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How to Make a Strong Thesis Statement

We've all been there: up into the late hours of the night, struggling through writing a paper that you are completely unsure about (that just so happens to be due tomorrow). Your paper seems to meander and not make sense and you are frustrated. Most often when we struggle with a paper it's because our thesis statements aren't in order.

Think of your paper's thesis statement like a coverline on the front of a magazine. Though the story inside may be hundreds or even thousands of words long, the coverline on the front details what the story is about in just a few succinct, compelling words. The coverline will give you an argument as to why you should pick the magazine up from the rack and put it on the conveyor belt along with your other groceries. The same goes for your paper's thesis statement. Its purpose in your paper is to make an argument about your topic in a way that pieces and organizes all of your evidence together. The thesis statement should keep the reader engaged and make them want to read more.

Most importantly, the thesis statement should perfectly sum up what the rest of the paper is saying. Have you ever seen a really good movie trailer and then been extremely disappointed by the movie itself because it wasn't what the trailer portrayed it to be? Think about that as you write a thesis statement to go in your paper. You want your thesis statement to be compelling, but you also want your thesis to be backed up with evidence in the body of the paper so that the reader doesn't feel duped at the end.

So, you know that a thesis statement is important and central to your paper, but how do you go about writing an effective one? Here are a few examples of what to do (and what not to do) when writing your thesis statement.

The thesis should go at the beginning of the paper

Because the thesis is so central and integral to how the rest of your paper reads, it should go in the first paragraph (or at least one of the first few paragraphs) in the paper. Much like a lede sentence in a newspaper article, the thesis tells the reader what the rest of the article is about and clues them into what they can expect the rest of the way. If the thesis were to go anywhere but the beginning, this would be confusing to your audience as they wouldn't know the point of why they were reading in the first place.

Start a race
The thesis statement is the starting point of your race.

Make your thesis give direction to the rest of your paper

All thesis statements make arguments about your topic, but good thesis statements give direction to how the rest of the paper will be shaped. In order to accomplish this, your thesis should lend itself to several reasons that elaborate on your claim. For example, the thesis "College athletes should be paid," while certainly an argument, isn't effective because it lacks a sense of structure. This argument doesn't naturally lend itself to body paragraphs. However, if you wrote your thesis as, "College athletes deserve compensation because it is the ethical and moral thing to do," then you have two potential reasons that support your claims, thus giving shape to the rest of the paper.

Because you have added in a claim to your argument, you can now spend several paragraphs discussing (with your evidence to back it up) things such as the time college athletes devote to their sport and then several paragraphs on how many collegiate athletes come from poverty and how difficult it is for them to make it. With these claims it will be much easier for you to figure out how to structure your paper effectively.

Find the right direction
A good thesis statement should give your paper direction.

Make sure your argument is debatable

Though it's good to question everything that you learn with a bit of healthy skepticism, there are certain truths that we as a public already know. For example, everyone knows that rent is high in New York City. This statement is unequivocal and therefore it would not be interesting to write a thesis statement that simply said, "New York City's rents are among the highest in the world." This isn't something that can be argued for or against—it is simply a fact that most people know.

The moment your fact becomes an actual thesis statement is when you add the argument to it. You could take your fact: "New York City's rents are among the highest in the world" and then add the argument, "and should be rent controlled in order to preserve the multi-cultural and unique identity that it has historically had."

Only when you add the argument does it really become a thesis statement (and also becomes something that your audience would likely want to read on about).

A discussion
A thesis statement requires an argument to discuss.

Smaller is better when it comes to thesis statements

Papers are often more focused when the argument you are trying to make is smaller. If your argument is overly broad (think something like, "child care should be more affordable in the United States"), then your paper will most likely be meandering and lack a sense of direction. With a topic so large, there is too much information to cover effectively in such a short amount of time and space. When you make the argument smaller and localize it (something like "Childcare should be publicly subsidized in California"), then it's easier to zero in on facts and provide evidence to your audience.

A small bird
A small thesis statement is focused and effective.

Ensure that your thesis statement actually answers the research question

Sometimes you may be so busy researching and making sure that your thesis statement is effective that you may forget to check if the paper is actually responding correctly to the paper prompt. For example, if your teacher asked you to write an essay on Atticus Finch's parenting style in To Kill a Mockingbird, then writing your paper and your thesis statement on how Boo Radley is the mockingbird won't be answering the question. Even if the essay and thesis statement are strong, the paper won't be addressing the issue your teacher wanted you to explore.

Question marks
Answering the teacher's question is necessary for a thesis statement.

Your thesis will emerge from the writing process (particularly from revisions)

Many novice writers think that your thesis statement should come out fully formed when they first start typing. What really happens is that you have a loose idea of an argument when you first start and the more you read and write on your subject, the clearer your argument will become. The thesis statement will really take shape, however, when you are in the thick of the writing process. As you revise, trim, rearrange, and add your paragraphs, your thesis statement will have more clarity. Remember, your thesis statement should be a succinct summary of what your body of evidence is saying.

As you write, you will refine your thesis statement.

Nuance is okay

In an academic argument it's not necessarily about earth shattering revelations as much as it is approaching a question in a new way or coming to a new insight of a particular problem. For example, instead of a thesis that claims to solve world peace, a thesis on what you can do to make your local community a better place can be much more powerful. Don't feel like you have to solve all of the world's problems in your paper. A good argument doesn't solve major problems; it looks at problems under a new light. Good research is done in small increments and often looking at things under a microscope rather than making grand pronouncements.

Focus on smaller issues rather than the big picture.

Thesis statement examples

The following are a few examples of weak thesis statements versus effective and strong thesis statements on well-known paper topics. Use these example thesis statements as a guide to help you think about how you should structure your argument for your particular topic. (Note that these essay topics are for example and are very general and should not be copied for the purposes of your essay.)

Topic 1: Climate Change

What not to do: Climate change is man-made.

How to fix it: Due to the harrowing statistics of climate change, communities should lead the way in diminishing the effects of global warming by investing more in recycling, public transportation and/or carpooling, and promoting the use of clean energy.

Why we fixed it: The first thesis statement definitely gives an argument, but doesn't provide any context or evidence on why the author has come to this conclusion. The first statement is also very broad; the topic is too large and would easily get off track in the body of the paper. The second statement has been narrowed down significantly. It provides solutions and gives the writer a loose structure to follow in the rest of the paper.

Topic 2: The Great Gatsby

What not to do: F. Scott Fitzgerald has a negative view of the American Dream.

How to fix it: Jay Gatsby's quick rise in social stature and economic status and his ultimate undoing by the "old money" crowd in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby represents the author's skeptical and pessimistic view of the so-called American Dream.

Why we fixed it: Though this first statement is an argument that is debatable, it doesn't really give us any context or claims as to how F. Scott Fitzgerald shows us this in his writing. In the second thesis statement, we can clearly see how the writer came to this conclusion about Fitzgerald's opinion through concrete evidence. We can also see how the writer will be able to organize the rest of the paragraphs and discuss Gatsby's social stature, economic status, and the conflict between new and old money.

Topic 3: To Kill a Mockingbird

What not to do: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird tells us exactly how to fix racism.

How to fix it: Tom Robinson's unfair conviction and death in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird sheds light on the role of systemic racism in the American justice system.

Why we fixed it: This statement reveals something interesting and sheds new light on a problem. The first thesis statement makes a very grand and overarching claim that can't possibly be supported by evidence. Again, it's always best to narrow down your argument and remember that you don't need to solve all of the world's problems in your paper.

Topic 4: Obesity in American Children in the South

What not to do: Children in the Southern part of the United States are more likely to be obese.

How to fix it: Childhood obesity rates in the South have doubled in the last 30 years because of poor access to healthy foods, an increased dependence on technology for entertainment, and high poverty levels in the southern region of the United States.

Why we fixed it: The first statement isn't really an argument, but more of a summary of what the literature says. It doesn't really explain why children from the South are more likely to be obese. The second thesis statement, however, provides us with some insight as well as gives us a structure for the rest of the paper with three concrete reasons that we can go into depth about.

How to go forward

It's no secret that writing is tough. In fact, it's one of the toughest things you'll do in your academic career. However, lots of practice and a clear understanding of how to write a thesis, how it works best, and what things you will need to include in it will make you a better writer and also a better researcher.

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