A thesis can be found in many places—a debate speech, a lawyer’s closing argument, even an advertisement. But the most common place for a thesis statement (and probably why you’re reading this article) is in an essay.
Whether you’re writing an argumentative paper, an informative essay, or a compare/contrast statement, you need a thesis. Without a thesis, your argument falls flat and your information is unfocused. Since a thesis is so important, it’s probably a good idea to look at some tips on how to put together a strong one.
What is a “thesis statement” anyway?
You may have heard of something called a “thesis.” It’s what seniors commonly refer to as their final paper before graduation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That type of thesis is a long, well-written paper that takes years to piece together.
Instead, we’re talking about a single sentence that ties together the main idea of any argument. In the context of student essays, it’s a statement that summarizes your topic and declares your position on it. This sentence can tell a reader whether your essay is something they want to read.
2 Categories of Thesis Statements: Informative and Persuasive
Just as there are different types of essays, there are different types of thesis statements. The thesis should match the essay.
For example, with an informative essay, you should compose an informative thesis (rather than argumentative). You want to declare your intentions in this essay and guide the reader to the conclusion that you reach.
To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you must procure the ingredients, find a knife, and spread the condiments.
This thesis showed the reader the topic (a type of sandwich) and the direction the essay will take (describing how the sandwich is made).
Most other types of essays, whether compare/contrast, argumentative, or narrative, have thesis statements that take a position and argue it. In other words, unless your purpose is simply to inform, your thesis is considered persuasive. A persuasive thesis usually contains an opinion and the reason why your opinion is true.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best type of sandwich because they are versatile, easy to make, and taste good.
In this persuasive thesis statement, you see that I state my opinion (the best type of sandwich), which means I have chosen a stance. Next, I explain that my opinion is correct with several key reasons. This persuasive type of thesis can be used in any essay that contains the writer’s opinion, including, as I mentioned above, compare/contrast essays, narrative essays, and so on.
2 Styles of Thesis Statements
Just as there are two different types of thesis statements (informative and persuasive), there are two basic styles you can use.
The first style uses a list of two or more points. This style of thesis is perfect for a brief essay that contains only two or three body paragraphs. This basic five-paragraph essay is typical of middle and high school assignments.
C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is one of the richest works of the 20th century because it offers an escape from reality, teaches readers to have faith even when they don’t understand, and contains a host of vibrant characters.
In the above persuasive thesis, you can see my opinion about Narnia followed by three clear reasons. This thesis is perfect for setting up a tidy five-paragraph essay.
In college, five paragraph essays become few and far between as essay length gets longer. Can you imagine having only five paragraphs in a six-page paper? For a longer essay, you need a thesis statement that is more versatile. Instead of listing two or three distinct points, a thesis can list one overarching point that all body paragraphs tie into.
Good vs. evil is the main theme of Lewis’s Narnia series, as is made clear through the struggles the main characters face in each book.
In this thesis, I have made a claim about the theme in Narnia followed by my reasoning. The broader scope of this thesis allows me to write about each of the series’ seven novels. I am no longer limited in how many body paragraphs I can logically use.
Formula for a Strong Argumentative Thesis
One thing I find that is helpful for students is having a clear template. While students rarely end up with a thesis that follows this exact wording, the following template creates a good starting point:
___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.
Conversely, the formula for a thesis with only one point might follow this template:
___________________ is true because of _____________________.
Students usually end up using different terminology than simply “because,” but having a template is always helpful to get the creative juices flowing.
The Qualities of a Solid Thesis Statement
When composing a thesis, you must consider not only the format, but other qualities like length, position in the essay, and how strong the argument is.
Length: A thesis statement can be short or long, depending on how many points it mentions. Typically, however, it is only one concise sentence. It does contain at least two clauses, usually an independent clause (the opinion) and a dependent clause (the reasons). You probably should aim for a single sentence that is at least two lines, or about 30 to 40 words long.
Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.
Strength: Finally, for a persuasive thesis to be strong, it needs to be arguable. This means that the statement is not obvious, and it is not something that everyone agrees is true.
Example of weak thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make because it just takes three ingredients.
Most people would agree that PB&J is one of the easiest sandwiches in the American lunch repertoire.
Example of a stronger thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun to eat because they always slide around.
This is more arguable because there are plenty of folks who might think a PB&J is messy or slimy rather than fun.
Composing a thesis statement does take a bit more thought than many other parts of an essay. However, because a thesis statement can contain an entire argument in just a few words, it is worth taking the extra time to compose this sentence. It can direct your research and your argument so that your essay is tight, focused, and makes readers think.
Like what you saw?
Get weekly, valuable content on writing, research, and education technology. Submit your email below to sign up!
Don't forget to support your writing with our most popular citation styles: APA, MLA & Chicago!
What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement argues an analytical idea. It is your own interpretation that you intend to back up with textual evidence; this is your reason and motivation for writing.
A thesis statement must be specific not only about the main idea, but how or why that main idea is logical or meaningful.
Students should spend their free period time in the lounge.
(This is a main idea, but it does not explain why or how it makes sense.)
Students should spend their free period time in the lounge because students can socialize by interacting with other students in the open and free space.
(This is a main idea with a reason that explains why it’s a logical idea.)
Once you have clarified a specific main idea and why or how it makes sense, you can fool around with the structure of the sentence.
Since free period time is for socializing, students should spend their free period time in the lounge because it’s the best place in the school for students to interact with each other.
While the library is also a place where students socialize, the lounge is the best place for students to spend their free period time since an open and free space for students to interact in a non-academic setting.
Complex sentences, like the ones written above, work well for thesis statements.A complex sentence has more than one clause: a dependent clause and an independent clause.
An independent clause can stand on its own as a full sentence:
Students should spend their free period time in the lounge.
A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence; it always clarifies the independent idea:
Since free period time is for socializing,
Because it’s the best place in the school for students to interact with each other,
Here are some examples of complex sentence structures that can work for your thesis statement:
____________________________________________, because _______________________________.
Since _______________________________________, _______________________________________.
Through ____________________________________, _______________________________________.
As _________________________________________, _______________________________________.
Once ______________________________________, ________________________________________.
While ________________________, _____________________________, because ________________.
Despite ______________________, ______________________________, because ________________.
Although _____________________, ______________________________, because_________________.
Even though __________________, _______________________________, because ________________.
Some examples of effective thesis statements:
By empathizing with the struggle some individuals face to feel free, Scout is able to surpass her initial misjudgments of others and recognize that each person deserves respect.
Since Holden lacks self-confidence and is dissatisfied with who he is as an individual, he is unable to form meaningful relationships with other adults.
Although Mr. Hundert has strong morals, he does not consistently act on his beliefs and thus fails to instill a sense of morality in his students.
Although Myrtle initially embodies the glimpse of possibility and vitality in the Valley of Ashes, her desperate attempts to appear wealthy through Tom coupled with her exaggerated death highlight Fitzgerald's resentment toward the dismal reality of the American Dream.
Since Achebe explores the complexity and dignity of the Igbo tribe's religion and culture, he combats the image of Africans as a crude and savage people.