how to write a thesis statement

How to write a thesis statement 101: Everything you wish you knew

Katie Azevedostudy skills, writing tips

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

You can’t write an essay if you don’t know how to write a thesis statement. Persuasive and analytical essays. The only writing assignments that don’t require thesis statements are poems, diary entries and summaries.

What is a thesis statement?

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.

Here is a basic list of example thesis statements, just so you get the idea.

Although a thesis statement is essentially your opinion about a topic, always avoid language like “In my opinion,” “I believe…” etc.

3 Steps for How to Write a Thesis Statement

1. 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.


Should working a set amount of community service hours be a high school graduation requirement?

POSSIBLE ANSWER: 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. But this would make a weak thesis statement because it is not persuasive, and the reader has no idea what your essay is going to be about. You have to 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 sticky note: these questions might turn into an awesome thesis statement.

2. Refine the answer to the question and be more specific.

Instead of presenting your opinion about community service, 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.

3. 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. 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, 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 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 paragraph.

As with so many school habits, knowing how to write a thesis statement gets easier the more you practice. It can also be helpful to train yourself 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.

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