Although the following handout provides basic rules of thumb for what makes an effective thesis statement, your teacher’s expectations might differ, depending on the assignment.
What is a Thesis?
In an argumentative essay, a thesis is an overarching argument that you will prove throughout your essay. Similarly, a thesis in an analytical essay is a claim that makes meaning out of something, such as a topic, concept, or text. On the other hand, in an explanatory essay, a thesis is an overarching concept or main idea that you will inform readers of throughout your essay. In both types of essays, your thesis statement—a sentence or two in which you express your thesis—is typically included near the end of the introductory paragraph; however, sometimes thesis statements are delayed until a later paragraph. A delayed thesis statement often occurs later in an introductory section that comprises of several paragraphs that contextualize the topics and sub-topics of your essay; this rhetorical strategy is more common in longer academic papers and dissertations.
What is a Working Thesis?
Keep in mind that, as you write and rewrite your essay, your thesis statement will likely change. This typically occurs because, now that you have combed through your sources and better understand your topic and sub-topics, you have found a stronger, more specific angle to write about. Thinking of your thesis as a preliminary thesis, or a working thesis, allows you to stay flexible. Just because you were happy with the thesis statement that you wrote three weeks ago doesn’t mean you have to stick with it. Remember that all good writing is the product of rewriting, and the more you rewrite, the stronger your writing will turnout. The same rings true for your thesis.
Writing an Effective Thesis Statement
Whether you are writing an argumentative essay, an analytical essay, or an explanatory essay, thesis statements must be specific. Typically, thesis statements are supported by a necessary amount of context to orient your reader within your topic. Similarly, an essay map—that is, the main topics and sub-topics that you will explore within your paper—is often presented before your thesis statement. When you express your thesis statement with specificity, you will likely address the “so what?” of your paper, which is to say that your audience should not ask themselves “so what?” after reading your thesis statement; rather, your thesis should motivate or convince them to continue reading.
For argumentative essays, one’s thesis statement must be arguable. If it can be accepted as a fact or largely agreed upon—e.g., the United States comprises of fifty states—then it is not effective in taking a stance. However, if your thesis statement sparks two or more argumentative stances—e.g., the United States and its fifty states have never been united due to deep-rooted, systemic racism against people of color—then you are likely on the right track. To reiterate, your thesis statement must take a stance on the issue; in other words, you are not arguing all sides of a given topic, though you will likely address counter arguments throughout your essay to support your own argument.
Thesis Statement Examples
Argumentative Thesis Statement
“In this essay, I will argue that the internet is bad for children.”
“In 2020, children between the ages of five and twelve are sexualized earlier than previous generations due to the unrestricted exposure of sexual content on the internet, such as movies, TV shows, music, and other online media.”
First off, writing “in this essay” and “I will argue” is not a bad way to start your writing process, but eventually you might consider cutting phrases like this from your essay. Although the first thesis mentions “the internet” and how it is “bad for kids,” these moments are too vague. The revised thesis is stronger because it is specific as to why the internet is bad for kids; in addition, it provides subtopics explored within the essay, signaling to readers that examples from each of these will be used to support the writer’s argument.
Analytical Thesis Statement
“Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is considered a protofeminist.”
“Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s Response of the Poet uses classical oration and examples from the bible to prove her argument for a woman’s right to educate herself in non-secular matters.”
The first example is not specific and does not propose an analytical lens—that is, a new way of looking at something. The revised example is an improvement because, not only are readers provided specific context—i.e., the name of the text under analysis—but are introduced to several parallel sub-topics: a proposed analysis of Sor Juana’s argument for a woman’s right to educate themselves in non-secular matters; a proposed analysis of her use of classical oration to make her argument; and, lastly, examples from the bible that the writer will analyze in relation to Sor Juana’s argument.
Explanatory Thesis Statement
“The printing press revolutionized the production of manuscripts.”
“In circa 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and revolutionized printing, which inevitably increased literacy due to the mass-production and affordability of manuscripts and books.”
The first example is too vague to base an explanatory essay on. The revised example provides specific context and sub-topics—i.e., fifteenth century printing, Gutenberg, literacy, and the mass-production and affordability of manuscripts. Providing specific sub-topics and context will ensure that you have a strong foundation on which to build your explanatory essay.
Behrens, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. A Sequence for Academic Writing. 2015.
Lunsford, Andrea A, Paul K. Matsuda, Christine M. Tardy, and Lisa S. Ede. The St. Martin’s Handbook. 2015.