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Developing Strong Thesis Statements
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These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.
The thesis statement or main claim must be debatable
An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.
Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:
This thesis statement is not debatable. First, the word pollution implies that something is bad or negative in some way. Furthermore, all studies agree that pollution is a problem; they simply disagree on the impact it will have or the scope of the problem. No one could reasonably argue that pollution is unambiguously good.
Example of a debatable thesis statement:
This is an example of a debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it. Some people might think that this is how we should spend the nation's money. Others might feel that we should be spending more money on education. Still others could argue that corporations, not the government, should be paying to limit pollution.
Another example of a debatable thesis statement:
In this example there is also room for disagreement between rational individuals. Some citizens might think focusing on recycling programs rather than private automobiles is the most effective strategy.
The thesis needs to be narrow
Although the scope of your paper might seem overwhelming at the start, generally the narrower the thesis the more effective your argument will be. Your thesis or claim must be supported by evidence. The broader your claim is, the more evidence you will need to convince readers that your position is right.
Example of a thesis that is too broad:
There are several reasons this statement is too broad to argue. First, what is included in the category "drugs"? Is the author talking about illegal drug use, recreational drug use (which might include alcohol and cigarettes), or all uses of medication in general? Second, in what ways are drugs detrimental? Is drug use causing deaths (and is the author equating deaths from overdoses and deaths from drug related violence)? Is drug use changing the moral climate or causing the economy to decline? Finally, what does the author mean by "society"? Is the author referring only to America or to the global population? Does the author make any distinction between the effects on children and adults? There are just too many questions that the claim leaves open. The author could not cover all of the topics listed above, yet the generality of the claim leaves all of these possibilities open to debate.
Example of a narrow or focused thesis:
In this example the topic of drugs has been narrowed down to illegal drugs and the detriment has been narrowed down to gang violence. This is a much more manageable topic.
We could narrow each debatable thesis from the previous examples in the following way:
Narrowed debatable thesis 1:
This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just the amount of money used but also how the money could actually help to control pollution.
Narrowed debatable thesis 2:
This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just what the focus of a national anti-pollution campaign should be but also why this is the appropriate focus.
Qualifiers such as " typically ," " generally ," " usually ," or " on average " also help to limit the scope of your claim by allowing for the almost inevitable exception to the rule.
Types of claims
Claims typically fall into one of four categories. Thinking about how you want to approach your topic, or, in other words, what type of claim you want to make, is one way to focus your thesis on one particular aspect of your broader topic.
Claims of fact or definition: These claims argue about what the definition of something is or whether something is a settled fact. Example:
Claims of cause and effect: These claims argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur. Example:
Claims about value: These are claims made of what something is worth, whether we value it or not, how we would rate or categorize something. Example:
Claims about solutions or policies: These are claims that argue for or against a certain solution or policy approach to a problem. Example:
Which type of claim is right for your argument? Which type of thesis or claim you use for your argument will depend on your position and knowledge of the topic, your audience, and the context of your paper. You might want to think about where you imagine your audience to be on this topic and pinpoint where you think the biggest difference in viewpoints might be. Even if you start with one type of claim you probably will be using several within the paper. Regardless of the type of claim you choose to utilize it is key to identify the controversy or debate you are addressing and to define your position early on in the paper.
Refining thesis statements, what makes for an effective thesis.
In an effort to make our handouts more accessible, we have begun converting our PDF handouts to web pages. Download this page as a PDF: Refining Thesis Statements Return to Writing Studio Handouts
An effective thesis should be argumentative and controversial (i.e., if you could make a plausible case against your thesis, it is probably an argument), something not immediately obvious which you can persuade a reader to believe through the evidence in the body of your paper.
A strong thesis statement answers a specific question and takes a distinct position on the topic, is focused, and allows the reader to anticipate the organization of the argument to follow.
A weak thesis statement is vague (identifies a topic but does not specify an argument), offers plot summary or is a statement of fact, is un-provable, or does not give the reader a sense of why the argument is important.
Look over the two example thesis statements below. Consider and name how each of the progressively refined versions matches the criteria offered above.
Example Thesis A
Version 1: Marge Simpson is important to the plot of The Simpsons.
Version 2: Marge Simpson is important to The Simpsons because she fulfills a significant family role as a mother and housewife.
Version 3: Marge Simpson is important to The Simpsons because she fulfills a significant family role as a teacher and caregiver to her husband and children.
Version 4: While Marge Simpson may be a model caregiver for her family, she is a different sort of model for her audience.
Version 5: Despite her role as a seemingly submissive housewife and mother, Marge Simpson comes to function for the audience of The Simpsons as a subversive force against “middle class” values.
Example Thesis B
Version 1: Eating disorders are a significant problem among college-aged students.
Version 2: Eating disorders are a significant problem among college-aged men because they negatively affect academic performance, socializing, and overall psychological well-being.
Version 3: Eating disorders among college-aged men are overshadowed by a focus on eating disorders among college-aged women.
Version 4: Eating disorders among college-aged men are overshadowed by a focus on eating disorders among college-aged women; people don’t notice this because an eating disorder is typically considered a women’s disease and is stigmatized as such.
Version 5: Lack of attention to eating disorders among college-aged men not only leaves this group of students untreated, but also exacerbates feelings of isolation associated with this disease.
This handout was originally produced by Jane Wanninger, Graduate Student, Department of English, Vanderbilt University
Last revised: 07/2009 | Adapted for web delivery: 04/2021
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- How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples
How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples
Published on January 11, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on August 15, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . It usually comes near the end of your introduction .
Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.
You can write your thesis statement by following four simple steps:
- Start with a question
- Write your initial answer
- Develop your answer
- Refine your thesis statement
Table of contents
What is a thesis statement, placement of the thesis statement, step 1: start with a question, step 2: write your initial answer, step 3: develop your answer, step 4: refine your thesis statement, types of thesis statements, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about thesis statements.
A thesis statement summarizes the central points of your essay. It is a signpost telling the reader what the essay will argue and why.
The best thesis statements are:
- Concise: A good thesis statement is short and sweet—don’t use more words than necessary. State your point clearly and directly in one or two sentences.
- Contentious: Your thesis shouldn’t be a simple statement of fact that everyone already knows. A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up.
- Coherent: Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper.
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The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction .
The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts and among young people more generally is hotly debated. For many who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education: the internet facilitates easier access to information, exposure to different perspectives, and a flexible learning environment for both students and teachers.
You should come up with an initial thesis, sometimes called a working thesis , early in the writing process . As soon as you’ve decided on your essay topic , you need to work out what you want to say about it—a clear thesis will give your essay direction and structure.
You might already have a question in your assignment, but if not, try to come up with your own. What would you like to find out or decide about your topic?
For example, you might ask:
After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the research process and writing process .
Now you need to consider why this is your answer and how you will convince your reader to agree with you. As you read more about your topic and begin writing, your answer should get more detailed.
In your essay about the internet and education, the thesis states your position and sketches out the key arguments you’ll use to support it.
The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education because it facilitates easier access to information.
In your essay about braille, the thesis statement summarizes the key historical development that you’ll explain.
The invention of braille in the 19th century transformed the lives of blind people, allowing them to participate more actively in public life.
A strong thesis statement should tell the reader:
- Why you hold this position
- What they’ll learn from your essay
- The key points of your argument or narrative
The final thesis statement doesn’t just state your position, but summarizes your overall argument or the entire topic you’re going to explain. To strengthen a weak thesis statement, it can help to consider the broader context of your topic.
These examples are more specific and show that you’ll explore your topic in depth.
Your thesis statement should match the goals of your essay, which vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing:
- In an argumentative essay , your thesis statement should take a strong position. Your aim in the essay is to convince your reader of this thesis based on evidence and logical reasoning.
- In an expository essay , you’ll aim to explain the facts of a topic or process. Your thesis statement doesn’t have to include a strong opinion in this case, but it should clearly state the central point you want to make, and mention the key elements you’ll explain.
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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- Appeal to authority fallacy
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- Sunk cost fallacy
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A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :
- Ask a question about your topic .
- Write your initial answer.
- Develop your answer by including reasons.
- Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.
The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .
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One way to think about a thesis statement is:
An effective thesis is one that is not obvious; rather it is one that is discussible, arguable, and interesting.
Avoid self-evident statements.
In the US, movie stars are greatly admired.
A strong thesis will give readers an idea of the general direction of your paper and the evidence you will provide.
Because definitions of obscenity change as society changes, the Supreme Court has handed down three contradictory decisions on censorship in the past five years.
A few things to keep in mind:
- A thesis must be a complete sentence(s), not a fragment(s).
- A thesis should not be worded as a question.
- A thesis should neither be too broad nor too specific.
- A thesis should not contain elements which are extraneous or irrelevant to your paper.
- A thesis should avoid phrases like I think and in my opinion because they weaken the writer's argument.
Having said all of that, let's venture into never-never land, take a trip to the world of happily-ever-after. Let's look at fairy tales.
Take a common fairy tale. Little Red Riding Hood , for example. Your average tale of good vs. evil, right?
In my opinion, Little Red Riding Hood is a classic tale of good versus evil.
Now, there's a thesis that is sure to keep you up at night. Interesting. Innovative. Imaginative. I think not.
Let's try something else. How about:
Because she dares to defy societal norms of acceptable female behavior, Little Red Riding Hood faces death at the hands of the Big Bad Wolf, who embodies patriarchy.
Little Red Riding Hood serves as a feminist tale, demonstrating how an independent, intelligent woman subverts the entrenched forces of male power and privilege.
The forest in Little Red Riding Hood--with its various elements of danger, fear, and foreboding--symbolizes a young girl's rite of passage into womanhood; by challenging the elements in the forest, the naive and trusting Little Red Riding Hood emerges an empowered, mature, confident young woman.
Television shows and movies also offer a wealth of possible thesis statements. Consider the following:
As the middle child, Jan Brady is insecure and demonstrates a negative self-perception: she feels inferior to Marcia, who embodies the qualities of the "ideal" teenager and to Cindy, the "innocent" child and center of the family's attentions.
While appearing to be a simplistic situation comedy about a group of castaways, Gilligan's Island is actually a complex representation of vice; each of the characters represents one of the seven deadly sins.
While Star Trek : The Next Generation may appear to represent an ideal version of a multicultural, gender-equal society, the command structure on the Enterprise, headed by Picard and Riker, reinscribes western, patriarchal notions of power.
Although praised for its realism, Saving Private Ryan glorifies American patriotism and heroism, excluding alternative perspectives.
Now it is your turn. Construct an interesting, compelling thesis using a fairy tale, television show, popular song, or movie.
Luisa Giulianetti Student Learning Center, University of California, Berkeley ©1998 UC Regents
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