Thesis Statements: How to Write Them in Academic Essays

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A thesis statement is the single, specific claim that your essay supports. A strong thesis answers the question you want to raise; it does so by presenting a topic, your precise opinion on the topic, and a reasoning blueprint that sketches out the organization for the rest of the paper. A good thesis is not merely a factual statement, an observation, a personal opinion or preference, or the question you plan to answer.

Yes (good example)Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.

  • Thesis Statements: How to Frame Academic ArgumentsTopic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book is accurate
  • Reasoning Blueprint: the book pays attention to cultural detail, it uses Indian words, and it uses direct quotations from Black Elk. (The rest of the paper will establish the truth of teach of these supporting points, and then explain why they add up to support the truth of the thesis statement.)

Note about “accurately represents”: After I started assigning this handout, I started seeing the phrase “accurately represents” in a large proportion of student papers. You might try to argue that some text “borrows ineffectively from” or “forces us to question our assumptions about” or “provides a more expensive but more ethical solution than” or “challenges Jim Smith’s observation that ‘blah blah’” instead.

A more complicated thesis statement for a paper that asks you to demonstrate your ability engage with someone else’s ideas (rather than simply summarize or react to someone else’s ideas) might follow a forumla like this:

Although Smith says “quote a passage that makes a specific claim you intend disagree with” (123), in this paper I will use Brown’s concept of X to argue that [your original thesis goes here].”

Notes:

  • Your instructor might not want you to use “I” in your paper. You might instead say “This paper will use…” or “Applying Brown’s concept of X will show…”
  • Rather than promising to “use Brown to argue” (which is too general), this model recommends that you “use Brown’s concept of X to argue” (or “Brown’s case study” or “Brown’s thorough analysis” or “Brown’s unsuccessful rebuttal” — the more specific you are about how, specifically you will use Brown, the better).
  • It’s not enough to disagree with someone else; a strong paper will go beyond saying “Smith is wrong” and will instead say “Here’s a better solution that avoids problems P and Q that prevent Smith’s solution from working.”

For a short paper (1-2 pages), the thesis statement is often the first sentence. A complex thesis statement for a long paper may be part of a thesis paragraph. But it’s hard to go wrong if you put your thesis first.Useful Formulae for Thesis StatementsIf you’re not sure whether you have a good thesis statement, see whether you can fit your ideas into one of these basic patterns.

  • [Something] [does something] because [reason(s)].
  • Because [reason(s)], [something] [does something].
  • Although [opposing evidence], [reasons] show [something] [does something].

For longer papers, thesis statements can be very complex.

While [a specific, named person] says [a direct quote or paraphrase from the source], [a different, named person] says [something else]. While the two authors disagree over [a minor point], they both share a deep concern over [the topic of your paper]. [Person one’s] refusal to accept [a particular point made by person two]suggests that [person one] is [your thesis — stating the real reason why person one won’t agree with person two].

Parts of a Thesis StatementThe thesis statement has 3 main parts: the limited subject, the precise opinion, and the blueprint of reasons.1. Limited Subject2. Precise OpinionThe precise opinion gives your answer to a question about the subject. A good precise opinion is vital to the reader’s comprehension of the goal of the essay.3. Blueprint of ReasonsA blueprint is a plan. It lets the builder know that the foyer will be here, the living room will be to the east, the dining room to the west, and the family room will be north.The blueprint of an essay permits you to see the whole shape of your ideas before you start churning out whole paragraphs.While it’s okay for you to start writing down your ideas before you have a clear sense of your blueprint, your reader should never encounter a list of details without being told exactly what point these details are supposed to support. (For more details on the reasoning blueprint, see Blueprinting.)

Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle by its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.

In the blueprint, the author signals an intention to support the precise opinion. The author of the example above introduces three different kinds of evidence:

  • cultural details
  • Indian words
  • quotes from Black Elk.

Informed by this blueprint, the reader expects to encounter one section (a paragraph or more) devoted to each subtopic.The blueprint determines the shape of your paper.If your thesis statement introduces three reasons, the reader will expect a section on reason 1, a section on reason 2, and a section on reason 3. For a single paragraph, you might only spend one sentence on each reason. For a 2-3 page paper, each reason might get its own paragraph. For a 10-page paper, each reason might contain its own local thesis statement, with its own list of reasons, so that each section involves several paragraphs.To emphasize the structure of your essay, repeat keywords or paraphrased ideas from the blueprint as you introduce the sections in which you expand on each point. Crafting good transitions is a skill that takes time and practice. (See Transitions and Reminders of Thesis).

Note: If you repeat your blueprint phrases and your thesis statement robotically (“The third point I want to talk about is how Black Elk Speaks accurately represents the Indian lifestyle through its direct quotes from Black Elk.”), your writing will be rather dry and lifeless. Dull writing is probably better than aimless rambling, although neither is terribly effective. |

Note: A thesis statement amounts to nothing if the paper is not completely focused on that main point. Blueprinting helps create the coherency of the thesis throughout the entire essay, which makes it a necessary part of the thesis statement.

 

Yes (good example) Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
  • Topic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book is accurate
  • Reasoning Blueprint: the book pays attention to cultural detail, it uses Indian words, and it uses direct quotations from Black Elk. (The rest of the paper will establish the truth of teach of these supporting points, and then explain why they add up to support the truth of the thesis statement.)
No (poor example) Is Black Elks Speaks an accurate representation of Indian lifestyle?
This is a question, not a statement. It’s fine to sit down at the keyboard with the intention of writing a paper to answer this question, but before you start churning out the sentences, you should have a clear idea of what answer you’re trying to support.
Weak (questionable example) This paper will look at the book’s attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotations from Black Elk, in order to determine whether Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle.
The above sample is slightly better because it offers more detail, but it still doesn’t say whether the author plans to argue for or againt the book’s accuracy.
Yes (good example) Because the events in the story emphasize Black Elk’s role as a Sioux Warrior, and do not describe his eventual conversion to Catholicism and membership in the Society of St. Joseph, Black Elk Speaks presents a skewed and simplified view of the complex history of Native Americans.
Note that the above sample contains a topic (the accuracy of Black Elk Speaks), opinion (it is skewed and simplified), and reasoning (because the book only tells part of the story). You don’t need to present those three parts in that exact order every time; furthermore, your instructor may have a good reason to ask you for a different organization. But most of the time, including these three parts will help your reader to follow your ideas much more closely.
Yes (good example) Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
The limited subject tells the reader exactly on what, or whom the article focuses. The book title (Black Elk Speaks), from the example, is the limited subject of the thesis statement:
No (poor example) Biographies of all types can teach us many things about the past. What was the culture like? What was the language like? And what did the people say? One such book is Black Elk Speaks, which tells the story of a Sioux warrior in the late 1800s. How accurate is this book? This paper will investigate the cultural details, the language, and what Black Elk actually said, in order to determine the answer.
The above sample starts off with a wordy, general statement about biographies. But the main topic isn’t about biographies of all types, it’s specifically about one book, Black Elk Speaks.
Yes (good example) Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle by its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
In order to demonstrate college-level thinking, your opinion should be non-obvious, and it should be possible for a reasonable person to disagree with you. There aren’t many reasonable counter-arguments for claims like “Drug abuse is bad” or “The Nazi regime’s execution of 6 million innocent Jews was horrible.” That’s because it’s always wrong to “abuse” anything, and it’s always wrong to execute the innocent.
No (poor example) Does Black Elk Speaks accurately represent Indian lifestyle?
A question is not an opinion. You may, of course, wish to argue that a particular question is unanswerable, or not even worth asking — but that would still be an opinion that you would have to back up just like any other opinion.
Yes (good example) Black Elk Speaks fails to represent Indian lifestyle by its lack of attention to cultural detail, its misunderstanding of Indian words, and its lack of quotes from Black Elk himself.
This precise opinion also tells how the author feels, yet it is completely opposite from the original example. Either is acceptable,as long as the rest of the essay supports the opinion.

17 Oct 2000 — originally posted by Nicci Jordan, UWEC Junior
08 Dec 2000 — first posted here. Maintained by Prof. Jerz.
13 Dec 2003 — links updated
22 Sep 2006 — moderate revisions by Jerz
29 Oct 2011 — updated by Jerz

Blueprinting: Planning Your Essay
A blueprint is a rough but specific plan, or outline, which defines the structure of your whole essay. The blueprint, usually located within the thesis statement, is a brief list of the points you plan to make, compressed into just a few words each, in the same order in which they appear in the body of your paper.Hochstein, Jordan, and Jerz

Thesis Reminders
A thesis reminder is a direct echo of the thesis statement. In a short paper, the topic sentence of each paragraph should repeat words or phrases from the thesis statement.Dennis G. Jerz

Timed Essays: Planning and Organizing in a Crunch

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192 thoughts on “Thesis Statements: How to Write Them in Academic Essays

  1. my thesis is about stem, i put “The future of the world is going to be based off of STEM and the technology it creates” any suggestions?

  2. Help! I need help with a thesis statement for a book called; Venice CA. A City State Of Mind it’s a bout living in Venice CA. In the 50s & 60s to present. There were writers, druggies, Fashionable, misfits, go with the flow society stuck in a time zone in the Venice inviornment. Please help!!!!

  3. Hi I need help
    this week’s assignment I have to write a thesis statement for my topic – which is lung cancer,

  4. Help please I can’t figure out how to write my thesis statement evening after writing the entire essay whish is below.

    Frederick Douglass a former slave, escaped to tell his story to the world. When he tells his story he tends to sway back and forth between a narrating tone and a direct and personal tone. Instead of talking about his story, he addresses the audience more directly. When he explains about why he chooses to keep his escape story a secret, it seems that he is talking to the audience as if in person, rather than describing his life as a slave. To actually be able to think that this brief change is beneficial, for it makes the story seem much more realistic and personal. One must feel as if they are watching him tell his story, and these direct remarks help create this image.

    Regarding his syntax, his choice of sentence structure towards the end of this passage seems to express a rise in his anxiety and excitement in his voice. This shift in voice is crucial. The audience can see it in this sentence fragment “Let him be a fugitive slave in a strange land–“ (113), the entire rest of the passage is connected with dashes, creating an extremely long and passionate run on sentence. This long sentence is not a ‘run on,’ It is linked parallel clauses.This shows his great discomfort in arriving in a new city, being unable to trust anyone, having nothing to live on, and fearing the return to slavery if he makes the mistake of confiding in anyone at all. It just reinforces his distrust in others, but himself. By creating this long sentence in his writing he shows great amounts of emotion. Some emotion that is shown is the intense fear that is easily noticed, as if he is becoming more and more upset with every work he speaks. The audience can feel the nerves in his voice, and if he were to abide by the basic rules of grammar and change this paragraph to respect them, his emotion would be lost. Also, he uses some parallel structure in his long aforementioned run-on sentence that helps its rhythm, therefore eliminating any awkwardness that may come when reading a run-on. He repeats words and phrases at the beginning of multiple fragments such as “without”, “wanting”, “let him”, “I say”, and “in the midst of” (113). By doing so, he seems to emphasize and connect certain points that he is making, which helps his overall purpose in explaining that his move to the city was difficult and somewhat troubling

    Douglass also uses some rhetorical devices in this expert that make his narrative even more meaningful. Some of the rhetorical devices that he uses is metaphors and imagery, but especially similes. The similes that he uses seem to have a big impact on the audience. In the beginning, he adds a few similes that help focus on a certain image that he wants the audience to see and understand. When trying to describe his emotions when he is finally free, he decides to compare instead of explain hoping will be the best way to relate to the audience. He compares his feelings of freedom to “the unarmed mariner” (112) and how this mariner would feel when “rescued by a friendly man-of-war from the pursuit of a pirate” (112). He goes even further and describes his arrival in New York as if he “had escaped a den of hungry lions” (112). By using these similes, he is able to relate to the audience on a closer level while describing the horrors of slavery. Therefore making it hard to fully grasp his thoughts. The similes serve as a connection to those more fortunate than he and help make his complicated and emotional story a little more relatable. By the end of this passage, people tend to feel much sympathy for him, for his nerve-racking and tormented life has still not come to an end, even though his escape from slavery was finally complete. He can now freely discover the real world, but his past life as a “toil-worn and whip-scarred fugitive slave” (113) has also scarred him for life. Douglass’s word choice and structure only help demonstrate his thoughts, and his fluidity throughout this passage make it so memorable and remarkable.

    Douglass seems to lose his gained confidence, and enter a state of extreme vulnerability. Though he escaped his dreadful enslavement, his excitement for initial freedom transformed into a feeling of “insecurity and loneliness”. Douglass wants to the audience to empathize with this feeling.

    In his past, when enslaved, Douglass was dehumanized. He conditioned by the malicious slaveholders, treated as property; the same level of treatment as swine, and cattle, both harmless animals. But when he is free, and finally reaches this sort of “human status”, he feels insecure once again. Now, he compares his slave holders to vicious animals seeking him as their prey. He uses this animal metaphor in order to describe the unfamiliarity with both his surroundings and his fellow-man. At this moment, Douglass is alone, and helpless.

    Inmates at Alcatraz once looked across the San Francisco bay, at the city lights, and said “There’s so much out there, but we can’t reach it.” Douglass feels similar, stumbling in a world of freedom with so much possibility, but he is unable to seize food or shelter.

    To conclude the rhetorical devices and how they were used in the passage is basically that the audience had to zero in on Douglass’s emotional state and, especially on the stark contrast between his confidence and vulnerability. The emotion that is felt shifts throughout the passage, moving from excitement to loneliness and fear. The point about the desperation the audience hears in his voice as he attempts to convey what it felt like to be a fugitive can aso be felt. The last thing that people can take from this passage is that he expresses a great deal of ambivalence here, as if he was quite unable to really enjoy freedom because it was tinged with so much apprehension and fear.

    • Lucy, my advice would depend completely on the purpose of the assignment, what your instructor has asked you to do, what grade level, etc. your instructor already knows the answers to questions like that, so your instructor is really the best person to ask.

    • The essay is suppose to be analysis of language Douglass uses to convey his states of mind. I have written the actually essay but I just cant come up with a thesis statement. can you please help me.

  5. I’d suggest that you start by reading this handout, and then post a few tries. I’ll be happy to give you feedback, but you’ll have to give me something to respond to, first.

  6. The colorado river’s river bed is geting dryer every year and it is cause by geographical reasons.!

    is this good.?

  7. help i need a 3 point thesis statement for an argument paper. My points: children are over medicated with ADHD stimulants because (1) the pharmaceuticals are pushing medication (2) medication is being used to control inconvenient personality traits (3) correct poor parenting skills

  8. That depends upon the purpose of the assignment. If your goal is to explain a cause-effect relationship, you are on the right track. If instead your instructor wants you to compare, or persuade the reader, or evaluate different possible solutions to a problem with no obvious right answer, the thesis you propose will need a little more work.

  9. All 3 points could be true, but does that mean every child who takes ADHD medication is overmedicated?

    Who decides how much medication is enough and how much is too much? Maybe your definition of “overmedicated” differs from mine.

    How many children are overmedicated — 5? 50,000? If one morning my kid takes one extra pill because he forgot to take a pill last night, does that mean he’s overmedicated? If one doctor says to give him 2 pills a day and a different doctor says three, and I give him 3, then the first doctor will say my kid is overmedicated and the second doctor and I won’t. Who is right? Compared to the total number of children who get ADHD medication, what percentage are over medicated, and who counted? How does this compare to the percentage of children who are overmedicated for other issues? What are the strongest arguments AGAINST the claim you want to make? What us the name of the most crediblt author you found who opposes the claim you are making? What evidence do your opponents cite, and how can you refute their claims?

  10. hello!
    i have to write a research paper about bullying but first it has to have a strong good thesis statement! but i really dont know how to start!
    need your help ASAP!
    thanks

  11. You’ve found the right page, yaswk. I’m not sure how to help you, though, since I’ve already written all my best advice on this page. If you try to follow my advice, and post a few suggestions, I can tell you which one I think is best.

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