Audio Version (October 2021):
What is a thesis and why is it important?
We can think of a thesis statement as a very short version of the whole essay. If a friend asks us, "What are you trying to say in your essay?" the thesis should give the answer. It's like a signpost that signals the essay’s destination. The essay itself explains, justifies, questions, and elaborates on that thesis.
As to why we need a thesis, have you ever listened to someone talk and asked yourself, "Where are they going with this? What's the point?" When we listen or when we read, we can take in multiple ideas if we know how they are related to an overall claim. Otherwise, we may be tempted to tune out.
In Chapter 2: Reading to Figure out the Argument, we practiced looking for main claims and supporting reasons as well as counterarguments and limits. When we write our own essays, we want to make clear to readers what our main claim is and how our other points fit in.
How do I come up with a good thesis?
A thesis is most commonly one sentence long and appears toward the end of the introduction. However, as our essays get longer and more complex, we may need two sentences to fully articulate the thesis. Check with your professor to see if they consider a two-sentence thesis legitimate and necessary in your case. In general, keeping the thesis short and stating it early will allow readers to easily grasp where the essay is going and how each paragraph relates. A strong thesis statement will have the following qualities:
- Specific. A thesis statement must be precise enough to allow for a coherent argument and remain focused on the topic. For example, health care is a broad topic, but a proper thesis statement would focus on a specific area of that topic, such as the limited options for individuals without health care coverage.
- Arguable. A thesis statement needs to be something that not everyone would immediately accept right away. A point of view or judgment about a topic is arguable and worth exploring in an essay. An established fact is not arguable.
- Supportable. For any claim we make in our thesis, we must be able to provide reasons and examples. We can rely on personal observations in order to do this, or we can consult outside sources to demonstrate that what we assert is valid. A strong argument is backed by examples and details.
In essay assignments, teachers often provide a central question they want us to answer. That question can be our guide as we develop the thesis. The thesis can be our best answer to the question, an answer we can explain in more detail throughout the essay. If the teacher does not ask a question in the essay assignment, they may still describe a general topic. In that case, we can ask ourselves, “What do I want to say about this topic?” We will discuss coming up with a topic for more open-ended essay assignments in Section 6.*: Focused Research Topics (link).
Often as we write, we get a clearer idea of what it is we are ultimately trying to say, so we can revise the thesis as we go. Writing process strategies such as brainstorming, outlining, getting feedback, and revising will help us refine the thesis (Writing Process Chapter reference and link).
Examples of thesis statements
- Closing all American borders for a period of five years is one solution that will tackle illegal immigration.
- Compared to an absolute divorce, no-fault divorce is less expensive, promotes fairer settlements, and reflects a more realistic view of the causes for marital breakdown.
- Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts.
- In today’s crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not significant enough education to land a stable, lucrative job.
- The societal and personal struggles of Troy Maxson in the play Fences symbolize the challenge of black males who lived through segregation and integration in the United States.
How can I improve a thesis?
Check if it covers the ideas in the essay
Your thesis will probably change as you write, so you will need to modify it to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your essay. Working thesis statements often become stronger as we gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps us strengthen our thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.
Make it more specific
Replace nonspecific words, such as people, everything, society, or life, with more precise words.
Working thesis: Young people have to work hard to succeed in life.
Revised thesis: Recent college graduates must have discipline and persistence in order to find and maintain a stable job in which they can use and be appreciated for their talents.
The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard. The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words like people and work hard, the writer can better focus his or her research and gain more direction in his or her writing.
Add key information
We can ask ourselves the following questions to anticipate what readers will want to know.
Working thesis: Kansas City schoolteachers are not paid enough.
- Who is not paying the teachers enough?
- What is considered “enough”? Why?
- How do the low salaries of teachers affect the overall functioning of a school?
Revised thesis: The Kansas City legislature cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers
Clarify an idea
What might readers be confused about after they read the thesis? What basic questions will they have about the meaning of the thesis? We can revise to make the answers clear.
Working thesis: The welfare system is a joke.
A joke means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience. By asking questions, the writer can devise a more precise and appropriate explanation for joke.
Revised thesis: The welfare system keeps a socioeconomic class from gaining employment by alluring members of that class with unearned income, instead of programs to improve their education and skill sets.
Working thesis: Today’s teenage girls are too sexualized.
It is true that some young women in today’s society are more sexualized than in the past, but that is not true for all girls. The writer of this thesis should ask the following questions:
- Which teenage girls?
- What constitutes “too” sexualized?
- Are we talking about the girls' behavior or the way other people view them, or both?
- What is causing this?
- Why does it matter? What are the repercussions?
Revised thesis: Teenage girls who are captivated by the sexual images on MTV are conditioned to believe that a woman’s worth depends on her sexual attractiveness, a feeling that harms their self-esteem and behavior.
Read the following thesis statements. Choose three that need improvement and revise them. Explain why each revision is better.
- The subject of this paper is my experience with ferrets as pets.
- The government must expand its funding for research on renewable energy resources in order to prepare for the impending end of oil.
- Edgar Allan Poe was a poet who lived in Baltimore during the nineteenth century.
- There are many reasons why slot machines should not be legalized in Baltimore.
- Despite his promises during his campaign, President Kennedy took few executive measures to support civil rights legislation.
- Because many children’s toys have potential safety hazards that could lead to injury, it is clear that not all children’s toys are safe.
- My experience with young children has taught me that I want to be a disciplinary parent because I believe that a child without discipline can be a parent’s worst nightmare.
Some sections of the above are original content by Anna Mills and others are adapted by Anna Mills from the following: