What is a thesis statement?
Before I explain how to write a thesis statement, you’ve got to understand what it is. A thesis statement is a clear, simple statement — usually one or two sentences — that tells the reader exactly what argument you are going to prove and how you are going to prove it. You are going to structure your entire paper around the thesis statement: it is essentially the most important sentence in your entire essay. The more specific the thesis statement, the stronger the essay.
Although a thesis statement is essentially your opinion about a topic, always avoid language like “In my opinion,” “I believe…” etc. Thesis statements that begin with language like this are just begging to be counter-argued.
So how do you write a thesis statement? There are 3 basic steps.
- Answer a question.
Your teacher might ask you, “In the book, how does Dan’s traumatic childhood affect him later in adulthood?” Or maybe, “How does the main character, Rebecca, change throughout the story?” Or maybe “What does the river symbolize in the story, and why is that so important?” Your answer to the question, whatever the question, is part of your thesis statement – but it is only the first part.
Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say the question is this: Should working a set amount of community service hours be a high school graduation requirement?
Your answer to this question might be: No, high school students should not be required to do community service before being allowed to graduate.
This is a start. You have answered the question, which is an important step. But this would make a very weak thesis statement because it is not persuasive, and the reader has no idea what your essay is really going to be about. So you have to refine it and make it better.
If the assignment is to create your own thesis statement (instead of responding to a question provided by your teacher), start the process the same way: with a question. Create a question about the book/article/whatever, based on a real question you have about the material. If you read the story and find yourself wondering, “Why does the character do that?” or “What’s the significance of the blinking green light throughout the story?” then use those questions as material for your thesis statement.
Tip: If you know you’re going to eventually write a thesis paper on a book you’re reading, keep track of any questions that arise as you read the book. Write these questions down on the inside cover or on a bookmark you can make from scrap paper: these questions might turn into an awesome thesis statement.
- Refine the answer to the question and be more specific.
Instead of just presenting your opinion about community service, you could revise your thesis (see above) to this: Implementing a graduation requirement for completing community service hours would have negative consequences for both the students and the community.
Okay, this thesis statement is a little bit better, but it’s still not perfect because it’s not persuasive. It’s missing depth, which you can add by bringing in some examples. So that’s the next step.
- Bring in examples.
The next version of your thesis statement could look like this: Implementing a graduation requirement for completing community service hours would have negative consequences for both the students and the community because it would add stress to already overworked students, it would give students the message that helping the community is a burden, and it would force overworked students to do poor quality service jobs due to lack of time.
This is a much stronger thesis statement that doesn’t leave the reader with much room to counter-argue.
Where and how to use your thesis statement
After you figure out how to write a thesis statement, you have to learn how to use it. A thesis belongs in the introduction paragraph of a persuasive or analytical essay. It could be the first sentence, last sentence, or somewhere in the middle. Personally, I like to put my thesis statement as the last sentence of the opening paragraph, because I think a good thesis can also function as a good transition sentence into the next paragraph.
Your introduction paragraph is not the only place your thesis goes: it should be speckled throughout your entire essay, and stated clearly again in the conclusion paragraph. If your writing is on target and very focused, your thesis statement could function as the topic sentence of each of the middle paragraphs. (But don’t actually do that, as that would sound repetitive and frankly, just bad.) A cool trick to use if you feel you’re getting “lost” and off topic as you write your essay is to just imagine your thesis statement as the topic sentence of each of your paragraphs.
As with so many school habits, coming up with and knowing how to write a thesis statement gets easier the more you practice. It can also be helpful to train yourself (make it a game?) to look for an author’s thesis statement every time you read an article or blog or whatever. If you can learn to spot a thesis in another person’s paper, that means you understand what a thesis is … which is key to learning how to write your own.