How to Write a Good Thesis Statement

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For students especially, crafting a thesis statement can be a challenge. But it's important to know how to write one because a thesis statement is the heart of your essay. Here are some tips and examples to follow.

Definition

In composition, a thesis statement (or controlling idea) is a sentence in an essay, report, research paper, or speech that identifies the main idea and/or central purpose of the text.

In rhetoric, a claim is similar to a thesis.

Purpose of the Thesis Statement

The thesis statement serves as the organizing principle of the text and appears in the introductory paragraph. It is not a mere statement of fact. Rather, it is an idea, a claim, or an interpretation, one that others may dispute. Your job as a writer is to persuade the reader―through the careful use of examples and thoughtful analysis―that your argument is a valid one.

Developing Your Argument

Your thesis is the most important part of your writing. Before you begin writing, you'll want to follow these tips for developing a good thesis statement.

Read and compare your sources: What are the main points they make? Do your sources conflict with one another? Don't just summarize your sources' claims; look for the motivation behind their motives.

Draft your thesis: Good ideas are rarely born fully formed. They need to be refined.

By committing your thesis to paper, you'll be able to refine it as you research and draft your essay.

Consider the other side: Just like a court case, there are two sides to every argument. You'll be able to refine your thesis by considering the counterclaims and refuting them in your essay.

Be Clear and Concise

An effective thesis should answer the reader question, "So what?" It should not be more than a sentence or two.

Don't be vague or your reader won't care.

Incorrect: British indifference caused the American Revolution.

Correct: By treating their U.S. colonies as little more than a source of revenue and limiting colonists' political rights, British indifference contributed to the start of the American Revolution.

Make a Statement

Although you do want to grab your reader's attention, asking a question is not the same as making a thesis statement. Your job is to persuade by presenting a clear, concise concept what explains both how and why.

Incorrect: Have you ever wondered why Thomas Edison gets all the credit for the light bulb?

Correct: It was his savvy self-promotion and ruthless business tactics that cemented Thomas Edison's legacy, not the invention of the light bulb itself.

Don't Be Confrontational

Although you are trying to prove a point, you are not trying to force your will on the reader.

Incorrect: The stock market crash of 1929 wiped out many small investors who were financially inept and deserved to lose their money.

Correct: While a number of economic factors caused the stock market crash of 1929, the losses were made worse by uninformed first-time investors who made poor financial decisions.