Thesis Statements

The thesis statement, or main idea, identifies the specific subject of a paper and establishes what the writer thinks about it.

An effective thesis statement

  • Focuses a paper on a specific idea
  • Makes a significant argument (or claim) about the subject
  • May provide a roadmap for the paper

A note on mapping: If you wish to provide a preview of the paper’s organization, make sure your thesis still makes a significant argument about a specific idea. You may need to compose a second sentence to preview the papers’ organization.

Developing a Thesis
Coming up with a thesis statement takes a lot of time, and you should re-evaluate and improve your thesis multiple times throughout the writing process.

Thesis statements emerge from your analysis and research. The argument you make in your thesis should be based on what you find in your investigation of the subject. If you start your research or analysis with an argument in mind, you will likely only find what you set out to find.

To make sure your argument is fair and credible, start with a question or problem you wish to investigate. After you gather ideas and information about your topic, you can begin to formulate an answer to your question, or solution to your problem, that you articulate in what we call a “working thesis statement.”

The working thesis statement is what you put in a first draft, knowing that you will refine that statement later. Once you finish the draft, revise your thesis so that it better reflects the paper you have written.

Revising a Thesis
To strengthen your thesis, you or a peer reviewer should ask the following questions:

  • How could this thesis statement be more interesting? (does your thesis pass the “so what?” test?)
  • Where could the thesis statement be more specific? (look for vague words or phrases)
  • Would someone else potentially disagree with this statement? (in other words, does it make an argument?)
  • Does the thesis actually match the contents of the paper?

Sample Thesis Statements
“As an investment in its own economy, the federal government should provide a tuition grant to any college student who qualifies academically.”

  • The thesis not only announces the topic of the paper but makes an argument about it. The topic is federal tuition grants. The claim is that providing grants to all students who qualify would help the economy.

“In her encounters with nature, Dillard probes a spiritual as well as a physical identity between human beings and nature that could help to heal the rift between them.”

  • The thesis passes the “so what?” test because of the last part of the sentence, where the author tells the reader why it matters that Dillard explores both spiritual and physical identity.

“Although green consumerism can help the environment, consumerism itself is the root of some of the most pressing ecological problems we face. To make a real difference, we must consume less.”

  • Sometimes, an interesting and complex thesis takes two sentences to express.

The samples come from H. Ramsey Fowler, Jane E. Aaron, and Cynthia K. Marshall, The Little Brown Handbook, 11th ed. (New York: Longman, 2010), 29, 636-637.