How to write a thesis statement
Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.
Coming up with a thesis
You should come up with an initial thesis, sometimes called a working thesis, early in the writing process. As soon as you’ve decided on your essay topic, you need to work out what you want to say about it—a clear thesis will give your essay direction and structure.
Step 1: Start with a question
You might already have a question in your assignment, but if not, try to come up with your own. What would you like to find out or decide about your topic?
Here’s an example of an argumentative essay question that asks you to take a side in a debate:
If you have to write an expository essay about an important invention, you might ask:
In a literary analysis essay about the novel Frankenstein, your question could be:
Step 2: Write your initial answer
After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the process of researching and writing.
If you’re writing an argumentative essay, the answer should pick a side and take a position on the issue.
Step 3: Develop your answer
Now you need to consider why this is your answer and how you will convince your reader to agree with you.
As you read more about your topic and begin writing, your answer should get more detailed. The final thesis statement doesn’t just state your position, but summarizes your overall argument.
In our essay about the internet and education, the thesis states our position and sketches out the key arguments we’ll use to support it.
In our essay about the printing press, the thesis summarizes the key historical development that we’ll explain.
In our essay about Frankenstein, the thesis maps out our analysis of the novel’s techniques and effects.
Improving your thesis statement
Take a look at these examples of thesis statements and learn how to improve them.
Example 1: Argumentative thesis
In an argumentative essay, your thesis should take a strong position. Your aim in the essay is to convince your reader of this thesis based on evidence and logical reasoning.
Take a look at these two versions of a thesis statement in an essay about U.S. environmental policy.
The example above takes a position, but it doesn’t tell the reader anything about why you hold this position.
In this improved thesis statement, you also state your reasoning and summarize the main points that you will use to convince your reader of your position. The rest of your essay will expand and argue for these points.
Example 2: Expository thesis
In an expository essay, you’ll aim to explain the facts of a topic or process. Your thesis doesn’t have to give a strong opinion, but it should clearly state the central point you want to make about your topic, and mention the key aspects that you’ll explain.
Let’s take two versions of a thesis statement from an essay about the invention of Braille (the raised-dot reading system used by blind and visually impaired people).
The example above makes a factual statement, but it doesn’t tell the reader anything about what they’ll learn from your essay.
The second example is much more specific: it shows that you won’t just describe facts about Braille, but also explain the social context and consequences of its invention.
Example 3: Analytical thesis
In an essay that involves analyzing a text, your thesis needs to mention the specific aspect that you’ll focus on and state what insight it gives us into the text’s meaning or purpose.
Here are two versions of a thesis about the novel Jekyll & Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
This example tells us which aspect the essay will focus on, but it’s an obvious statement that only describes the novel’s surface-level meaning.
The second example tells us not only what the character represents in the novel, but also makes a claim about the author’s broader meaning and purpose in creating such a character.
Placement of the thesis statement
What makes a good thesis statement?
The best thesis statements are concise, contentious and coherent.
A good thesis statement is short and sweet—don’t use more words than necessary. State your point clearly and directly in one or two sentences.
Your thesis shouldn’t be a simple statement of fact that everyone already knows. A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up.
Particularly in an argumentative essay, your thesis statement should be something that others might question or disagree with.
Your thesis statement might mention several aspects of your topic, but they should all add up to a coherent whole, expressing one main idea.
Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper.
Frequently asked questions about thesis statements
- What is a thesis statement?
- Why do I need a thesis statement?
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
- How can I come up with a thesis statement?