What is a thesis statement? A thesis statement summarizes the main idea of a paper or an essay. Similar to the statement of the problem in research, it prepares the reader for what is to come and ties together the evidence and examples that are presented and the arguments and claims that are made later.
A good thesis statement can provoke thought, arouse interest, and is always followed up by exactly what it promises—if the focus or direction of your essay changes over time, you should go back to your statement and adapt it as well so that it clearly reflects what you are explaining or discussing.
Where does the thesis statement go in my paper?
Your thesis statement should be placed near the end of your introduction—after you have given the reader some background and before you delve into the specific evidence or arguments that support your statement.
Can you give me a thesis statement template?
Depending on the type of essay you are writing, your thesis statement will look different. The important thing is that your statement is specific and clearly states the main idea you want to get across. In the following, we will discuss different types of statements, show you a simple 4-step process for writing an effective thesis statement, and finish off with some not-so-good and good thesis statement examples.
Table of Contents:
- Types of Thesis Statements
- How to Write a Thesis Statement Step by Step
- Not-So-Good and Good Thesis Statements
Types of Thesis Statements
Depending on whether your paper is analytical, expository, or argumentative, your statement has a slightly different purpose.
Analytical thesis statements
An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its components, evaluates the pieces, and presents an evaluation of this breakdown to the reader. Such papers can analyze art, music, literature, current or historical events, political ideas, or scientific research. An analytical thesis statement is therefore often the result of such an analysis of, for example, some literary work (“Heathcliff is meant to be seen as a hero rather than a horrible person”) or a process (“the main challenge recruiters face is the balance between selecting the best candidates and hiring them before they are snatched up by competitors”), or even the latest research (“starving yourself will increase your lifespan, according to science”). In the rest of the paper, you then need to explain how you did the analysis that led you to the stated result and how you arrived at your conclusion, by presenting data and evidence.
Expository thesis statements
An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience, such as a historical development, a current phenomenon, or the effect of political intervention. A typical explanatory thesis statement is therefore often a “topic statement” rather than a claim or actual thesis. An expository essay could, for example, explain “where human rights came from and how they changed the world,” or “how students make career choices.” The rest of the paper then needs to present the reader with all the relevant information on the topic, covering all sides and aspects rather than one specific viewpoint.
Argumentative thesis statements
An argumentative paper makes a clear and potentially very subjective claim and follows up with a justification based on evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the author’s claim is true. A thesis statement for such a paper could be that “every student should be required to take a gap year after high school to gain some life experience”, or that “vaccines should be mandatory”. Argumentative thesis statements can be bold, assertive, and one-sided—you have the rest of the paper to convince the reader that you have good reasons to think that way and that maybe they should think like that, too.
How to Write a Thesis Statement Step-by-Step
If you are not quite sure how you get from a topic to a thesis statement, then follow this simple process—but make sure you know what type of essay you are supposed to write and adapt the steps to the kind of statement you need.
First, you will have to select a topic. This might have been done for you already if you are writing an essay as part of a class. If not, then make sure you don’t start too general—narrow the subject down to a specific aspect that you can cover in an essay.
Second, ask yourself a question about your topic, one that you are personally interested in or one that you think your readers might find relevant or interesting. Here, you have to consider whether you are going to explain something to the reader (expository essay) or if you want to put out your own, potentially controversial, opinion and then argue for it in the rest of your (argumentative) essay.
Third, answer the question you raised for yourself, based on the material you have already sifted through and are planning to present to the reader or the opinion you have already formed on the topic. If your opinion changes while working on your essay, which happens quite often, then make sure you come back to this process and adapt your statement.
Fourth and last, reword the answer to your question into a concise statement. You want the reader to know exactly what is coming, and you also want to make it sound as interesting as possible so that they decide to keep reading.
Let’s look at this example process to give you a better idea of how to get from your topic to your statement. Note that this is the development of a thesis statement for an argumentative essay.
- Choose a specific topic: Covid-19 vaccines
Narrow it down to a specific aspect: opposition to Covid-19 vaccines
- Ask a question: Should vaccination against Covid-19 be mandatory?
- Answer the question for yourself, by sorting through the available evidence/arguments:
Yes: vaccination protects other, more vulnerable people; vaccination reduces the spread of the disease; herd immunity will allow societies to go back to normal…
No: vaccines can have side-effects in some people; the vaccines have been developed too fast and there might be unknown risks; the government should stay out of personal decisions on people’s health…
- Form your opinion and reword it into your thesis statement that represents a very short summary of the key points you base your claim on:
While there is some hesitancy around vaccinations against Covid-19, most of the presented arguments revolve around unfounded fears and the individual freedom to make one’s own decisions. Since that freedom is offset by the benefits of mass vaccination, governments should make vaccines mandatory to help societies get back to normal.
This is a good argumentative thesis statement example because it does not just present a fact that everybody knows and agrees on, but a claim that is debatable and needs to be backed up by data and arguments, which you will do in the rest of your essay. You can introduce whatever evidence and arguments you deem necessary in the following—but make sure that all your points lead back to your core claim and support your opinion. This example also answers the question “how long should a thesis statement be?” One or two sentences are generally enough. If your statement is longer, make sure you are not using vague, empty expressions or more words than necessary.
Good and Bad Thesis Statement Examples
Not-so-good thesis statement: Everyone should get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Problem: The statement does not specify why that might be relevant or why people might not want to do it—this is too vague to spark anyone’s interest.
Good: Since the risks of the currently available Covid-19 vaccines are minimal and societal interests outweigh individual freedom, governments should make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory.
Not-so-good thesis statement: Binge drinking is bad for your health.
Problem: This is a very broad statement that everyone can agree on and nobody needs to read an article on. You need to specify why anyone would not think that way.
Good: Binge drinking has become a trend among college students. While some argue that it might be better for your health than regular consumption of low amounts of alcohol, science says otherwise.
Not-so-good thesis statement: Learning an instrument can develop a child’s cognitive abilities.
Problem: This is a very weak statement—”can” develop doesn’t tell us whether that is what happens in every child, what kind of effects of music education on cognition we can expect, and whether that has or should have any practical implications.
Good thesis statement: Music education has many surprising benefits on children’s overall development, including effects on language acquisition, coordination, problem-solving, and even social skills.
You could now present all the evidence on the specific effects of music education on children’s specific abilities in the rest of your (expository) essay. You could also turn this into an argumentative essay, by adding your own opinion to your statement:
Good thesis statement: Considering the many surprising benefits that music education has on children’s overall development, every child should be given the opportunity to learn an instrument as part of their public school education.
Not-so-good thesis statement: Outer space exploration is a waste of money.
Problem: While this is a clear statement of your personal opinion that people could potentially disagree with (which is good for an argumentative thesis statement), it lacks context and does not really tell the reader what to expect from your essay.
Good thesis statement: Instead of wasting money on exploring outer space, people like Elon Musk should use their wealth to solve poverty, hunger, global warming, and other issues we are facing on this earth.
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