How to Write a Thesis Statement

Attention, college students! Your thesis writing troubles are over. Want to come up with a winning, on-point thesis for your essay or research paper? If so, it is time to stop worrying about what you will write and start focusing on what you will argue and defend.  If that sounds a bit hair-splitting, read on and consider the easy steps involved in coming up with a thesis for that daunting writing assignment so that you can stop procrastinating, avoid all those false starts and begin writing.

What a thesis is NOT

Your thesis is not merely telling your reader what you are going to write about. It is also not a preview of the great information you came up with during your long hours of research and note taking. It sounds unfair, but that’s the way it is. Unless your assignment is just facts without analysis or critical thinking, you’re going to have to dig deeper and develop an argument that you can defend and that will give your writing direction, focus and originality.

Characteristics of a good thesis

1.Your thesis statement will make a claim or argument and not just an observation. For example, “Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is a deeply racist novel” would be an observation.” On the other hand, “Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is a deeply racist novel, because it graphically illustrates the worst of white European colonist treatment of African natives” is an argument. The latter statement gives makes a claim that could inspire other points of view. For example, it could be argued that European colonists were not racists, but they really just wanted to raise the cultural level of Africans, who lived in barbaric and squalid conditions.

2. Your thesis will determine everything you intend to say in your paper. Every fact or quote you cite, every paragraph you write to develop your argument must be in solid defense of your thesis. If you stray from your thesis, or something that you write does not support your thesis, you’re either going to have to throw it out, or tweak your thesis. Consider your thesis as an “agreement” between you and the reader. Throw in something new, or a fact that does not support your thesis, and you have “violated” that agreement (and possibly reduced your grade).

3. Your thesis will provide direction and structure to your paper. It shows the reader what you intend to argue and how you intend to argue it. In the example of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” you thesis statement could be a “road map” that describes and illustrates your assertion bit by bit as the main character travels into the “Dark Continent” and describes everything that happens, all the while proving your thesis.

There are other types of theses (the thesis question and the implied thesis), but beginning college writers who stick to the foregoing will soon develop the structured writing habits so important in academic writing and research. That very structure, ironically, gives the writer some flexibility in developing an “evolving” thesis. It is not uncommon for a writer to change a thesis as further facts come to light. Those facts arise from the relentless dedication to consistency in defending the thesis statement.

For more information on what makes a good thesis statement as well as a good checklist, see the Dartmouth Writing Program web page “Developing Your Thesis.”