How to write a thesis statement

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay. It usually comes near the end of your introduction.

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:

Has the the internet had a positive or negative impact on education?

If you have to write an expository essay about an important invention, you might ask:

How did the invention of the printing press change European society?

In a literary analysis essay about the novel Frankenstein, your question could be:

How does Mary Shelley portray the character of Victor Frankenstein?

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.

The internet has had more of a positive than a negative effect on education.
The invention of the printing press meant more people had access to information.
Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein in a negative light.

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.

Argumentative thesis statement

The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education: the internet facilitates easier access to information, exposure to different perspectives, and a flexible learning environment for both students and teachers.

In our essay about the printing press, the thesis summarizes the key historical development that we’ll explain.

Expository thesis statement

The invention of the printing press in the 15th century allowed for much less restricted circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.

In our essay about Frankenstein, the thesis maps out our analysis of the novel’s techniques and effects.

Literary analysis thesis statement

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Victor Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on; he starts out as a naive but sympathetic idealist, but by the end we see him as a thoughtlessly cruel figure.

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.

Weak thesis statement
The U.S. Government should invest in a Green New Deal.

The example above takes a position, but it doesn’t tell the reader anything about why you hold this position.

Improved thesis statement
The U.S. Government should invest in a Green New Deal that prioritizes green jobs; as the world’s most powerful economy, it can take the lead in combating climate change at the same time as improving its citizens’ wellbeing.

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).

Weak thesis statement
Braille was an important nineteenth-century invention.

The example above makes a factual statement, but it doesn’t tell the reader anything about what they’ll learn from your essay.

Improved thesis statement
The invention of Braille transformed the lives of blind people in the nineteenth century, but its success depended on mainstream acceptance by sighted teachers, and this process was shaped by debates about disabled people’s place in society.

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.

Weak thesis statement
Mr. Hyde represents Dr. Jekyll’s dark side.

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.

Improved thesis statement
The figure of Mr. Hyde represents the potential for evil that lurks beneath the surface of outwardly civilized men; through this dark double, Stevenson sought to highlight the moral hypocrisy of his society.

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.

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Placement of the thesis statement

The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction.

 

Example of an essay introduction

The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts and among young people more generally is hotly debated. For many who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education: the internet facilitates easier access to information, exposure to different perspectives, and a flexible learning environment for both students and teachers.

What makes a good thesis statement?

The best thesis statements are concise, contentious and coherent.

Concise

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.

Contentious

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.

Coherent

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?

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay. Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

Why do I need a thesis statement?

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • 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?

Follow these three steps to come up with a thesis:

  1. Ask a question about your topic.
  2. Write your initial answer.
  3. Develop your answer and include reasons.
Is this article helpful?
Shona McCombes

Shona has a bachelor's and two master's degrees, so she's an expert at writing a great thesis. She has also worked as an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

3 comments

Rashid Mahmood
September 16, 2020 at 8:19 AM

Very Comprehensive And Learning Thank you So Much

Reply

edward Chan
March 14, 2019 at 5:13 AM

Wanna ask if taking up a MBA or MSc course required to write any thesis ?
Will there be any exemption if already got a first degree (LLB)? Thx

Reply

Raimo Streefkerk
Raimo Streefkerk (Scribbr-team)
March 14, 2019 at 4:30 PM

Hi Edward,

Thanks for your question. For most MBA and MSc courses you do need to write a thesis. If you will get an exemption depends on the policy of your university.
I recommend contacting your professor or supervisor for more information.

Cheers,
Raimo

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