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A Guide to Writing a Good Thesis Statement

In most cases the essay or paper you will write for a college level course will require a thesis statement. In fact the thesis statement is the foundation of a quality essay and a necessary component for receiving the best grade possible.

A thesis statement condenses the central theme or argument that you are presenting in your essay into one or (sometimes) two sentences. The Thesis Statement serves two purposes:

  • It provides you, the writer, with the controlling idea of your essay and the boundaries of your argument.
  • It provides your readers with the main thrust of your argument. enabling them to focus on it as they read.

Where Does the Thesis Statement Go?
The Thesis Statement belongs in the opening paragraph of your essay. It is usually the last sentence in that opening paragraph.

Content of the Thesis Statement:
It may be helpful to think of the thesis statement as being a sentence containing a question and the answer:

  • The Question is Your Topic - either your assigned topic or the topic you have chosen to write about. (What material am I going to cover in this essay?)
  • The Answer is the point or points you are making about the topic. This can be your analysis of the topic, your explanation of the topic or your argument about the topic, seeking to persuade your readers of the validity of your opinion. In shorter essays, only one of these three forms is used.

Thesis Statements for Essays Doing an Analysis of the Topic:

  • Tell your readers what you are analyzing.
  • Give the parts of your analysis.
  • Give the order in which these parts are presented.

Thesis Statements for Essays Giving an Explanation of the Topic:

  • Tell your readers what you are going to explain.
  • Give the categories you are going to use in your explanation.
  • Give the order in which these categories are presented.

Thesis Statements for Essays Giving an Argument About the Topic:

  • Tell your readers your conclusions on the topic.
  • Give the reasons you have for coming to your conclusion.
  • Give the order in which these reasons are presented.

Qualities of Good Thesis Statements:
A good Thesis Statement will do the following:

  • Take a firm position on the topic. You've done the research necessary to produce the essay. Let your readers know you are sure of your conclusions about the topic.
  • Promote discussion or a response from your readers. The thesis statement sets their minds thinking about the topic.
  • Cover one main idea. If there are several ideas expressed in your essay, the thesis statement will show the relationship between these ideas.
  • Narrow the focus of your essay to a specific topic.

It's Not Impossible:
Almost every argument or analysis can be distilled into a central idea if examined carefully. If you can't come up with a good thesis statement to fit the essay you are writing, the chances are good that your proposed essay itself is too broad or goes off into too many different directions and needs to be more tightly focused.

Does Every Essay Need a Thesis Statement?
No. It is less important to have a thesis statement in a paper that is basically descriptive (such as an essay for an art class describing a painting) or narrative (such as a paper for a history class about the life of a person). However it is still a good idea to set up the essay for the reader by including at least a modified thesis statement.

In Conclusion:
As you write and revise your essay, you might find that you need to change your Thesis Statement. This is a normal part of the writing process. It's not at all unusual to not know what your conclusions are about the topic until you think them through by writing about them. Just make sure that your final Thesis Statement matches your final draft.

Also see: Directives and Terms Used in Writing and Test Taking, Writing a Paper

Essential Writing Resource Materials




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