Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Writing Tips: Thesis Statements
Defining the Thesis Statement
What is a thesis statement?
Every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message. The argument(s) you make in your paper should reflect this main idea. The sentence that captures your position on this main idea is what we call a thesis statement.
How long does it need to be?
A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.
Questions to Ask When Formulating Your Thesis
Where is your thesis statement?
You should provide a thesis early in your essay -- in the introduction, or in longer essays in the second paragraph -- in order to establish your position and give your reader a sense of direction.
Tip: In order to write a successful thesis statement:
- Avoid burying a great thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph or late in the paper.
- Be as clear and as specific as possible; avoid vague words.
- Indicate the point of your paper but avoid sentence structures like, “The point of my paper is…”
Is your thesis statement specific?
Your thesis statement should be as clear and specific as possible. Normally you will continue to refine your thesis as you revise your argument(s), so your thesis will evolve and gain definition as you obtain a better sense of where your argument is taking you.
Tip: Check your thesis:
- Are there two large statements connected loosely by a coordinating conjunction (i.e. "and," "but," "or," "for," "nor," "so," "yet")?
- Would a subordinating conjunction help (i.e. "through," "although," "because," "since") to signal a relationship between the two sentences?
- Or do the two statements imply a fuzzy unfocused thesis?
- If so, settle on one single focus and then proceed with further development.
Is your thesis statement too general?
Your thesis should be limited to what can be accomplished in the specified number of pages. Shape your topic so that you can get straight to the "meat" of it. Being specific in your paper will be much more successful than writing about general things that do not say much. Don't settle for three pages of just skimming the surface.
The opposite of a focused, narrow, crisp thesis is a broad, sprawling, superficial thesis. Compare this original thesis (too general) with three possible revisions (more focused, each presenting a different approach to the same topic):
- Original thesis:
- There are serious objections to today's horror movies.
- Revised theses:
- Because modern cinematic techniques have allowed filmmakers to get more graphic, horror flicks have desensitized young American viewers to violence.
- The pornographic violence in "bloodbath" slasher movies degrades both men and women.
- Today's slasher movies fail to deliver the emotional catharsis that 1930s horror films did.
Is your thesis statement clear?
Your thesis statement is no exception to your writing: it needs to be as clear as possible. By being as clear as possible in your thesis statement, you will make sure that your reader understands exactly what you mean.
Tip: In order to be as clear as possible in your writing:
- Unless you're writing a technical report, avoid technical language. Always avoid jargon, unless you are confident your audience will be familiar with it.
- Avoid vague words such as "interesting,” "negative," "exciting,” "unusual," and "difficult."
- Avoid abstract words such as "society," “values,” or “culture.”
These words tell the reader next to nothing if you do not carefully explain what you mean by them. Never assume that the meaning of a sentence is obvious. Check to see if you need to define your terms (”socialism," "conventional," "commercialism," "society"), and then decide on the most appropriate place to do so. Do not assume, for example, that you have the same understanding of what “society” means as your reader. To avoid misunderstandings, be as specific as possible.
Compare the original thesis (not specific and clear enough) with the revised version (much more specific and clear):
- Original thesis: Although the timber wolf is a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated. [if it's so timid and gentle -- why is it being exterminated?]
- Revised thesis: Although the timber wolf is actually a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated because people wrongfully believe it to be a fierce and cold-blooded killer.
Does your thesis include a comment about your position on the issue at hand?
The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic, how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to a simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.
- Avoid merely announcing the topic; your original and specific "angle" should be clear. In this way you will tell your reader why your take on the issue matters.
- Original thesis: In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between fairy tales and early childhood.
- Revised thesis: Not just empty stories for kids, fairy tales shed light on the psychology of young children.
- Avoid making universal or pro/con judgments that oversimplify complex issues.
- Original thesis: We must save the whales.
- Revised thesis: Because our planet's health may depend upon biological diversity, we should save the whales.
- When you make a (subjective) judgment call, specify and justify your reasoning. “Just because” is not a good reason for an argument.
- Original thesis: Socialism is the best form of government for Kenya.
- Revised thesis: If the government takes over industry in Kenya, the industry will become more efficient.
- Avoid merely reporting a fact. Say more than what is already proven fact. Go further with your ideas. Otherwise… why would your point matter?
- Original thesis: Hoover's administration was rocked by scandal.
- Revised thesis: The many scandals of Hoover's administration revealed basic problems with the Republican Party's nominating process.
Do not expect to come up with a fully formulated thesis statement before you have finished writing the paper. The thesis will inevitably change as you revise and develop your ideas—and that is ok! Start with a tentative thesis and revise as your paper develops.
Is your thesis statement original?
Avoid, avoid, avoid generic arguments and formula statements. They work well to get a rough draft started, but will easily bore a reader. Keep revising until the thesis reflects your real ideas.
Tip: The point you make in the paper should matter:
- Be prepared to answer “So what?” about your thesis statement.
- Be prepared to explain why the point you are making is worthy of a paper. Why should the reader read it?
Compare the following:
- Original thesis:
- There are advantages and disadvantages to using statistics. (a fill-in-the-blank formula)
- Revised theses:
- Careful manipulation of data allows a researcher to use statistics to support any claim she desires.
- In order to ensure accurate reporting, journalists must understand the real significance of the statistics they report.
- Because advertisers consciously and unconsciously manipulate data, every consumer should learn how to evaluate statistical claims.
Avoid formula and generic words. Search for concrete subjects and active verbs, revising as many "to be" verbs as possible. A few suggestions below show how specific word choice sharpens and clarifies your meaning.
- Original: “Society is...” [who is this "society" and what exactly is it doing?]
- Revised: "Men and women will learn how to...," "writers can generate...," "television addicts may chip away at...," "American educators must decide...," "taxpayers and legislators alike can help fix..."
- Original: "the media"
- Revised: "the new breed of television reporters," "advertisers," "hard-hitting print journalists," "horror flicks," "TV movies of the week," "sitcoms," "national public radio," "Top 40 bop-til-you-drop..."
- Original: "is, are, was, to be" or "to do, to make"
- Revised: any great action verb you can concoct: "to generate," "to demolish," "to batter," "to revolt," "to discover," "to flip," "to signify," "to endure..."
Use your own words in thesis statements; avoid quoting. Crafting an original, insightful, and memorable thesis makes a distinct impression on a reader. You will lose credibility as a writer if you become only a mouthpiece or a copyist; you will gain credibility by grabbing the reader with your own ideas and words.
A well-crafted thesis statement reflects well-crafted ideas. It signals a writer who has intelligence, commitment, and enthusiasm.
Developing an Implied Thesis Statement and Topic Sentences
Different types of writing require different types of thesis statementsA brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader?. Most academic essaysA formal writing that the author composes using research, a strong thesis, and supporting details in order to advance an idea or demonstrate understanding of a topic. require the writer to include a stated thesis statementA thesis statement that has been explicitly written in an article, essay, or other reading. while other pieces, such as personal narrativesA story or account of events that is written or told. , allow the writer to use an implied thesis statementAn indirect overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis of an essay or dissertation but is never stated directly in the writing., one that is not directly stated but one that the reader can inferTo reach a conclusion based on context and your own knowledge. from reading. Both types of thesis statements tell the reader the authorA person who wrote a text.'s topicThe subject of a reading. and purposeThe reason the writer is writing about a topic. It is what the writer wants the reader to know, feel, or do after reading the work. for writing about it.
Both an implied and stated thesis in an academic essay may sound like this: Preparing a weekly schedule helps students to be successful because it allows them to structure their class and work schedules, plan ahead for busy periods, and build in some free time for themselves. Both types of thesis statements provide direction for the remainder of the essay. The difference is that as a stated thesis, the statement actually appears in the introductionThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis. of the essay. An implied thesis statement, on the other hand, does not appear in the essay at all.
The introductory paragraphThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis. written for a narrative using the above thesis as an implied thesis statement may sound like this:
My first week in college taught me many things about my new, busy schedule. I got caught up in socializing and missed a few important assignments. I also thought I could work more at my part-time job like I had during high school. I soon learned, however, that I needed to schedule my activities better in order to be successful.
An opening paragraphA selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation. like this one in a narrative does not come out and state the author's exact thesis. It does, however, provide similar direction for the reader, resulting in an implied thesis.
A narrative is a story that has a purpose for being told. In other words, when a writer chooses a topic for a narrative, he or she must have a reason for writing about it. For example, if you wanted to write about a significant event in your life by telling a story about how you got your first job, you would need to think about your audience reading the narrative and ask yourself, "What do I want my readers to take away from this story?"
Using a variety of starting strategies such as brainstormingA prewriting technique where the author lists multiple ideas as he or she thinks of them, not considering one more than another until all ideas are captured. The objective is to create one great idea, or many ideas, on which to base a writing., listing ideas, freewritingA prewriting technique where the author begins writing without regard to spelling or grammar about ideas, topics, or even characters, descriptions of events, and settings. Often the writer will freewrite for a set period of time. The objective is to develop a storyline through the writing process itself., clusteringA prewriting technique where the author creates an informal visual layout of possible ideas, grouping them together. The objective is to create visual clusters of information on which to base a writing., or webbingA prewriting technique where the author creates an informal visual layout of possible ideas and then draws lines to connect them into a type of "web." The objective is to see connections between events and characters. can help you to begin thinking about a topic. Then, you can ask yourself questions about your topic using the five "Ws and the H – who, what, where, when, why, and how" to gather more ideas to write about. From there, you can begin the writing process by writing one paragraph about your topic, including a clear topic sentenceA group of words, phrases, or clauses that expresses a complete thought. A complete sentence has these characteristics: a capitalized first word, a subject and a predicate, and end punctuation, such as a period (.), question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!).. That paragraph should reveal the main pointsThe most important idea in a paragraph. Main points support the main idea of a reading. you would like to expand on in multiple paragraphs. The topic sentence in the paragraph can be used as your implied thesis statement for a narrative essay.
To write an implied thesis statement in response to a narrative promptInstructions for a writing assignment given by an instructor., follow these steps:
Step 1: Brainstorm.
Brainstorm possible ideas from your life experience that could potentially answer or respond to the prompt.
Step 2:Choose a topic and write a paragraph.
Choose one of the topics and write a brief paragraph explaining how that particular topic applies to the prompt.
Step 3:Write an implied thesis statement.
Using the topic sentence of the paragraph as a guide, write an implied thesis statement that explains why the details of the paragraph are important.
Step 4:Develop the topic sentences.
Begin outliningA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. the essay by developing topic sentencesA sentence that contains the controlling idea for an entire paragraph and is typically the first sentence of the paragraph. from the supporting details in the paragraph. This ensures that the implied thesis works as the guiding idea for the narrative.
There are many approaches to writing a narrative essay, but using the steps above can help you respond effectively to a typical narrative prompt in a college class.
+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION
Sometimes it works better for writers to write an implied thesis statement instead of a stated one because of the nature of the contentThe text in a writing that includes facts, thoughts, and ideas. The information that forms the body of the work.. For example, a report including large amounts of data that seeks to persuade the reader to draw a certain conclusion would be more likely to include a stated thesis. However, a narrative essay that explains certain events in a person's life is more likely to include an implied thesis statement because the writer wants to engage the reader in a different way. College students are often asked to write narrative essays to make connections between their personal experiences and the content they are studying, and an implied thesis statement helps to organize narratives in the same way a stated thesis statement organizes other essays.
Let's examine the process of developing a narrative essay that includes an implied thesis statement.
Prompt from instructor: Write about an important life lesson you have learned.
Step 1: Brainstorm.
First, create a list of possible narrative essay topics from the prompt given by the instructor.
- A little kindness goes a long way.
- Being patient can bring rewards.
- I am a role model in everything I do.
Step 2: Choose a topic and write a paragraph.
Next, choose one of the ideas related to a life lesson to be your topic.
Topic: How I learned to be a role model in everything I do.
Now, begin to create the implied thesis using this topic. To do this, write a short paragraph describing how you will tell this narrative and what you learned or are trying to explain to the reader.
Narrative: I will tell the story of when I worked at the daycare center last summer. When I worked as a childcare assistant, I learned the children were watching me and would mimic my actions. This taught me to be careful of what I said and did because I learned that children act like those around them.
Step 3: Write an implied thesis statement.
Now, write the implied thesis statement: "My experience at the daycare center taught me to always be a good role model because children are always watching."
Step 4: Develop the topic sentences.
From here, develop topic sentences that support the implied thesis statement for the paragraphs of the essay.
- Paragraph 1, Introduction, Topic Sentence:
"I learned many lessons when I worked at the community daycare center."
- Paragraph 2, Topic Sentence:
"My first day on the job was the most important of them all."
- Paragraph 3, Topic Sentence:
"Little Johnny taught me what it meant to be a bad role model for children."
- Paragraph 4, Topic Sentence:
"I changed my actions and saw immediate results with the children."
- Paragraph 5, Conclusion, Topic Sentence:
"I’ve worked at the daycare center for three summers now and continue to learn lessons from the children each year."
From here, a draft of the narrative essay can be created using the topic sentences.
+ YOUR TURN
Now, follow the process to choose a topic, write an implied thesis statement, and develop topic sentences that support the implied thesis statement for a potential narrative essay.
Step 1: Brainstorm.
List three potential narrative topics from the following prompt:
Write about an important life lesson that you have learned.
Step 2: Choose a topic and write a paragraph.
From the list created in Step 1, choose one as your topic.
Write a three- to four-sentence paragraph about the topic.
Step 3: Write an implied thesis statement.
From the short paragraph above, write an implied thesis statement.
Step 4: Develop the topic sentences.
Develop topic sentences that would be used in a narrative essay to support the implied thesis statement.
- Learning how to benefit from your failures creates success.
- Patience leads to perfection.
- Real happiness comes not from things, but from giving and receiving love.
I learned how to play the piano, but it took many years to develop this skill. I had to be patient to sit down and practice daily. I also had to be patient with myself to realize I would learn how to play the piano in time. Only through repeated practice can a person really perfect a talent. Therefore, patience is essential to perfection.
+ METACOGNITIVE QUESTIONS
How can an implied thesis statement be just as effective as a stated thesis?
Why do implied thesis statements work well in a narrative essay?
Like a stated thesis, an implied thesis will include the topic and purpose of the piece of writing and will help the writer structure his or her supporting details.
Narratives are about something personal that is happening to the writer. Sometimes it is more effective for a writer to draw the reader into the narrative. Doing so can create a stronger connection between the writer and the passage and can help the reader find the meaning by becoming personally connected with the piece.
Developed by The NROC Project. Copyright ©2018 Monterey Institute for Technology and Education