What this handout is about.
This handout describes what a thesis statement is, how thesis statements work in your writing, and how you can craft or refine one for your draft.
Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion—convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.
What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement:
- tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
- is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
- directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
- makes a claim that others might dispute.
- is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper (most often, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.
If your assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft. The assignment may not explicitly state that you need a thesis statement because your instructor may assume you will include one. When in doubt, ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement. When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue, it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it persuasively. (Check out our handout on understanding assignments for more information.)
How do I create a thesis?
A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis” that presents a basic or main idea and an argument that you think you can support with evidence. Both the argument and your thesis are likely to need adjustment along the way.
Writers use all kinds of techniques to stimulate their thinking and to help them clarify relationships or comprehend the broader significance of a topic and arrive at a thesis statement. For more ideas on how to get started, see our handout on brainstorming .
How do I know if my thesis is strong?
If there’s time, run it by your instructor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own. When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis, ask yourself the following :
- Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question. If the prompt isn’t phrased as a question, try to rephrase it. For example, “Discuss the effect of X on Y” can be rephrased as “What is the effect of X on Y?”
- Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
- Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to be “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
- Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
- Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.
Suppose you are taking a course on contemporary communication, and the instructor hands out the following essay assignment: “Discuss the impact of social media on public awareness.” Looking back at your notes, you might start with this working thesis:
Social media impacts public awareness in both positive and negative ways.
You can use the questions above to help you revise this general statement into a stronger thesis.
- Do I answer the question? You can analyze this if you rephrase “discuss the impact” as “what is the impact?” This way, you can see that you’ve answered the question only very generally with the vague “positive and negative ways.”
- Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not likely. Only people who maintain that social media has a solely positive or solely negative impact could disagree.
- Is my thesis statement specific enough? No. What are the positive effects? What are the negative effects?
- Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? No. Why are they positive? How are they positive? What are their causes? Why are they negative? How are they negative? What are their causes?
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? No. Why should anyone care about the positive and/or negative impact of social media?
After thinking about your answers to these questions, you decide to focus on the one impact you feel strongly about and have strong evidence for:
Because not every voice on social media is reliable, people have become much more critical consumers of information, and thus, more informed voters.
This version is a much stronger thesis! It answers the question, takes a specific position that others can challenge, and it gives a sense of why it matters.
Let’s try another. Suppose your literature professor hands out the following assignment in a class on the American novel: Write an analysis of some aspect of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. “This will be easy,” you think. “I loved Huckleberry Finn!” You grab a pad of paper and write:
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.
You begin to analyze your thesis:
- Do I answer the question? No. The prompt asks you to analyze some aspect of the novel. Your working thesis is a statement of general appreciation for the entire novel.
Think about aspects of the novel that are important to its structure or meaning—for example, the role of storytelling, the contrasting scenes between the shore and the river, or the relationships between adults and children. Now you write:
In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.
- Do I answer the question? Yes!
- Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not really. This contrast is well-known and accepted.
- Is my thesis statement specific enough? It’s getting there–you have highlighted an important aspect of the novel for investigation. However, it’s still not clear what your analysis will reveal.
- Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? Not yet. Compare scenes from the book and see what you discover. Free write, make lists, jot down Huck’s actions and reactions and anything else that seems interesting.
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? What’s the point of this contrast? What does it signify?”
After examining the evidence and considering your own insights, you write:
Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.
This final thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence from the novel that will convince the reader of your interpretation.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.
Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.
Ramage, John D., John C. Bean, and June Johnson. 2018. The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing , 8th ed. New York: Pearson.
Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers , 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.
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Developing a Thesis Statement
Many papers you write require developing a thesis statement. In this section you’ll learn what a thesis statement is and how to write one.
Keep in mind that not all papers require thesis statements . If in doubt, please consult your instructor for assistance.
What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement . . .
- Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic.
- Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper.
- Is focused and specific enough to be “proven” within the boundaries of your paper.
- Is generally located near the end of the introduction ; sometimes, in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or in an entire paragraph.
- Identifies the relationships between the pieces of evidence that you are using to support your argument.
Not all papers require thesis statements! Ask your instructor if you’re in doubt whether you need one.
Identify a topic
Your topic is the subject about which you will write. Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic; or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper.
Consider what your assignment asks you to do
Inform yourself about your topic, focus on one aspect of your topic, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts, generate a topic from an assignment.
Below are some possible topics based on sample assignments.
Sample assignment 1
Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II.
Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis
This topic avoids generalities such as “Spain” and “World War II,” addressing instead on Franco’s role (a specific aspect of “Spain”) and the diplomatic relations between the Allies and Axis (a specific aspect of World War II).
Sample assignment 2
Analyze one of Homer’s epic similes in the Iliad.
The relationship between the portrayal of warfare and the epic simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64.
This topic focuses on a single simile and relates it to a single aspect of the Iliad ( warfare being a major theme in that work).
Developing a Thesis Statement–Additional information
Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic, or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper. You’ll want to read your assignment carefully, looking for key terms that you can use to focus your topic.
Sample assignment: Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II Key terms: analyze, Spain’s neutrality, World War II
After you’ve identified the key words in your topic, the next step is to read about them in several sources, or generate as much information as possible through an analysis of your topic. Obviously, the more material or knowledge you have, the more possibilities will be available for a strong argument. For the sample assignment above, you’ll want to look at books and articles on World War II in general, and Spain’s neutrality in particular.
As you consider your options, you must decide to focus on one aspect of your topic. This means that you cannot include everything you’ve learned about your topic, nor should you go off in several directions. If you end up covering too many different aspects of a topic, your paper will sprawl and be unconvincing in its argument, and it most likely will not fulfull the assignment requirements.
For the sample assignment above, both Spain’s neutrality and World War II are topics far too broad to explore in a paper. You may instead decide to focus on Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis , which narrows down what aspects of Spain’s neutrality and World War II you want to discuss, as well as establishes a specific link between those two aspects.
Before you go too far, however, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts. Try to avoid topics that already have too much written about them (i.e., “eating disorders and body image among adolescent women”) or that simply are not important (i.e. “why I like ice cream”). These topics may lead to a thesis that is either dry fact or a weird claim that cannot be supported. A good thesis falls somewhere between the two extremes. To arrive at this point, ask yourself what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about your topic.
As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times . Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.
Derive a main point from topic
Once you have a topic, you will have to decide what the main point of your paper will be. This point, the “controlling idea,” becomes the core of your argument (thesis statement) and it is the unifying idea to which you will relate all your sub-theses. You can then turn this “controlling idea” into a purpose statement about what you intend to do in your paper.
Look for patterns in your evidence
Compose a purpose statement.
Consult the examples below for suggestions on how to look for patterns in your evidence and construct a purpose statement.
- Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis
- Franco turned to the Allies when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from the Axis
Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: Franco’s desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power.
This paper will analyze Franco’s diplomacy during World War II to see how it contributed to Spain’s neutrality.
- The simile compares Simoisius to a tree, which is a peaceful, natural image.
- The tree in the simile is chopped down to make wheels for a chariot, which is an object used in warfare.
At first, the simile seems to take the reader away from the world of warfare, but we end up back in that world by the end.
This paper will analyze the way the simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64 moves in and out of the world of warfare.
Derive purpose statement from topic
To find out what your “controlling idea” is, you have to examine and evaluate your evidence . As you consider your evidence, you may notice patterns emerging, data repeated in more than one source, or facts that favor one view more than another. These patterns or data may then lead you to some conclusions about your topic and suggest that you can successfully argue for one idea better than another.
For instance, you might find out that Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis, but when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from them, he turned to the Allies. As you read more about Franco’s decisions, you may conclude that Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: his desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power. Based on this conclusion, you can then write a trial thesis statement to help you decide what material belongs in your paper.
Sometimes you won’t be able to find a focus or identify your “spin” or specific argument immediately. Like some writers, you might begin with a purpose statement just to get yourself going. A purpose statement is one or more sentences that announce your topic and indicate the structure of the paper but do not state the conclusions you have drawn . Thus, you might begin with something like this:
- This paper will look at modern language to see if it reflects male dominance or female oppression.
- I plan to analyze anger and derision in offensive language to see if they represent a challenge of society’s authority.
At some point, you can turn a purpose statement into a thesis statement. As you think and write about your topic, you can restrict, clarify, and refine your argument, crafting your thesis statement to reflect your thinking.
As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.
Compose a draft thesis statement
If you are writing a paper that will have an argumentative thesis and are having trouble getting started, the techniques in the table below may help you develop a temporary or “working” thesis statement.
Begin with a purpose statement that you will later turn into a thesis statement.
Assignment: Discuss the history of the Reform Party and explain its influence on the 1990 presidential and Congressional election.
Purpose Statement: This paper briefly sketches the history of the grassroots, conservative, Perot-led Reform Party and analyzes how it influenced the economic and social ideologies of the two mainstream parties.
If your assignment asks a specific question(s), turn the question(s) into an assertion and give reasons why it is true or reasons for your opinion.
Assignment : What do Aylmer and Rappaccini have to be proud of? Why aren’t they satisfied with these things? How does pride, as demonstrated in “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” lead to unexpected problems?
Beginning thesis statement: Alymer and Rappaccinni are proud of their great knowledge; however, they are also very greedy and are driven to use their knowledge to alter some aspect of nature as a test of their ability. Evil results when they try to “play God.”
Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.
Main idea: The reason some toys succeed in the market is that they appeal to the consumers’ sense of the ridiculous and their basic desire to laugh at themselves.
Make a list of the ideas that you want to include; consider the ideas and try to group them.
- nature = peaceful
- war matériel = violent (competes with 1?)
- need for time and space to mourn the dead
- war is inescapable (competes with 3?)
Use a formula to arrive at a working thesis statement (you will revise this later).
- although most readers of _______ have argued that _______, closer examination shows that _______.
- _______ uses _______ and _____ to prove that ________.
- phenomenon x is a result of the combination of __________, __________, and _________.
What to keep in mind as you draft an initial thesis statement
Beginning statements obtained through the methods illustrated above can serve as a framework for planning or drafting your paper, but remember they’re not yet the specific, argumentative thesis you want for the final version of your paper. In fact, in its first stages, a thesis statement usually is ill-formed or rough and serves only as a planning tool.
As you write, you may discover evidence that does not fit your temporary or “working” thesis. Or you may reach deeper insights about your topic as you do more research, and you will find that your thesis statement has to be more complicated to match the evidence that you want to use.
You must be willing to reject or omit some evidence in order to keep your paper cohesive and your reader focused. Or you may have to revise your thesis to match the evidence and insights that you want to discuss. Read your draft carefully, noting the conclusions you have drawn and the major ideas which support or prove those conclusions. These will be the elements of your final thesis statement.
Sometimes you will not be able to identify these elements in your early drafts, but as you consider how your argument is developing and how your evidence supports your main idea, ask yourself, “ What is the main point that I want to prove/discuss? ” and “ How will I convince the reader that this is true? ” When you can answer these questions, then you can begin to refine the thesis statement.
Refine and polish the thesis statement
To get to your final thesis, you’ll need to refine your draft thesis so that it’s specific and arguable.
- Ask if your draft thesis addresses the assignment
- Question each part of your draft thesis
- Clarify vague phrases and assertions
- Investigate alternatives to your draft thesis
Consult the example below for suggestions on how to refine your draft thesis statement.
Choose an activity and define it as a symbol of American culture. Your essay should cause the reader to think critically about the society which produces and enjoys that activity.
- Ask The phenomenon of drive-in facilities is an interesting symbol of american culture, and these facilities demonstrate significant characteristics of our society.This statement does not fulfill the assignment because it does not require the reader to think critically about society.
Drive-ins are an interesting symbol of American culture because they represent Americans’ significant creativity and business ingenuity.
Among the types of drive-in facilities familiar during the twentieth century, drive-in movie theaters best represent American creativity, not merely because they were the forerunner of later drive-ins and drive-throughs, but because of their impact on our culture: they changed our relationship to the automobile, changed the way people experienced movies, and changed movie-going into a family activity.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast-food establishments, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize America’s economic ingenuity, they also have affected our personal standards.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast- food restaurants, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize (1) Americans’ business ingenuity, they also have contributed (2) to an increasing homogenization of our culture, (3) a willingness to depersonalize relationships with others, and (4) a tendency to sacrifice quality for convenience.
This statement is now specific and fulfills all parts of the assignment. This version, like any good thesis, is not self-evident; its points, 1-4, will have to be proven with evidence in the body of the paper. The numbers in this statement indicate the order in which the points will be presented. Depending on the length of the paper, there could be one paragraph for each numbered item or there could be blocks of paragraph for even pages for each one.
Complete the final thesis statement
The bottom line.
As you move through the process of crafting a thesis, you’ll need to remember four things:
- Context matters! Think about your course materials and lectures. Try to relate your thesis to the ideas your instructor is discussing.
- As you go through the process described in this section, always keep your assignment in mind . You will be more successful when your thesis (and paper) responds to the assignment than if it argues a semi-related idea.
- Your thesis statement should be precise, focused, and contestable ; it should predict the sub-theses or blocks of information that you will use to prove your argument.
- Make sure that you keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Change your thesis as your paper evolves, because you do not want your thesis to promise more than your paper actually delivers.
In the beginning, the thesis statement was a tool to help you sharpen your focus, limit material and establish the paper’s purpose. When your paper is finished, however, the thesis statement becomes a tool for your reader. It tells the reader what you have learned about your topic and what evidence led you to your conclusion. It keeps the reader on track–well able to understand and appreciate your argument.
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Your thesis is the central claim in your essay—your main insight or idea about your source or topic. Your thesis should appear early in an academic essay, followed by a logically constructed argument that supports this central claim. A strong thesis is arguable, which means a thoughtful reader could disagree with it and therefore needs your careful analysis of the evidence to understand how you arrived at this claim. You arrive at your thesis by examining and analyzing the evidence available to you, which might be text or other types of source material.
A thesis will generally respond to an analytical question or pose a solution to a problem that you have framed for your readers (and for yourself). When you frame that question or problem for your readers, you are telling them what is at stake in your argument—why your question matters and why they should care about the answer . If you can explain to your readers why a question or problem is worth addressing, then they will understand why it’s worth reading an essay that develops your thesis—and you will understand why it’s worth writing that essay.
A strong thesis will be arguable rather than descriptive , and it will be the right scope for the essay you are writing. If your thesis is descriptive, then you will not need to convince your readers of anything—you will be naming or summarizing something your readers can already see for themselves. If your thesis is too narrow, you won’t be able to explore your topic in enough depth to say something interesting about it. If your thesis is too broad, you may not be able to support it with evidence from the available sources.
When you are writing an essay for a course assignment, you should make sure you understand what type of claim you are being asked to make. Many of your assignments will be asking you to make analytical claims , which are based on interpretation of facts, data, or sources.
Some of your assignments may ask you to make normative claims. Normative claims are claims of value or evaluation rather than fact—claims about how things should be rather than how they are. A normative claim makes the case for the importance of something, the action that should be taken, or the way the world should be. When you are asked to write a policy memo, a proposal, or an essay based on your own opinion, you will be making normative claims.
Here are some examples of possible thesis statements for a student's analysis of the article “The Case Against Perfection” by Professor Michael Sandel.
Descriptive thesis (not arguable)
While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.
This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.
Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence)
Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.
This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.
Arguable thesis with analytical claim
While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.
This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.
Arguable thesis with normative claim
Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.
This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.
Questions to ask about your thesis
- Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?
- Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?
- Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?
- Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?
- Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
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How to write a thesis statement, what is a thesis statement.
Almost all of us—even if we don’t do it consciously—look early in an essay for a one- or two-sentence condensation of the argument or analysis that is to follow. We refer to that condensation as a thesis statement.
Why Should Your Essay Contain a Thesis Statement?
- to test your ideas by distilling them into a sentence or two
- to better organize and develop your argument
- to provide your reader with a “guide” to your argument
In general, your thesis statement will accomplish these goals if you think of the thesis as the answer to the question your paper explores.
How Can You Write a Good Thesis Statement?
Here are some helpful hints to get you started. You can either scroll down or select a link to a specific topic.
How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One
How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned
Almost all assignments, no matter how complicated, can be reduced to a single question. Your first step, then, is to distill the assignment into a specific question. For example, if your assignment is, “Write a report to the local school board explaining the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class,” turn the request into a question like, “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” After you’ve chosen the question your essay will answer, compose one or two complete sentences answering that question.
Q: “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” A: “The potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class are . . .”
A: “Using computers in a fourth-grade class promises to improve . . .”
The answer to the question is the thesis statement for the essay.
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How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned
Even if your assignment doesn’t ask a specific question, your thesis statement still needs to answer a question about the issue you’d like to explore. In this situation, your job is to figure out what question you’d like to write about.
A good thesis statement will usually include the following four attributes:
- take on a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree
- deal with a subject that can be adequately treated given the nature of the assignment
- express one main idea
- assert your conclusions about a subject
Let’s see how to generate a thesis statement for a social policy paper.
Brainstorm the topic . Let’s say that your class focuses upon the problems posed by changes in the dietary habits of Americans. You find that you are interested in the amount of sugar Americans consume.
You start out with a thesis statement like this:
This fragment isn’t a thesis statement. Instead, it simply indicates a general subject. Furthermore, your reader doesn’t know what you want to say about sugar consumption.
Narrow the topic . Your readings about the topic, however, have led you to the conclusion that elementary school children are consuming far more sugar than is healthy.
You change your thesis to look like this:
Reducing sugar consumption by elementary school children.
This fragment not only announces your subject, but it focuses on one segment of the population: elementary school children. Furthermore, it raises a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree, because while most people might agree that children consume more sugar than they used to, not everyone would agree on what should be done or who should do it. You should note that this fragment is not a thesis statement because your reader doesn’t know your conclusions on the topic.
Take a position on the topic. After reflecting on the topic a little while longer, you decide that what you really want to say about this topic is that something should be done to reduce the amount of sugar these children consume.
You revise your thesis statement to look like this:
More attention should be paid to the food and beverage choices available to elementary school children.
This statement asserts your position, but the terms more attention and food and beverage choices are vague.
Use specific language . You decide to explain what you mean about food and beverage choices , so you write:
Experts estimate that half of elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar.
This statement is specific, but it isn’t a thesis. It merely reports a statistic instead of making an assertion.
Make an assertion based on clearly stated support. You finally revise your thesis statement one more time to look like this:
Because half of all American elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar, schools should be required to replace the beverages in soda machines with healthy alternatives.
Notice how the thesis answers the question, “What should be done to reduce sugar consumption by children, and who should do it?” When you started thinking about the paper, you may not have had a specific question in mind, but as you became more involved in the topic, your ideas became more specific. Your thesis changed to reflect your new insights.
How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One
1. a strong thesis statement takes some sort of stand..
Remember that your thesis needs to show your conclusions about a subject. For example, if you are writing a paper for a class on fitness, you might be asked to choose a popular weight-loss product to evaluate. Here are two thesis statements:
There are some negative and positive aspects to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.
This is a weak thesis statement. First, it fails to take a stand. Second, the phrase negative and positive aspects is vague.
Because Banana Herb Tea Supplement promotes rapid weight loss that results in the loss of muscle and lean body mass, it poses a potential danger to customers.
This is a strong thesis because it takes a stand, and because it's specific.
2. A strong thesis statement justifies discussion.
Your thesis should indicate the point of the discussion. If your assignment is to write a paper on kinship systems, using your own family as an example, you might come up with either of these two thesis statements:
My family is an extended family.
This is a weak thesis because it merely states an observation. Your reader won’t be able to tell the point of the statement, and will probably stop reading.
While most American families would view consanguineal marriage as a threat to the nuclear family structure, many Iranian families, like my own, believe that these marriages help reinforce kinship ties in an extended family.
This is a strong thesis because it shows how your experience contradicts a widely-accepted view. A good strategy for creating a strong thesis is to show that the topic is controversial. Readers will be interested in reading the rest of the essay to see how you support your point.
3. A strong thesis statement expresses one main idea.
Readers need to be able to see that your paper has one main point. If your thesis statement expresses more than one idea, then you might confuse your readers about the subject of your paper. For example:
Companies need to exploit the marketing potential of the Internet, and Web pages can provide both advertising and customer support.
This is a weak thesis statement because the reader can’t decide whether the paper is about marketing on the Internet or Web pages. To revise the thesis, the relationship between the two ideas needs to become more clear. One way to revise the thesis would be to write:
Because the Internet is filled with tremendous marketing potential, companies should exploit this potential by using Web pages that offer both advertising and customer support.
This is a strong thesis because it shows that the two ideas are related. Hint: a great many clear and engaging thesis statements contain words like because , since , so , although , unless , and however .
4. A strong thesis statement is specific.
A thesis statement should show exactly what your paper will be about, and will help you keep your paper to a manageable topic. For example, if you're writing a seven-to-ten page paper on hunger, you might say:
World hunger has many causes and effects.
This is a weak thesis statement for two major reasons. First, world hunger can’t be discussed thoroughly in seven to ten pages. Second, many causes and effects is vague. You should be able to identify specific causes and effects. A revised thesis might look like this:
Hunger persists in Glandelinia because jobs are scarce and farming in the infertile soil is rarely profitable.
This is a strong thesis statement because it narrows the subject to a more specific and manageable topic, and it also identifies the specific causes for the existence of hunger.
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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.
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- What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples
What Is a Thesis? | Ultimate Guide & Examples
Published on September 14, 2022 by Tegan George . Revised on July 18, 2023.
A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master’s program or a capstone to a bachelor’s degree.
Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation , it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete. It relies on your ability to conduct research from start to finish: choosing a relevant topic , crafting a proposal , designing your research , collecting data , developing a robust analysis, drawing strong conclusions , and writing concisely .
You can also download our full thesis template in the format of your choice below. Our template includes a ready-made table of contents , as well as guidance for what each chapter should include. It’s easy to make it your own, and can help you get started.
Download Word template Download Google Docs template
Table of contents
Thesis vs. thesis statement, how to structure a thesis, acknowledgements or preface, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review, methodology, reference list, proofreading and editing, defending your thesis, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about theses.
You may have heard the word thesis as a standalone term or as a component of academic writing called a thesis statement . Keep in mind that these are two very different things.
- A thesis statement is a very common component of an essay, particularly in the humanities. It usually comprises 1 or 2 sentences in the introduction of your essay , and should clearly and concisely summarize the central points of your academic essay .
- A thesis is a long-form piece of academic writing, often taking more than a full semester to complete. It is generally a degree requirement for Master’s programs, and is also sometimes required to complete a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts colleges.
- In the US, a dissertation is generally written as a final step toward obtaining a PhD.
- In other countries (particularly the UK), a dissertation is generally written at the bachelor’s or master’s level.
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The final structure of your thesis depends on a variety of components, such as:
- Your discipline
- Your theoretical approach
Humanities theses are often structured more like a longer-form essay . Just like in an essay, you build an argument to support a central thesis.
In both hard and social sciences, theses typically include an introduction , literature review , methodology section , results section , discussion section , and conclusion section . These are each presented in their own dedicated section or chapter. In some cases, you might want to add an appendix .
We’ve compiled a list of thesis examples to help you get started.
- Example thesis #1: “Abolition, Africans, and Abstraction: the Influence of the ‘Noble Savage’ on British and French Antislavery Thought, 1787-1807” by Suchait Kahlon.
- Example thesis #2: “’A Starving Man Helping Another Starving Man’: UNRRA, India, and the Genesis of Global Relief, 1943-1947″ by Julian Saint Reiman.
- Example thesis #3: “An Introduction to Higher-Order Frames in Communication: How Controversial Organizations Maintain Legitimacy Over Time” by Kees Smeets
The very first page of your thesis contains all necessary identifying information, including:
- Your full title
- Your full name
- Your department
- Your institution and degree program
- Your submission date.
Sometimes the title page also includes your student ID, the name of your supervisor, or the university’s logo. Check out your university’s guidelines if you’re not sure.
Read more about title pages
The acknowledgements section is usually optional. Its main point is to allow you to thank everyone who helped you in your thesis journey, such as supervisors, friends, or family. You can also choose to write a preface , but it’s typically one or the other, not both.
Read more about acknowledgements Read more about prefaces
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An abstract is a short summary of your thesis. Usually a maximum of 300 words long, it’s should include brief descriptions of your research objectives , methods, results, and conclusions. Though it may seem short, it introduces your work to your audience, serving as a first impression of your thesis.
Read more about abstracts
A table of contents lists all of your sections, plus their corresponding page numbers and subheadings if you have them. This helps your reader seamlessly navigate your document.
Your table of contents should include all the major parts of your thesis. In particular, don’t forget the the appendices. If you used heading styles, it’s easy to generate an automatic table Microsoft Word.
Read more about tables of contents
While not mandatory, if you used a lot of tables and/or figures, it’s nice to include a list of them to help guide your reader. It’s also easy to generate one of these in Word: just use the “Insert Caption” feature.
Read more about lists of figures and tables
If you have used a lot of industry- or field-specific abbreviations in your thesis, you should include them in an alphabetized list of abbreviations . This way, your readers can easily look up any meanings they aren’t familiar with.
Read more about lists of abbreviations
Relatedly, if you find yourself using a lot of very specialized or field-specific terms that may not be familiar to your reader, consider including a glossary . Alphabetize the terms you want to include with a brief definition.
Read more about glossaries
An introduction sets up the topic, purpose, and relevance of your thesis, as well as expectations for your reader. This should:
- Ground your research topic , sharing any background information your reader may need
- Define the scope of your work
- Introduce any existing research on your topic, situating your work within a broader problem or debate
- State your research question(s)
- Outline (briefly) how the remainder of your work will proceed
In other words, your introduction should clearly and concisely show your reader the “what, why, and how” of your research.
Read more about introductions
A literature review helps you gain a robust understanding of any extant academic work on your topic, encompassing:
- Selecting relevant sources
- Determining the credibility of your sources
- Critically evaluating each of your sources
- Drawing connections between sources, including any themes, patterns, conflicts, or gaps
A literature review is not merely a summary of existing work. Rather, your literature review should ultimately lead to a clear justification for your own research, perhaps via:
- Addressing a gap in the literature
- Building on existing knowledge to draw new conclusions
- Exploring a new theoretical or methodological approach
- Introducing a new solution to an unresolved problem
- Definitively advocating for one side of a theoretical debate
Read more about literature reviews
Your literature review can often form the basis for your theoretical framework, but these are not the same thing. A theoretical framework defines and analyzes the concepts and theories that your research hinges on.
Read more about theoretical frameworks
Your methodology chapter shows your reader how you conducted your research. It should be written clearly and methodically, easily allowing your reader to critically assess the credibility of your argument. Furthermore, your methods section should convince your reader that your method was the best way to answer your research question.
A methodology section should generally include:
- Your overall approach ( quantitative vs. qualitative )
- Your research methods (e.g., a longitudinal study )
- Your data collection methods (e.g., interviews or a controlled experiment
- Any tools or materials you used (e.g., computer software)
- The data analysis methods you chose (e.g., statistical analysis , discourse analysis )
- A strong, but not defensive justification of your methods
Read more about methodology sections
Your results section should highlight what your methodology discovered. These two sections work in tandem, but shouldn’t repeat each other. While your results section can include hypotheses or themes, don’t include any speculation or new arguments here.
Your results section should:
- State each (relevant) result with any (relevant) descriptive statistics (e.g., mean , standard deviation ) and inferential statistics (e.g., test statistics , p values )
- Explain how each result relates to the research question
- Determine whether the hypothesis was supported
Additional data (like raw numbers or interview transcripts ) can be included as an appendix . You can include tables and figures, but only if they help the reader better understand your results.
Read more about results sections
Your discussion section is where you can interpret your results in detail. Did they meet your expectations? How well do they fit within the framework that you built? You can refer back to any relevant source material to situate your results within your field, but leave most of that analysis in your literature review.
For any unexpected results, offer explanations or alternative interpretations of your data.
Read more about discussion sections
Your thesis conclusion should concisely answer your main research question. It should leave your reader with an ultra-clear understanding of your central argument, and emphasize what your research specifically has contributed to your field.
Why does your research matter? What recommendations for future research do you have? Lastly, wrap up your work with any concluding remarks.
Read more about conclusions
In order to avoid plagiarism , don’t forget to include a full reference list at the end of your thesis, citing the sources that you used. Choose one citation style and follow it consistently throughout your thesis, taking note of the formatting requirements of each style.
Which style you choose is often set by your department or your field, but common styles include MLA , Chicago , and APA.
Create APA citations Create MLA citations
In order to stay clear and concise, your thesis should include the most essential information needed to answer your research question. However, chances are you have many contributing documents, like interview transcripts or survey questions . These can be added as appendices , to save space in the main body.
Read more about appendices
Once you’re done writing, the next part of your editing process begins. Leave plenty of time for proofreading and editing prior to submission. Nothing looks worse than grammar mistakes or sloppy spelling errors!
Consider using a professional thesis editing service or grammar checker to make sure your final project is perfect.
Once you’ve submitted your final product, it’s common practice to have a thesis defense, an oral component of your finished work. This is scheduled by your advisor or committee, and usually entails a presentation and Q&A session.
After your defense , your committee will meet to determine if you deserve any departmental honors or accolades. However, keep in mind that defenses are usually just a formality. If there are any serious issues with your work, these should be resolved with your advisor way before a defense.
If you want to know more about AI for academic writing, AI tools, or research bias, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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The conclusion of your thesis or dissertation shouldn’t take up more than 5–7% of your overall word count.
If you only used a few abbreviations in your thesis or dissertation , you don’t necessarily need to include a list of abbreviations .
If your abbreviations are numerous, or if you think they won’t be known to your audience, it’s never a bad idea to add one. They can also improve readability, minimizing confusion about abbreviations unfamiliar to your reader.
When you mention different chapters within your text, it’s considered best to use Roman numerals for most citation styles. However, the most important thing here is to remain consistent whenever using numbers in your dissertation .
A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical first steps in your writing process. It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding what kind of research you’d like to undertake.
Generally, an outline contains information on the different sections included in your thesis or dissertation , such as:
- Your anticipated title
- Your abstract
- Your chapters (sometimes subdivided into further topics like literature review , research methods , avenues for future research, etc.)
A thesis is typically written by students finishing up a bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Some educational institutions, particularly in the liberal arts, have mandatory theses, but they are often not mandatory to graduate from bachelor’s degrees. It is more common for a thesis to be a graduation requirement from a Master’s degree.
Even if not mandatory, you may want to consider writing a thesis if you:
- Plan to attend graduate school soon
- Have a particular topic you’d like to study more in-depth
- Are considering a career in research
- Would like a capstone experience to tie up your academic experience
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I.What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement is usually a sentence that states your argument to the reader. It usually appears in the first paragraph of an essay.
II. Why do I need to write a thesis statement for a paper?
Your thesis statement states what you will discuss in your essay. Not only does it define the scope and focus of your essay, it also tells your reader what to expect from the essay.
A thesis statement can be very helpful in constructing the outline of your essay.
Also, your instructor may require a thesis statement for your paper.
III. How do I create a thesis statement?
A thesis statement is not a statement of fact. It is an assertive statement that states your claims and that you can prove with evidence. It should be the product of research and your own critical thinking. There are different ways and different approaches to write a thesis statement. Here are some steps you can try to create a thesis statement:
1. Start out with the main topic and focus of your essay.
Example: youth gangs + prevention and intervention programs
2. Make a claim or argument in one sentence.
Example: Prevention and intervention programs can stop youth gang activities.
3. Revise the sentence by using specific terms.
Example: Early prevention programs in schools are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement.
4. Further revise the sentence to cover the scope of your essay and make a strong statement.
Example: Among various prevention and intervention efforts that have been made to deal with the rapid growth of youth gangs, early school-based prevention programs are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement.
IV. Can I revise the thesis statement in the writing process?
Sure. In fact, you should keep the thesis statement flexible and revise it as needed. In the process of researching and writing, you may find new information that falls outside the scope of your original plan and want to incorporate it into your paper. Or you probably understand your thoughts more and shift the focus of your paper. Then you will need to revise your thesis statement while you are writing the paper.
V. Why do I need to make an outline when I already have a thesis statement?
An outline is the "road map" of your essay in which you list the arguments and subtopics in a logical order. A good outline is an important element in writing a good paper. An outline helps to target your research areas, keep you within the scope without going off-track, and it can also help to keep your argument in good order when writing the essay.
VI. How do I make an outline?
You list all the major topics and subtopics with key points that support them. Put similar topics and points together and arrange them in a logical order.
Include an Introduction , a Body , and a Conclusion in your outline. You can make an outline in a list format or a chart format .
Next Chapter: 4. Choosing Appropriate Resources
How to Write a Good Thesis Statement
Creating the core of your essay
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
In composition and academic writing , a thesis statement (or controlling idea) is a sentence in an essay, report, research paper, or speech that identifies the main idea and/or central purpose of the text. In rhetoric, a claim is similar to a thesis.
For students especially, crafting a thesis statement can be a challenge, but it's important to know how to write one because a thesis statement is the heart of any essay you write. Here are some tips and examples to follow.
Purpose of the Thesis Statement
The thesis statement serves as the organizing principle of the text and appears in the introductory paragraph . It is not a mere statement of fact. Rather, it is an idea, a claim, or an interpretation, one that others may dispute. Your job as a writer is to persuade the reader—through the careful use of examples and thoughtful analysis—that your argument is a valid one.
A thesis statement is, essentially, the idea that the rest of your paper will support. Perhaps it is an opinion that you have marshaled logical arguments in favor of. Perhaps it is a synthesis of ideas and research that you have distilled into one point, and the rest of your paper will unpack it and present factual examples to show how you arrived at this idea. The one thing a thesis statement should not be? An obvious or indisputable fact. If your thesis is simple and obvious, there is little for you to argue, since no one will need your assembled evidence to buy into your statement.
Developing Your Argument
Your thesis is the most important part of your writing. Before you begin writing, you'll want to follow these tips for developing a good thesis statement:
- Read and compare your sources : What are the main points they make? Do your sources conflict with one another? Don't just summarize your sources' claims; look for the motivation behind their motives.
- Draft your thesis : Good ideas are rarely born fully formed. They need to be refined. By committing your thesis to paper, you'll be able to refine it as you research and draft your essay.
- Consider the other side : Just like a court case, every argument has two sides. You'll be able to refine your thesis by considering the counterclaims and refuting them in your essay, or even acknowledging them in a clause in your thesis.
Be Clear and Concise
An effective thesis should answer the reader question, "So what?" It should not be more than a sentence or two. Don't be vague, or your reader won't care. Specificity is also important. Rather than make a broad, blanket statement, try a complex sentence that includes a clause giving more context , acknowledging a contrast, or offering examples of the general points you're going to make.
Incorrect : British indifference caused the American Revolution .
Correct : By treating their U.S. colonies as little more than a source of revenue and limiting colonists' political rights, British indifference contributed to the start of the American Revolution .
In the first version, the statement is very general. It offers an argument, but no idea of how the writer is going to get us there or what specific forms that "indifference" took. It's also rather simplistic, arguing that there was a singular cause of the American Revolution. The second version shows us a road map of what to expect in the essay: an argument that will use specific historical examples to prove how British indifference was important to (but not the sole cause of) the American Revolution. Specificity and scope are crucial to forming a strong thesis statement, which in turn helps you write a stronger paper!
Make a Statement
Although you do want to grab your reader's attention, asking a question is not the same as making a thesis statement. Your job is to persuade by presenting a clear, concise concept that explains both how and why.
Incorrect : Have you ever wondered why Thomas Edison gets all the credit for the light bulb?
Correct : His savvy self-promotion and ruthless business tactics cemented Thomas Edison's legacy, not the invention of the lightbulb itself.
Asking a question is not a total no-go, but it doesn't belong in the thesis statement. Remember, in most formal essay, a thesis statement will be the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. You might use a question as the attention-grabbing first or second sentence instead.
Don't Be Confrontational
Although you are trying to prove a point, you are not trying to force your will on the reader.
Incorrect : The stock market crash of 1929 wiped out many small investors who were financially inept and deserved to lose their money.
Correct : While a number of economic factors caused the stock market crash of 1929, the losses were made worse by uninformed first-time investors who made poor financial decisions.
It's really an extension of correct academic writing voice . While you might informally argue that some of the investors of the 1920s "deserved" to lose their money, that's not the kind of argument that belongs in formal essay writing. Instead, a well-written essay will make a similar point, but focus more on cause and effect, rather that impolite or blunt emotions.
- An Introduction to Academic Writing
- How to Write a Solid Thesis Statement
- The Introductory Paragraph: Start Your Paper Off Right
- How To Write an Essay
- Tips for Writing an Art History Paper
- The Ultimate Guide to the 5-Paragraph Essay
- Tips on How to Write an Argumentative Essay
- Thesis: Definition and Examples in Composition
- What Is Expository Writing?
- How to Write a Persuasive Essay
- Definition and Examples of Analysis in Composition
- Write an Attention-Grabbing Opening Sentence for an Essay
- How to Write a Response Paper
- The Five Steps of Writing an Essay
- What an Essay Is and How to Write One
- How to Write a Research Paper That Earns an A
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- How to write a thesis statement
How to write a thesis statement.
Set yourself up for a great essay with a solid thesis statement.
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Start any essay with a thesis statement
Five steps for writing a thesis statement
The qualities of a strong thesis statement
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What is a thesis statement?
A thesis statement makes an argument and identifies your point of view. Learn how to:
- Set up your essay for success with a thesis statement.
- Write your own thesis statement using a step-by-step guide.
- Adapt your thesis statement after you've completed your writing.
Start any essay with a thesis statement.
Whether you’re writing a five-paragraph essay or a 50-page dissertation, you need to make your intention or argument clear to the reader. A thesis statement does just that. It’s a one- or two-sentence summary that covers the main point or argument you plan to explore in depth throughout your essay.
Where to put a thesis statement.
Sometimes called a topic sentence, a thesis is usually the last sentence of your introductory paragraph. It offers a specific point of view that will be expanded upon in the body paragraphs and pages to follow. This argument needs to be backed up by supporting facts, analysis, and research.
Your thesis statement may adapt.
Keep in mind that writing a paper is a process. It often takes several rounds of writing and editing to get to the final product. As you edit your essay, gather feedback and comments , and conduct more research, your thesis may need to change or adjust. That’s perfectly fine, but always make sure the following arguments tie back to your main point.
Five steps for writing a thesis statement.
A thesis statement should come before any essay. After all, you can’t continue the writing process if you don’t know what you’re writing about. But just because you write it first, your thesis statement doesn’t have to come out perfect right off the bat. Landing on it is a process:
1. Ask yourself a question.
A good working thesis starts as a question you ask yourself and helps guide the direction and structure of your essay. What are you trying to solve or prove in your paper? When you’ve identified that question, start gathering some research.
2. Answer your question.
After you’ve done some preliminary analysis, formulate an answer to your topic question.
3. Develop your stance.
Using more research and analysis, consider your answer again. If you’re writing an argumentative essay, figure out how to convince your reader to agree with your viewpoint. Start drafting an outline to organize your points and keep your essay clear and concise.
4. Refine your statement.
Your final thesis statement needs to summarize your argument or topic. Instead of just stating your position, it should identify your point of view and set you up to make a compelling argument for it.
5. Write your essay.
Now’s the time to flesh out your paper. Draft an introduction and put your thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph. This gives you a chance to build up to your main point. From there, continue outlining your supporting arguments and use that as a roadmap for the rest of your essay. When you’re done, save your essay as PDF to make it easier to share with your professor or editor and gather comments.
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The qualities of a strong thesis statement.
Starting with an effective thesis statement is the key to writing a good paper. This single sentence should tell the reader what position you take and why you take that position. It should also explain what the reader will learn from your paper and briefly outline the highlights of your argument. A weak thesis statement means you’re building your essay on unsteady ground. If the statement is obvious, ambiguous, or not a complete sentence, you’ll need to hit the drawing board again.
Your thesis should follow these guidelines.
1. Concise . Keep it short and clearly state your point.
2. Contentious. Don’t write a simple statement that’s obvious or self-evident. Make sure your thesis statement is an argument that requires explanation and discussion.
3. Coherent. Anything mentioned in your thesis must be explained with facts and points throughout the rest of your paper.
Explore different kinds of thesis statements.
Your thesis statement will depend on your writing assignment. So before jumping in to write a thesis, explore these different types of essays (and different types of thesis statements) to identify the style of writing you need to employ.
This is a piece of writing that identifies a topic, often in the form of a specific question, and initially takes a neutral, balanced stance. For this essay, you’ll need to gather information from different credible sources and provide a well-supported critical analysis without necessarily persuading the reader to one side over the other. Analytical essays are a standard form of academic writing and can dissect research findings, analyze books, and so much more.
Analytical thesis statement example:
Topic: How does Shakespeare use metaphors in his sonnets?
Thesis statement: In Sonnet 60, Shakespeare uses metaphors and imagery to explain how individuals experience the passage of time differently.
This style of essay communicates factual information and educates the reader. These papers are clear and let the facts speak for themselves. This isn’t about being clever or argumentative — it’s about analyzing the information and explaining the process of how you reached a specific conclusion.
Expository thesis statement example:
Topic: Explore the elements of a healthy lifestyle.
Thesis statement: The core components of a healthy lifestyle include a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep.
This is your chance to investigate a specific topic, collect evidence, and establish a concrete position. As the name suggests, you’ll need to form an argument and gather detailed research. Whether it’s a research paper or an academic essay, argumentative writing aims to sway a reader to your point of view. This style of essay can also include counterarguments, followed by the author’s response to those counterpoints.
Argumentative thesis statement example:
Topic: Identify how social media affects mental health.
Thesis statement: Although social media platforms have a positive place in most people’s lives, with nearly 2.85 billion users currently active on Facebook, the long-term effects on those users’ mental health are proving to be quite damaging.
This type of writing tells a story and doesn’t require a thesis statement. Narratives can expand upon a personal experience or explore an imaginary story. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, narrative writing follows characters and can include dialogue.
Streamline the writing process with Acrobat Pro.
When your paper is ready to be submitted — whether to a peer reviewer, a tutor in the writing center, or your professor — save it as a PDF. That way, no matter whom you share the file with or what device they open it on, it’ll always look the same. Sharing your essay as a PDF also makes it simpler for your editor or reviewer to leave comments and highlight text. Upload your document to Acrobat online services to quickly add notes, mark up the essay, and provide feedback in a snap.
When the review process is streamlined, you get to focus on what matters — drafting a compelling thesis statement and writing a stellar essay.
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Thesis Statement Examples (Guide)
By Status.net Editorial Team on October 24, 2023 — 9 minutes to read
- Understanding Thesis Statements Part 1
- Analytical Thesis Examples Part 2
- Expository Thesis Examples Part 3
- Argumentative Thesis Examples Part 4
- Qualities of a Robust Thesis Statement Part 8
- Mistakes to Avoid in a Thesis Statement Part 9
- Revision Tips for Thesis Statements Part 10
Part 1 Understanding Thesis Statements
A thesis statement is a crucial part of your essay or research paper. It presents your argument or central idea and guides the reader through your work. You want your thesis statement to be clear, concise, and specific. Let’s take a look at some examples that might help you understand thesis statements better.
Suppose you’re writing an essay on the effects of social media on mental health. A good thesis statement might be:
“Social media platforms, when used excessively, can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness among users, especially teenagers.”
This statement outlines your main argument – that excessive social media usage negatively affects mental health – and identifies the target group you’ll focus on, which is teenagers.
Or, if you’re writing a research paper about the impact of globalization on economic growth, your thesis statement could be:
“Globalization has been a driving force for economic growth in developing countries by creating opportunities for trade, enhancing access to technology, and promoting foreign investments.”
This thesis statement concisely sums up your central claim that globalization positively impacts the economies of developing countries, and it highlights the specific aspects you’ll be discussing, such as trade, technology, and investment.
Now, let’s say you’re tasked with writing an essay about the importance of healthy eating habits for children. A possible thesis statement could be:
“Establishing healthy eating habits in children from a young age results in numerous lifelong benefits, including improved physical health, increased cognitive abilities, and reduced risk of chronic illnesses.”
This thesis statement communicates the key idea that healthy eating habits are essential for children’s well-being and emphasizes the benefits these habits provide, such as physical health, cognition, and chronic illness prevention.
Each of these examples showcases a clear and focused thesis statement, guiding the reader through the essay or research paper and setting the stage for your supporting arguments.
Examples of Thesis Statements
In this section, we’ll go through various types of thesis statements across different fields. This will serve as a guide for you to craft your own statement, depending on the subject matter and purpose of your paper.
Part 2 Analytical Thesis Examples
These thesis statements focus on analyzing a specific issue or topic. Examples:
- An exploration of the thematic significance of fate in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
- A comparative analysis of the impact of social media on teenagers in urban and rural areas.
- A discussion of the psychological and sociological influences on human behavior as depicted in Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience to authority.
- A critical analysis of the use of narrative structure in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Part 3 Expository Thesis Examples
Expository thesis statements aim to explain a particular topic or issue. Examples:
- Climate change poses a real threat to various ecosystems, causing damaging effects on plants, animals, and global biodiversity.
- The rise of social media has had a profound impact on communication, changing the way people interact and share information.
- The history of the civil rights movement in the United States highlights the struggle for equality and justice, and the ongoing fight for social change.
- Advances in technology have revolutionized the way we work, communicate, and live, transforming society in countless ways.
- The effects of globalization on local economies and cultures have been both positive and negative, with some communities benefiting while others struggle to adapt.
- The study of psychology offers valuable insights into human behavior and mental processes, shedding light on the complex workings of the human mind. In each of these examples, the expository thesis statement introduces a topic or issue that will be explored in more detail in the paper. The statement aims to explain or clarify the topic, rather than argue a particular point of view.
How to create a strong expository thesis:
1. Your thesis statement should clearly and concisely state the main topic or issue that your paper will explore. Avoid using vague or ambiguous language that could confuse readers.
2. Your thesis statement should be focused on the topic you are exploring in your paper. Avoid making broad or sweeping statements that are difficult to support with evidence.
3. Your thesis statement should be supported by evidence from your research or personal experience. Avoid making unsupported claims or opinions that cannot be backed up.
4. Be specific: Your thesis statement should be specific and focused on a particular aspect of the topic you are exploring. Avoid making generalizations that are too broad or vague.
5. Avoid any personal bias or opinion. Avoid making statements that are based on personal beliefs or values that cannot be supported by evidence.
Part 4 Argumentative Thesis Examples
With argumentative thesis statements, you are taking a stance on a controversial issue. Examples:
- School uniforms should be eliminated in public schools as they stifle personal expression and creativity.
- Increasing the federal minimum wage would help reduce income inequality and lift many working families out of poverty without significantly damaging businesses or the economy.
- Making daylight saving time permanent nationwide would have economic and health benefits by aligning daylight hours more closely with Americans’ schedules without disrupting twice-annual time changes that are proven to be harmful.
Part 5 Qualities of a Robust Thesis Statement
A robust thesis statement is the backbone of your essay, so you’ll want to make sure it’s clear, concise, and well-defined.
- Your thesis statement should be concise . Keep it to one or two sentences, clearly stating your main idea without any fluff or unnecessary words. A concise thesis statement helps your reader follow your argument throughout your paper. For instance, avoid writing, “In this essay, we will discuss the negative effects of junk food on people’s health and what measures could be taken to minimize them.” Instead, try something like, “Junk food’s negative impact on health calls for stricter regulation and public awareness campaigns.”
- Another important quality is specificity . Your thesis statement should focus on a particular aspect of the topic to explore or argue about. An overly broad thesis statement leaves you with too much ground to cover and weakens your argument. Instead of writing, “Fast food is unhealthy,” you could be more specific by saying, “The high sodium and saturated fat content in fast food contributes to the growing obesity epidemic.”
- Make sure your thesis statement is arguable . Don’t just state a fact or observation; present a point of view that can be supported by evidence in your paper. An arguable thesis statement enables you to develop a persuasive argument. For example, rather than stating, “Many students are stressed about their academic workload,” you could say, “Colleges should implement mandatory stress management programs for students to combat academic burnout.”
Part 6 Mistakes to Avoid in a Thesis Statement
When crafting a thesis statement, there are a few mistakes you should avoid.
- One common error is making it too broad. To keep your thesis focused, narrow down your topic and offer a specific argument or idea.
- Another mistake to avoid is using vague or unclear language. Your thesis should be precise and easy to understand. To achieve this, use concise language and specific terms that clearly convey your argument.
- Being too subjective is also something to avoid. Your thesis should be supported by evidence and facts, so avoid making unsupported claims or basing your argument on personal opinions.
- Avoid writing a thesis that’s too long. A strong thesis statement should generally be one or two sentences, which effectively convey your main point or argument.
Part 7 Revision Tips for Thesis Statements
When revising your thesis statement, focus on clarity, specificity, and arguability.
- Start by refining your main argument to ensure it’s easy to understand and concise. A clear thesis statement allows your readers to grasp your argument without getting lost in details.
- As you review your thesis statement, make sure it’s specific enough. Avoid broad or generic statements that may weaken your argument. Instead, use precise language and provide context for your topic. Specificity helps your readers know exactly what you’re discussing and why it’s important.
- To create a compelling argument, your thesis statement should be arguable. This means that it must prompt reasonable disagreement, allowing for different perspectives. If your thesis statement represents a universally accepted fact or uncontroversial statement, it’s less likely to interest readers or lead to meaningful discussion.
- Another way to improve your thesis statement is by ensuring it’s focused. A focused thesis statement helps you stay on track when developing your argument and allows readers to follow your points more efficiently. To achieve this, consider narrowing the scope of your topic or concentrating on a particular aspect.
- Finally, reevaluate the evidence you use to support your thesis statement. Make sure it’s strong, reliable, and relevant. Don’t hesitate to update or adjust your thesis statement if you uncover new evidence or if your original research prompted new insights.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some good thesis statement examples for essays.
A good thesis statement should make a clear and concise argument, setting the stage for your essay. Here are a few examples:
- Climate change is the most pressing global issue, requiring immediate international cooperation to combat its effects.
- The effects of technology on modern relationships lead to emotional disconnection and a lack of face-to-face interaction.
How can I craft a strong thesis statement for my research paper?
To create a strong thesis statement, consider the following:
- Focus on the main topic, and avoid trying to cover various unrelated ideas.
- Use clear and concise language.
- Make an argument or claim that can be supported by evidence or examples.
- Keep the statement specific, narrowing it down to the main idea you want to explore.
What’s the difference between a thesis statement and a topic sentence?
A thesis statement is the central idea shared in an essay or research paper, while a topic sentence is a smaller idea focused on a single paragraph. The thesis statement typically appears at the beginning of your paper and outlines the main argument, while the topic sentence is found at the beginning of each paragraph and connects its content back to the central argument.
How can I practice creating thesis statements with worksheets?
Worksheets can be a helpful tool to practice crafting thesis statements. Search online for “thesis statement worksheets” or create your own, focusing on the following aspects:
- Identifying strong versus weak thesis statements.
- Developing ideas and supporting arguments from sample topics.
- Rewriting weak thesis statements to make them stronger and more effective.
When should I use a question as my thesis statement?
Though it’s uncommon, using a question as a thesis statement can pique the reader’s interest and work well in some cases. To determine if it’s appropriate, consider:
- The subject matter and audience – Is the question engaging and relevant to your readers?
- The purpose of the essay – Is the objective to answer the question or explore multiple perspectives?
- Your supporting arguments and evidence – Will answering the question provide a strong foundation for your essay?
Keep in mind that the question should still make a clear argument and be specific and focused.
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Why an Essay Needs a Thesis
A strong thesis statement can make the difference between an A and F paper. It can also affect whether a reader understands or even cares about your essay's central point. Knowing the importance of a thesis statement will help you structure a clear, effective paper that will intrigue, persuade and inform your readers.
Explore this article
A thesis statement is a sentence, usually placed at the end of the first paragraph, that lays out the direction of the entire essay, providing a clear description of the author’s main idea or goal. Just as people who read for pleasure look at the back cover of a book to see what it is about, your audience will take a peek at the thesis statement to see what they can expect from your paper.
All writing makes an argument. For example, an anti-death penalty essay offers reasons for its position while an analysis of a TV commercial explains a company's persuasion tactics. An essay needs a thesis to build the foundation for a clear argument about a debatable issue. It isn't enough to simply state a fact or say that something is good or bad. The thesis must clearly set solid groundwork for the author's claims. For example, your original thesis might say "Young girls shouldn't watch Disney movies." Your revised thesis might state "From finding a woman's self worth in Prince Charming to living happily ever after, Disney movies present numerous unrealistic views of romance that could be harmful to young female viewers."
When going on a trip, directions highlight important landmarks, tell you when to exit the freeway or turn, and estimate how long the trip will be. Writing an essay without a thesis statement is like sending readers on a trip with no map. Sometimes a thesis gives this road map by explicitly stating each major point readers will encounter in order of appearance. This will provide better signposting for audiences as they move through each main idea. For example, your original thesis might state simply "Cheerleading is a sport." After some consideration, you might flesh out the thesis to say "Cheerleading is a sport because true sports require precision, teamwork and physical endurance."
If readers are not interested in the essay by the end of the first paragraph, they most likely won't read on. Essays require a thesis statement to show readers why they should care about the topic. Know what you believe and why before beginning the writing process; if you aren't convinced, readers won't be either. Your thesis should always answer the question "So what?" -- explaining to audiences why the topic is significant and relevant to them. Your original thesis might state "Cooking Mexican food is easy." But, after you research the subject, you might revise the thesis to say "Cooking Mexican food at home is not only a fun family activity, but it can also help you save money."
Identify the purpose of the essay before writing a thesis. Most essays are written to inform readers about a topic, analyze an existing work or persuade audiences of a position. The kind of paper determines the structure of the thesis. Avoid first-person statements like "It is my opinion." This reduces your thesis' credibility by implying that your ideas are grounded in personal views, not sources. And, avoid starting the thesis with phrases like "This paper will prove." Go directly to the main content with concise, specific language.
- 1 Purdue Owl Writing Lab: Creating a Thesis Statement
About the Author
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.
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I Don’t Have to Post About My Outrage. Neither Do You.
By Elizabeth Spiers
Ms. Spiers, a contributing Opinion writer, is a journalist and digital media strategist.
I am neither Jewish nor Palestinian, and none of my six regular gigs have anything to do with foreign policy, but the other day I opened Twitter (now called X) after some time offline to find people I don’t know demanding that I make a public statement about what’s happening in the Middle East. It seemed that most of the people on social media had made a statement, including various corporate brands, celebrities and miscellaneous lifestyle influencers. American Eagle’s chief marketing officer posted to LinkedIn that the company had changed its Times Square billboard to an image of the Israeli flag. “Praying for Israel,” Justin Bieber posted on Instagram , over an image (later deleted) of what was actually Gaza.
But not everyone was taking a side. As I scrolled through my timeline, I saw lots of random citizens being told that if they didn’t speak out, they, too, would have blood on their hands.
People speaking from both the right and the left seemed to attribute my silence to depraved indifference to human suffering, though they were divided on which humans were suffering. As it happens, I had been dealing with shingles (zero stars, do not recommend) and the depression I struggle with periodically. I was tired and overwhelmed, as are a great many other people. But the voices yelling at me and anyone else who failed to post seemed to believe that not making a statement was itself a statement — and an immoral one, at that.
There’s a facile version of taking a stand on social media that generates righteous back patting but reduces complex issues to a simple yes or no. Taking simplistic stands can also lead to twisting words. Concern for Palestinians is portrayed as support for Hamas or hatred toward Israel or Jews in general. Anger about Hamas’s deadly attacks on Israeli citizens — or any mention of antisemitism — is portrayed as denigrating the dignity of all Palestinian lives. This kind of thinking is deeply unserious and further fuels hostilities, warping nuanced positions into extremism and mistaking tweet-length expressions of outrage for brave action in the face of atrocity.
When institutions offered statements that expressed sorrow for the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives, some constituents and customers demanded a revision that explicitly condemned their preferred villain. If these institutional voices stayed silent, it was considered newsworthy. “Six days after Hamas’s horrific terror attacks on Israel,” a reporter at Women’s Wear Daily wrote last Thursday , “many major players in the beauty — and overall fashion — industry have remained largely silent in support of the victims on both sides of the conflict.” Did we really need or want to hear from L’Oréal or LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton?
The impulse toward loud, reductive declarations reflects genuine fear about horrors that lie beyond words. Simple binaries imply simple solutions. And it’s much more pleasant to tell yourself you stand on the side of good, against evil, than to question whether the lines of demarcation were drawn correctly.
Sitting with uncertainty is hard, especially when social media has primed us to expect perfect real-time information during traumatic events and to want instantaneous answers and resolution. Moral certainty is an anchor we cling to when factual certainty is not possible. And the faster we express it, the more certain we appear. The most righteous among us post — and do it immediately.
Knee-jerk social media posts are not what bother me most, though. Instead, it’s the idea that not posting is wrong somehow — that everyone needs to speak, all the time. It discourages shutting up and listening and letting the voices that matter the most be heard over the din. It implies it’s not OK to have any uncertainty about what’s going on or any kind of moral analysis that does not lend itself to presentation in a social media post. It does not leave time or space for people to process traumatic events in the sanctuary of their own minds or to gather more information before pronouncing a judgment. It pressures people who don’t have an opinion yet or are working out what they think to manufacture one and present it to a jury of total strangers on the internet who will render an instant verdict on its propriety.
I do have opinions, of course, but they don’t fit in a tweet (and would be extremely awkward on TikTok). I think Hamas is a terrorist group and Israel has a right to defend itself. I lived in Manhattan on Sept. 11, and even so, I can’t imagine the grief and terror Jewish people feel right now in the face of continued attacks and rising antisemitism globally. I also think that the Israeli state should not be allowed to conflate Hamas with Gaza or to cut off electricity and access to food and medical supplies to civilians who are trapped in Gaza or to justify those acts by claiming that Palestinians who live there — about half of whom are children — can just leave when they plainly can’t. If the destruction of Gaza is not the goal, it is a very real possibility, and that should be equally unacceptable.
Are these opinions helpful? Useful? Interesting? And if so, to whom?
I’m not a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, but a passage in the book “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” seems applicable here. “Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen,” writes A.A.’s co-founder Bill Wilson. “We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven arguments,” which he calls “emotional booby traps baited with pride and vengefulness.” I’ll admit I have posted on social media from a place of pride and vengeance, and as a writer, I’m perhaps less conditioned to practice restraint of pen and avoidance of arguments. But thoughtful criticism is my goal, and while I’ve regretted posting half-formed thoughts too quickly, I’ve never regretted waiting until I was less angry or not posting at all.
In an environment where people are led to believe they should post or blurt out simplistic opinions, they will, for fear that others will think they’re not informed enough, they don’t care enough or their moral compass has been demagnetized. But a reactionary social media post tells you nothing about what they really think or know, cheapens the discourse and impedes progress. It’s sloganeering masquerading as moral clarity.
Elizabeth Spiers, a contributing Opinion writer, is a journalist and digital media strategist.
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Born This Way
Are we Really ‘Born this Way’?
On December 11, 1395, Eleanor Rykener was questioned in a London court of law because she was living as a woman, despite her male biology. When asked why, the report states that “a certain Anna, the whore of a former servant of Sir Thomas Blount, first taught [her] to practice this detestable vice in the manner of a woman. [She] further said that a certain Elizabeth Bronderer first dressed him in women's clothing.”  Undoubtedly, this is not the whole story, and it is filtered through a scribe who condemns Rykener’s sexual activity as detestable , a word Rykener likely did not use herself. Nonetheless, it highlights a transgender experience very different from the modern one. Increasingly, modern transgender and queer individuals describe themselves as being ‘born this way.’ Rykener’s statement suggests that her transgenderism was a communal creation and a choice, possibly her choice, but definitely other’s choice. As a subject, her identity, like that of many other medieval transgender individuals, is relational and follows Teresa de Lauretis’ and Linda Alcoff’s argument that subjectivity is created by “fluid interactions in constant motion and open to alteration by self-analyzing practice” (425). Gender, for many transgender medieval individuals that we have a record of, is created by cascading and fluid moments of choice and creation.
The ‘born this way’ narrative suggests that the only way to be or have ever been queer is to have always been so. But this makes it nearly impossible to talk about queerness in the medieval period, where same-sex attraction and transgenderism was a matter of choice and circumstance, and not simply being. Medieval individuals, who in written accounts are frequently biological women living as men, rarely become men for gendered reasons. They do not declare that they have always been men, and they often decide to be men for the social benefits. Some of them even return to life as a woman. It is also important to note that none of these individuals ever declare themselves queer , at least in part because words like transgender and queer simply did not exist, and the terms that did exist do not express the concept I discuss here. However, the lack of language does not mean the concept does not exist. For this reason, I follow Alicia Spencer-Hall and Black Gutt’s lead and use the term transgender , even though transgender carries many connotations that do not fit very well into the medieval period.  Acknowledging that queerness in the medieval period is very different from modern queerness, especially that queerness may be fluid and a choice rather than a matter of birth, uncovers aspects of queer history that would otherwise stay hidden and opens up what being trans and queer can mean in the modern day. 
One common medieval reason for being transgender is that an individual is put into a situation they are unable or unwilling to perform in their current gender. In the romance Yde et Olive , Yde (initially female) dresses as a man when his father attempts to marry him. St. Matrona of Perge, St. Euphrosyne, and Juana de la Cruz Vázquez y Gutiérrez run away to monasteries to escape overbearing husbands (or the possibility of such). St. Marinos’ father decides to join a monastery, and so as to not be abandoned, Marinos begs his father to let him dress as a boy and come as well. Some of these individuals will retain their maleness despite hardship until the end of their life, some will not.
Another popular reason is that someone else decides it will be so. In The Romance of Silence , Silence’s parents declare their biologically female child male because of the king’s recent decree that women cannot inherit. If I may be so bold as to include Joan of Arc in this list, Joan said that it was God who commanded her to dress in men’s clothes and go into battle. Rykener could also fit into this category.
These latter cases tend to be fairly complicated. After some debate, Silence chooses maleness, and knighthood specifically. Yet, though they do not consent to the reveal of their biology, it cannot be said with certainty that they are opposed to their transition to femininity and the life they have thereafter. Joan’s male clothing is a reoccurring point of conflict in her trial, and one that she is (mostly) adamant about maintaining. But she does not claim to be male. Although we know little about Rykener, of these three examples, she seems the most certain about her gender. She dresses and acts as a woman, takes a female name and pronouns, and maintains her femaleness even when questioned.
These individuals’ gender is not fixed at their birth, nor, importantly, over the course of their lives. When accused of sleeping with a woman, St. Eugenia tears open her clothes and reveals her breast, before returning to life as a woman. Silence and Juana also return to a public femininity, although Juana goes on to make many statements about her maleness. A view of queerness that necessitates fixity would say that St. Eugenia cannot be queer, especially in comparison to someone like St. Marinos who is also accused of sleeping with a woman and chooses to be kicked out of the monastery rather than reveal his biology. Jack Halberstam sees “embodiment as a series of ‘stopovers’ in which the body is lived as an archive rather than a dwelling.”  Halberstam’s vision of queerness allows doubt, change, and fluidity. The end, or the beginning, need not define everything in between.
Marquis Bey’s comments on the ‘born this way’ narrative were what first allowed me to articulate the ideas I’ve put forward here. Bey argues, “I in fact do not believe that I, or anyone, is born any particular way, if that is to be taken as having some legible innate desire or identification preexistent to and independent of the ways we are socialized, the language available to us, the other entities we have to interrelate and thus emerge in the world with and through.”  This echoes Simone de Beavoir’s “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman.”  The ‘born this way’ narrative is powerful, but it cannot be the only one, not only because it erases queer history but because it limits modern queer experience. Bey’s queerness is created over time through relationships, community, language, and choice, and considering medieval queerness as a messy tangle of relationships, social circumstances, and choice provides a more complex view of queer history and the opportunity to open up what queerness can mean today.
Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex . Jonathan Cape, 2009, 273.
Bey, Marquis. Cistem Failure: Essays on Blackness and Cisgender . Duke University Press, 2022, 17.
Halberstam, Jack. Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability . Oakland, University of California, 2018, 24.
“The Questioning of Eleanor Rykener (also known as John), A Cross-Dressing Prostitute, 1395.” Translated by David Lorenzo Boyd and Ruth Mazo Karras. Fordham , 1998, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/1395rykener.asp).
Spencer-Hall, Alicia, and Blake Gutt, editors. Trans and Genderqueer Subjects in Medieval Hagiography . Amsterdam University Press, 2021.
 Translation by David Lorenzo Boyd and Ruth Mazo Karras. The original Latin is: “Anna, meretrix quondam cuiusdam famuli domini Thome Blount, primo docuit ipsum vitium detestabile modo muliebri exercere,” (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/1395rykener.asp).
 Spencer-Hall, Alicia, and Blake Gutt, editors. Trans and Genderqueer Subjects in Medieval Hagiography . Amsterdam University Press, 2021.
 I explore three genres, and thus three types of individuals. The first genre is romances, and the individuals therein are purely literary. The second is saints lives, which would have been read as true in the medieval period, but frequently had fictitious elements. Third is historical records, especially court cases, which detail historic individuals, including Juana de la Cruz Vázquez y Gutiérrez, Eleanor Rykener, and Joan of Arc.
 Halberstam, Jack. Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability . Oakland, University of California, 2018, 24.
 Bey, Marquis. Cistem Failure: Essays on Blackness and Cisgender . Duke University Press, 2022, 17.
 Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex . Jonathan Cape, 2009, 273.