks on civil liberties for gays and lesbians are analogous to the pre-Holocaust Nuremberg laws in Germany.
Creating Your Thesis Statement
Remember E.B. White's advice: The best writing is rewriting. Don't expect to create a finished product from the get-go. Consider your initial effort a first draft. You should know what you want to say before you start writing, but remember that you may want or need to revise your statement depending on what you learn from your research. If you feel stuck for what to say, try brainstorming. Just write down everything you want to say in your essay without thinking first. Then see if you notice any new connections or common themes.
Checking Your Thesis: Is It Strong or Weak?
A strong thesis statement takes a bold stand and is specific, focused on one main idea and answers the questions Why? and How? Ask yourself if your finished essay answers the question the thesis statement poses. Another way to determine if you have a strong thesis statement is to use the "So what?" test. Imagine yourself as your reader. If you read your thesis statement and think, "So what?" then you have not asked a clear question or taken a clear position or made your statement specific enough.
A thesis statement is the main idea you present in your essay. It's the central question about your topic that you intend to answer, or it's the argument or opinion that you intend to prove or persuade your audience to accept. Writing your thesis statement is easier if you remember three things. First, choose a topic or issue that you already know a lot about, and/or that strongly interests you. Then, find one specific aspect of that topic to research. Finally, look for that one fact, idea, or connection that you want to focus on, and you have a thesis statement.
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: The Writing Center
- Indiana University: Writing
- Gustavus Adolphus College: Tips on Writing a Thesis Statement
- University of Texas at Austin: Undergraduate Writing Center
- The Writing Code: Writers on Writing
Kathy Kattenburg has been a writer for more than 30 years. Her articles have been published in "N.J. Jewish News" and "Suburban Essex," and she is a contributing writer and full partner at Not the Singularity. Kattenburg has a BA in English literature from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.