Writing a Thesis Statement

Definition

A thesis statement is a single sentence, preferably a simple declarative sentence, that expresses the basic idea around which the paper will develop.

Purpose

The thesis statement declares the main purpose of the entire paper. It should answer the questions: "What is my opinion on subject X? What am I going to illustrate ordefine or argue in this paper?" It is the single most useful organizational tool for both the writer and the reader.

Although the thesis statement is a valuable organizing tool, it does not have to be the first sentence you write when you begin your paper. If you find yourself getting bogged down trying to zero in on your thesis statement, start writing background or detail paragraphs. Then come back and work on the thesis statement

Characteristics

Like any other sentence, the thesis statement has a subject and a verb. After you have decided upon the subject, write a verb to go with that subject. It should indicate what assertion you are making about that subject. A good thesis statement is clear, restricted, and precise. It must deal with only ONE dominant idea.

Clear

The thesis statement should be phrased in words that permit only ONE interpretation. Verbs made up of is or are plus a vague complement, such as good or interesting, are too imprecise to be useful. Also, avoid sentences with subordinate clauses. Subordinate clauses set booby traps for most writers because it takes so much time to explain the subordinate idea that there is often neither the time nor the space to do justice to the main idea.

Restricted

Notice how this topic is pared down to a workable size:

  • The college marching band
  • My first week with out college marching band
  • The day I won the tryout for the marching band
  • Making the marching band gave me new confidence in my musical talent
  • The day I made the marching band I decided to major in music

Precise

Finding the right thesis statement is like fishing; you may have to throw many back before you hook a satisfactory one—one that says exactly what you want it to. A well-thought-out thesis statement controls and directs the paper; it indicates both the writer's purpose and attitude. Here, clarity and precision are preferred to effect.

Poor Examples

  1. There are serious objections to tracking students.
    (This is too broad; what objections will be presented?)
  2. Benjamin Franklin had a colorful career.
    (Colorful could mean anything; you have no control over the subject.)
  3. Paris is one of the most interesting cities in Europe.
    ("Interesting" is so vague that you may write about Paris with no point.)
  4. The United Nations has major weaknesses and cannot prevent a major war.
    (This requires two you to do two things, not one).

Good Examples

  1. Comprehensive examinations encourage student cramming. 
  2. A college education is a life-long benefit. 
  3. In European nations that have adopted national health insurance, the cost of this program has always been much greater than that estimated by its supporters.

Summary of Do's and Don'ts

As you develop your thesis statement, keep the following "Do's" and Don'ts" in mind

A Good Thesis Statement Should

  • Fulfill the assignment
  • Assert one main idea
  • Be clearly stated in specific terms
  • Say what it means
  • State an attitude or opinion

It Should Not

  • Be unreasonable.
  • Insult the reader
  • Use general statements
  • Be a figure of speech
  • Consist of facts or data
  • Start with "My purpose is...," "I intend to show ...," "In my opinion ...," "I feel ...," etc.

McLeese