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Writing Effective Thesis Statements

Guide for writing an effective thesis statement for an essay.

Planning Your Topic

If you haven't yet investigated your topic and are trying to formulate an argument, the following guide might help:

Thesis Questions

In the beginning stages of the planning process, your thesis statement may be referred to as the working thesis. A working thesis is like a rough draft thesis. It is a work in progress, and not quite in its most perfect version yet.

 

As you work through your thesis statement, you might ask yourself these questions:
  • What is the length requirement for the assignment?

The traditional 5-paragraph essay is a common writing assignment in many college classes. Sometimes a strong thesis can come from the formula used for 5-paragraph essays.

  • How much information am I going to find to support my thesis? 

If your thesis is too broad, you may find yourself overwhelmed with source material. Make sure the thesis is specific, and can actually be supported with the sources that you find.

  • Who is the audience for the assignment?

You will write your paper differently depending on your audience. You may have to provide some background information about the topic before you launch into your argument or define jargon terms or acronyms for the reader.

 

Consider these questions about your overall topic:
  • What biases might you have as you launch into the construction of your argument?

Sometimes our biases show through, so carefully craft your thesis so that it makes a strong argument without inserting assumptions or broad generalizations.

  • What do you already know about the topic?

Your own experiences can be valuable when constructing your argument, as well as when you start to look for resources to support your assertions.

  • What information might be considered "common knowledge" for your readers?

Your introduction paragraph and thesis may not need to go into great detail about information considered common knowledge. Common knowledge information is information that is widely known (like the signing of the Declaration of Independence) or easily verified (May is the 5th month of the year).

Building the Thesis

Once you've constructed your thesis, ask yourself the following:
  • Is the thesis present at the end of the introduction paragraph?

Your introduction provides necessary background information on the topic. Your thesis presents a strong stance you're going to take on a particular topic. It's like the final word of a debate. You want it to be strong, and you want it to engage the reader.

  • Does the thesis answer the "why" or "so what" question for the reader?

Readers need to see why an argument might be important. Does your interpretation change the meaning of something you're investigating? Does this argument prove a theory of some kind? Can this outlook solve a problem? Why should readers care about it?

  • Is your thesis an actual statement?

Asking a question at the end of the first paragraph is not a strong thesis statement. Review the question. A strong thesis might answer it, and you can use that question to lead up to your argument.

  • Does your thesis make an argument that can be proven through source material?

It's difficult for source material to prove a generalization such "everyone feels this way" about a specific topic. The trick is to make sure that your thesis is as specific as possible.

  • Is the thesis your own argument?

The thesis should be your argument and supported through evidence from your sources in the body of the paper. If you're citing the argument, you've likely either quoted or paraphrased someone else's thesis. Make sure the argument is your own.


Don't be afraid to ask for help!

Once you've built your thesis and constructed the essay, it's a good idea to ask others to review your work to see if they can pinpoint your exact thesis statement. This can be done in the peer review process. Even if not required by the assignment, peer review can help you gain new perspectives on your writing.