A thesis can be found in many places—a debate speech, a lawyer’s closing argument, even an advertisement. But the most common place for a thesis statement (and probably why you’re reading this article) is in an essay.
Whether you’re writing an argumentative paper, an informative essay, or a compare/contrast statement, you need a thesis. Without a thesis, your argument falls flat and your information is unfocused. Since a thesis is so important, it’s probably a good idea to look at some tips on how to put together a strong one.
What is a “thesis statement” anyway?
You may have heard of something called a “thesis.” It’s what seniors commonly refer to as their final paper before graduation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That type of thesis is a long, well-written paper that takes years to piece together.
Instead, we’re talking about a single sentence that ties together the main idea of any argument. In the context of student essays, it’s a statement that summarizes your topic and declares your position on it. This sentence can tell a reader whether your essay is something they want to read.
2 Categories of Thesis Statements: Informative and Persuasive
Just as there are different types of essays, there are different types of thesis statements. The thesis should match the essay.
For example, with an informative essay, you should compose an informative thesis (rather than argumentative). You want to declare your intentions in this essay and guide the reader to the conclusion that you reach.
To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you must procure the ingredients, find a knife, and spread the condiments.
This thesis showed the reader the topic (a type of sandwich) and the direction the essay will take (describing how the sandwich is made).
Most other types of essays, whether compare/contrast, argumentative, or narrative, have thesis statements that take a position and argue it. In other words, unless your purpose is simply to inform, your thesis is considered persuasive. A persuasive thesis usually contains an opinion and the reason why your opinion is true.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best type of sandwich because they are versatile, easy to make, and taste good.
In this persuasive thesis statement, you see that I state my opinion (the best type of sandwich), which means I have chosen a stance. Next, I explain that my opinion is correct with several key reasons. This persuasive type of thesis can be used in any essay that contains the writer’s opinion, including, as I mentioned above, compare/contrast essays, narrative essays, and so on.
2 Styles of Thesis Statements
Just as there are two different types of thesis statements (informative and persuasive), there are two basic styles you can use.
The first style uses a list of two or more points. This style of thesis is perfect for a brief essay that contains only two or three body paragraphs. This basic five-paragraph essay is typical of middle and high school assignments.
C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is one of the richest works of the 20th century because it offers an escape from reality, teaches readers to have faith even when they don’t understand, and contains a host of vibrant characters.
In the above persuasive thesis, you can see my opinion about Narnia followed by three clear reasons. This thesis is perfect for setting up a tidy five-paragraph essay.
In college, five paragraph essays become few and far between as essay length gets longer. Can you imagine having only five paragraphs in a six-page paper? For a longer essay, you need a thesis statement that is more versatile. Instead of listing two or three distinct points, a thesis can list one overarching point that all body paragraphs tie into.
Good vs. evil is the main theme of Lewis’s Narnia series, as is made clear through the struggles the main characters face in each book.
In this thesis, I have made a claim about the theme in Narnia followed by my reasoning. The broader scope of this thesis allows me to write about each of the series’ seven novels. I am no longer limited in how many body paragraphs I can logically use.
Formula for a Strong Argumentative Thesis
One thing I find that is helpful for students is having a clear template. While students rarely end up with a thesis that follows this exact wording, the following template creates a good starting point:
___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.
Conversely, the formula for a thesis with only one point might follow this template:
___________________ is true because of _____________________.
Students usually end up using different terminology than simply “because,” but having a template is always helpful to get the creative juices flowing.
The Qualities of a Solid Thesis Statement
When composing a thesis, you must consider not only the format, but other qualities like length, position in the essay, and how strong the argument is.
Length: A thesis statement can be short or long, depending on how many points it mentions. Typically, however, it is only one concise sentence. It does contain at least two clauses, usually an independent clause (the opinion) and a dependent clause (the reasons). You probably should aim for a single sentence that is at least two lines, or about 30 to 40 words long.
Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.
Strength: Finally, for a persuasive thesis to be strong, it needs to be arguable. This means that the statement is not obvious, and it is not something that everyone agrees is true.
Example of weak thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make because it just takes three ingredients.
Most people would agree that PB&J is one of the easiest sandwiches in the American lunch repertoire.
Example of a stronger thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun to eat because they always slide around.
This is more arguable because there are plenty of folks who might think a PB&J is messy or slimy rather than fun.
Composing a thesis statement does take a bit more thought than many other parts of an essay. However, because a thesis statement can contain an entire argument in just a few words, it is worth taking the extra time to compose this sentence. It can direct your research and your argument so that your essay is tight, focused, and makes readers think.
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One staple of college life is writing research papers. And while the process may be grueling for some, knowing how to write well is an important skill that many employers highly value. But writing well structured, thought provoking papers does not have to be an impossible task—especially if you follow the 3-point thesis approach.
Before you write, you have to research.
The bulk of your paper writing schedule will be spent researching your topic. Of course, you will need to decide on your topic before you can start your research. The following tips will help you narrow down your topic choices.
Find a topic that interests you.
No matter what course you are writing a paper for, you should find a topic that you find interesting and challenging. Also consider that the amount of interest in your topic is equal to the amount of effort you will be willing to put into researching that topic.
You want to choose a topic that is narrow enough to not be overwhelming but broad enough to find research materials. For example, if you had to write a paper about the Roman Empire, you could narrow your topic down to only the conquests of Gaius Julius Octavius.
Stand on the shoulders of giants.
Base your topic on research or conjecture that has already been developed. Instead of starting from scratch, expand on someone else’s idea or adopt an alternative viewpoint. Not only will this allow you to make new comparisons or arguments for or against a preexisting topic, but will assist you with finding research materials—you can use the same or similar research materials as the person you are basing your argument upon.
Use wikis to keep your research and sources organized.
Wikis are a great way to organize your research notes because of two very important features: linking and information hierarchies. Study Hacks has a great article on how to build a paper research wiki. http://calnewport.com/blog/2009/05/11/how-to-build-a-paper-research-wiki/
Make an outline.
The purpose of an outline is two fold. First, it helps you organize your topic in a logical manner. Second, it can help you gain insights into your topic that you didn’t realize during the research stage. Your outline will consist of three main sections: the introduction, body and conclusion composed in a hierarchical structure.
The first section is the Introduction which includes the thesis statement and points leading up to the thesis statement. Knowing the main points of your thesis statement is very important during this stage because these points will dictate the rest of the paper. When making your outline—and composing your thesis statement—you will want to order the points so that each argument flows into the next.
The next section begins the Body of the paper and consists of the points posed by the thesis statement; supporting evidence in the form of quotations, research data and examples; and your interpretation of how this evidence applies to your argument. Each point will have three to five pieces of supporting evidence depending on the length of your paper.
Be sure to include any citations for your evidence on the outline. This will save you time later when you are plugging the information into your paper.
The last section is the Conclusion and is the inverse of the Introduction. The conclusions begins with a modified version of the thesis statement followed by a few points that address your overall conclusions on the topic.
The 3-Point Thesis Approach
Very similar to the way you wrote papers in middle school, the 3-point thesis paper consists of three parts: an introduction with a thesis statement, a body which is the bulk of the paper, and a conclusion that wraps everything up. With this method, your thesis statement is king and everything else in your paper serves the king.
Your introduction does more than start your paper. It forms the building blocks of the argument upon which your thesis statement is built. Also, this is where you will capture your reader’s attention and pose the questions you paper will attempt to answer.
Every good introduction has a hook. It can be a quote, question or statement that catches the reader’s attention. Your hook should be use as a segue into the thesis statement.
The Thesis Statement
Your thesis statement guides all the other elements of your paper. The introductory paragraph should flow into the argument of the thesis statement—the final sentence of your introduction. The thesis statement consists of a single sentence containing between 2 and 5 points depending on the length of the paper. If your thesis takes more than one sentence to state, revise your thesis.
For a smooth transition from one argument to the next, consider ordering your thesis points in one of the following ways:
- Strongest argument to weakest argument
- General topic to more specific topic
- Simple analysis to complex analysis
- Causes and Effects
The bulk of your paper will be the body. In the body, you set upon the task of proving the points made by the thesis. Use quotations, research data, and relevant examples to support each point you are trying to make.
Organize your evidence so that it transitions into the next piece of evidence smoothly. If you have evidence that applies to more than one thesis point, restate that evidence in the appropriate section of the body. Do not discuss more than one thesis point at a time as this can lead to a paper that is muddled and unfocused.
Take your time to formulate logical correlations between argument and evidence. Your instructors are most interested in how you synthesize and apply supporting evidence to your arguments.
Always cite any supporting evidence that you use, especially quotations.
The conclusion is more than a summary of the paper. Think of the conclusion more like a closing argument based on the points provided in the body. Here you will answer the questions posed in the introduction as well as provide insight into the argument as a whole.
Plan to start early so that you have at least two or three days for revisions. When revising your paper, reading aloud can help you find grammatical errors and confusing wording and language.
A common pitfall for many students is not having a properly formatted bibliography. You might also consider using a website like EasyBibhttp://www.easybib.com/, Bibme http://www.bibme.org/ or OttoBib http://www.ottobib.com/ to automatically format your bibliography. Be sure to cross reference your bibliography with the citation style required by your instructor.
Working on your bibliography as you gather your research materials will be a time saver when you are writing your paper.
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