thesis statement (composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Steering Wheel
In Rhetorical Strategies for Composition (2016), Karen A. Wink describes the thesis statement as "the steering wheel of the essay; without this central statement, the essay is absent of a guiding instrument.". Arman Zhenikeyev / Getty Images

Definition

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

The thesis statement serves as the organizing principle of the text and usually appears in the introductory paragraph, often at the end.

In Writing: A Manual for the Digital Age (2012), Blakesley and Hoogeveen point out that an effective thesis statement "singles out some aspect of a subject for attention and clearly defines your approach to it.

It says 'Look at this rather than that' or 'Think about that in this way.'" 

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Examples and Guidelines

  • "The reason for placing a thesis in the first paragraph of an essay or as soon after it as possible is that the sooner you state it the more likely you are to remain aware of your main idea and the less likely you are to wander from that idea as you write."
    (Morton A. Miller, Reading and Writing Short Essays. Random House, 1980)
     
  • The Purpose of the Thesis Statement
    "[T]he purpose of the thesis is to give order both to the reader and to the writer. It does this by clearly stating the central claim that a piece of writing will try to prove. The writer takes care in the thesis statement to articulate a paper's argument as precisely as possible, and this precision clarifies and focuses the direction of the paper. Most of the time, a writer must work with a dynamic thesis statement—one that changes and evolves during the writing process. In other words, a working thesis statement that articulates what a writer is interested in exploring will be enough to guide a writer through a draft of the essay, but the exact words for the thesis statement are not finalized until the paper is nearly complete."
    (Kathleen Muller Moore and Susie Lan Cassel, Techniques for College Writing: The Thesis Statement and Beyond. Wadsworth, Cengage, 2011)
     
  • Examples of Strong and Weak Thesis Statements
    - "A strong thesis statement both names the topic and reveals the writer's opinion about that topic. It should be clear and specific. A thesis statement can also list the supporting ideas, but sometimes these are written in a separate sentence.

    "Look at these examples of a weak and a strong thesis statement.

    Weak thesis statement:
    India has a lot of interesting festivals.
    The statement is too broad—the writer can't discuss all Indian festivals. Even though it does state the writer's opinion, the statement is not clear: it doesn't explain why the festivals are interesting.

    Strong thesis statement:
    Diwali is an important festival for Indians because they celebrate, remember traditional legends, and enjoy time with their families.
    The topic is specific enough, and it clearly gives the writer's opinion. In addition, it lists the supporting ideas."
    (Dorothy Zemach and Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz, Writers at Work: The Essay. Cambridge University Press, 2008)

    - "Important sentences (thesis statements, for example) should begin with interesting, specific words. Compare the following sentence pairs:
    An experience that changed my life was the night I spent in jail. WEAK THESIS STATEMENT

    The night I spent in jail last summer led to three important changes in my life. BETTER
    Although both sentences are grammatically correct, the second is stronger."
    (Jean Reynolds, Introduction to College Writing. Prentice Hall, 2000)
     
  • Characteristics of an Effective Thesis Statement
    - "A strong thesis statement has several basic features:
    • It focuses on a single main point or position about the topic.
    • It is neither too broad or too narrow.
    • It is specific.
    • It is something that you can show, explain, or prove.
    • It is a forceful statement written in confident, firm language."
    (Susan Anker, Real Essays With Readings, 3rd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009)

    - "An effective thesis statement suggests your essay's direction, emphasis, and scope. Your thesis should not make promises that your essay will not fulfill. It should suggest where you will place your emphasis and indicate in what order your major points will be discussed, as the following statement does.
    Effective Thesis Statement
    Widely ridiculed as escape reading, romance novels are important as a proving ground for many never-before-published writers and, more significantly, as a showcase for strong heroines.
    This thesis statement is effective because it tells readers that the essay to follow will focus on two major roles of the romance novel: providing markets for new writers and (more important) presenting strong female characters."
    (Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, The Brief Wadsworth Handbook, 7th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)
     
  • The Lead-in to the Thesis Statement
    "Most teachers like some artful lead-in to the thesis statement, and therefore like to see a 'hook' statement that begins the essay—a statement that romances the reader, an invitational statement that lets the reader know that the writer has something worthwhile to say. . . . The hook may present an example, description, or even an anecdote that connects to the thesis statement. The hook may be more than one sentence. Going from the hook to the thesis statement is a 'link' sentence. The hook-link-thesis statement sequence does two things: 1) it communicates that the writer is in the zone, observing the expected conventions; and 2) it allows the reader to transition."
    (Amy Benjamin, Writing Put to the Test: Teaching for the High Stakes Essay. Eye On Education, 2006)
     
  • Revising a Thesis Statement
    To test your thesis, consider the following questions:
    - How can you state your thesis more precisely or more clearly? Should the wording be more specific? . . .
    - In what ways will your thesis interest your audience? What can you do to increase that interest?
    - Will your thesis be manageable, given your limits of time and knowledge? If not, what can you do to make it more manageable?
    - What evidence from your research supports each aspect of your thesis? What additional evidence do you need?
    (Andrea A. Lunsford, The St. Martin's Handbook. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008)