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, the position you wish to defend, and a reasoning blueprint that sketches out your defense of your chosen position. A good thesis is not merely a factual statement, an observation, a personal opinion or preference, or the question you plan to answer. (See “Academic Argument: Evidence-based Defense of a Non-obvious Position.”
Good Example The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.

Thesis Statements: How to Frame Academic Arguments

  • Topic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book challenges a stereotype
  • 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.)

Instead of claiming that a book “challenges a genre’s stereotypes,” you might instead argue that some text “provides a more expensive but more ethical solution than X” or “challenges Jim Smith’s observation that ‘[some quote from Smith here]’” 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:

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

Good Example Useful Formulae for Thesis Statements

If 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.

Good Example 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].
Academic Argument: Evidence-based Defense of a Non-obvious Position

Academic Argument: Evidence-based Defense of a Non-obvious Position

Parts of a Thesis Statement

The thesis statement has 3 main parts: the limited subject, the precise opinion, and the blueprint of reasons.

1. Limited Subject

Make sure you’ve chosen a subject that meets your instructor’s requirements for the assignment. (It never hurts to ask.)

2. Precise Opinion

The 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 Reasons

A 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.)

Good Example The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through 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 A, B and C, the reader will expect a section on reason A, a section on reason B, and a section on reason C.

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.

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.)
Bad Example Is Black Elks Speaks a tragedy?
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.
Iffy 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 what position the author is taking on the topic of whether the book is accurate.
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.

Bad 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.

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
14 June 2015 — minor adjustments

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

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

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  3. Hi. I began an essay on the topic ; reasons why pursuing college education is important. I had it started off this way… Aristotle said it best when he stated, “Education is the best provision for life’s journey.” Pursuing a college education provides individuals with career pportunities, higher income and experiences necessary in the journey of life. Please do you think I started off good or too weak? I need your help as this is a great assignment for me to make up for my mid semester examination which I was unable to attend!

    • Your instructor is the one who will grade the assignment, so he or she is the best source of feedback. Without knowing what grade/level you are, or what kind of class you are taking, I can’t really advise you. However, unless you have read Aristotle’s works yourself and can place that quote in its context, I would not recommend pulling a random quote from a website and using it to start a paper. The complete quote is “Education is the best provision for the journey to old age,” but what does that mean?

      The word “best” means there is at least a “good” and a “better,” and that by some measurement or judgement, a third thing is “best.” What are the two other sayings (at least) that you have compared to Aristotle, and what are the two other things (at least) that Aristotle thinks are not as good provision for life’s journey to old age? Why does your opinion (on at least three different sayings, of which the best is Aristotle’s), and at least three different provisions for old age (of which the best is education) help you to answer your instructor’s prompt about the reasons for pursing a college education?

      What we think of as “college” is very different from the education that Aristotle would have received (or provided). I suggest you look into ways that a college education encourages critical thinking, which is a different way of thinking than “Did I get the right answer? Will my teacher approve? What’s the secret ‘correct’ answer in the back of my instructor’s book that I should memorize and spit back?” Maybe your instructor wants you to determine for yourself whether you feel gaining a college education is worth the intellectual effort.

  4. This is great stuff. I wonder if you didn’t mean expansive rather than expensive in the following sentence. “Instead of claiming that a book “challenges a genre’s stereotypes,” you might instead argue that some text “provides a more expensive but more ethical solution than X” or “challenges Jim Smith’s observation that ‘[some quote from Smith here]’” instead.

    • Thanks for your feedback. I’m glad you found the page useful. I really did mean “expensive” in that example, though I am simply suggesting that considering cost is worth exploring in an argument, depending on the kind of argument you are making.

  5. Hi
    i am doing the preparation of competitive exam , i have to write an Essay of 2500-2800 words, data should be critical and researched base,
    for example there is Essay on Climate change , then please tell me how i develop a thesis statement, and how we write thesis statement, is it is written in the start of Essay or in the end of introduction, some people said that thesis satement should be written in start other say that this written in end of introductory paragraph. please help me with example thanks

    • Rab, if you are looking for my advice on thesis statements, you have found the right page. If you have any specific questions or comments about the content of this page, I’d be happy to address them. I’ve already put lots of time into this page, and at the moment I can’t think of a way to present my advice any more clearly.

      Although you did say “please,” even so, “tell me how I develop a thesis statement” is asking for quite a lot.

      What is your college major or your area of professonal expertise? If I asked you to tell me, right here on my blog, what I need to know in order to succeed in a competitive exam in your field, what would you say?

      If I went to a doctor and said “Tell me how to diagnose a patient,” or I went to a judge and said “Tell me how to interpret the law,” or I went to an artist and said “Tell me how to be creative,” do you think they would be able give me a few sentences that completely answer my question and prepare me for professional work as a doctor, judge, or artist? If they had spent years as students learning their subject matter, and additional years teaching or writing a textbook on their specialty, they might be very good in their professions but I’d bet they’d all find it tough to answer such a question in any meaningful way.

      I won’t be evaluating your submission, so my opinion on debatable topics such as where the thesis should go won’t be of any specific use to you.

  6. Vehicles has become a essential part of human being life. People used to bicycle but by the time mode of commute has been replaced by car .however, still in some cities people prefer to ride bicycle for travelling.

    Plz tell me how can I impressive to my intro and how can I improve my writing skill

    • Jonu, I’d say the most important helpful thing you can do is expose yourself to English as spoken by native English speakers, talking with people who know the language well enough that they can correct you immediately, in casual conversation, when you make one of the word-level errors that only an expert user of the language would spot. There is no shortcut — exposing yourself to a language is the only way to learn it.

  7. I am doing preparation of ielts exam . but I faface difficulty in grammar and especially in thesis line which I confuse that what should i write in thesis line among all kinds of essay …plz tell me but should I do to improve it.

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