Reading & Writing Across Curriculum

Writing Thesis Statements

Academic essays ususally have a thesis statement, a one- or two-sentence summary of a paper’s main point, usually found at the end of the introduction. Below are a few guidelines for thesis statements.

A thesis statement should be specific about what your paper will argue.

Some students believe that their thesis statement should be vague so it doesn't give the argument away. In fact, your thesis statement is supposed to give the argument away--that's its job! Without a clear idea where your paper is going, it is difficult for readers to follow your points as you make them in the paper.

don't be vague or mysterious This essay will give my reaction to Al Gore's view of global warming.
do be as specific as possible While Al Gore does provide some strong evidence for global warming, he relies too heavily on scaring his audience, which weakens his argument.

 

A thesis statement should describe the paper's overall argument, not the main point of each body paragraph.

One strategy commonly taught to beginning writers is to list the topic of each body paragraph in the thesis statement. While this is a good way to learn the principles of organization, it has a few problems. One is that it doesn't lead to a complex main point for your paper. Also, it only works for a short paper--imagine writing this type of thesis statement for a ten or twenty-page paper! For this reason, you should avoid listing the body paragraphs in your thesis statement unless the assignment or your teacher has told you to do so.

don't list the topics of each body paragraph (unless the assignment instructs you to do so) The play Macbeth shows that men and women differ in emotionalism, loyalty, and the way they deal with guilty feelings.
do explain your larger topic The differences between Lady and Lord Macbeth's reactions to Duncan's murder demonstrate Shakespeare's view that men are more simplistic and straightforward than women.

 

A thesis statement can be more than one sentence long, if necessary.

Students are often taught that a thesis statement should only be one sentence in length. While one sentence is ideal, it is not desirable to have an incredibly long, complicated sentence that will confuse your reader. It is fine to have a two-sentence thesis statement in these cases. In fact, once you split up your long sentence, you may find that the new second sentence can stand along as a thesis statement, as in the following example.

don't squish too many ideas into a single sentence Many people believe that the Constitution is an unquestionable document whose ideas must be taken literally, but I believe that the Constitution is a living document that should be open to interpretation and updated as our country progresses, while still keeping within the general ideals that our nation was founded upon.
do split up your sentence if it gets too long Many people believe that the Constitution is an unquestionable document whose ideas must be taken literally. However, I believe that the Constitution is a living document that should be open to interpretation and updated as our country progresses, while still keeping within the general ideals that our nation was founded upon.

 

Want more strategies for working on thesis statements? Go to the page on Observation + Analysis.

 

 

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Page last modified: May 13, 2016