How to Write a Good Thesis Statement
The value that a good thesis statement holds in any type of writing is irrefutable. Whether you’re writing an argumentative, persuasive or comparison paper, speech or research paper; you will need to have a thesis statement. You can have a section within your paper specifically dedicated to the thesis statement, or if it is a short paper that you’re writing, that is, with fewer paragraphs – you can have a list of two or more points.
A thesis statement is meant to serve two primary purposes:
Guide the writer:
- Makes your paper have a certain structure and a point to pass across
- Create a hook to hang your sentences on: it’s what draws your readers
- Establish the focus and clearly bring out your main points
Blueprint for your reader:
- Engages readers to the main arguments
- Draws and keeps them focused on the main points
- Serves as a ‘map’ for reading through the paper
So, how does one go about writing a strong thesis statement? It is a process that requires one to fully have a comprehension of what a thesis is, the two types, qualities, and strategies to developing a good thesis statement.
What is a Thesis Statement?
So, what is a thesis statement? You have often come across students, especially seniors, talking about a ‘thesis’ – this is entirely different from a thesis statement. A thesis also commonly referred to a dissertation, is a long essay paper containing personal research written by a college student in the quest to getting a degree. A thesis statement, on the other hand, is a claim, fact or argument that you intend to approve or disapprove in your essay.
Writing a good thesis statement all boils down to thoroughly understanding the type of ‘claim’ that you’re trying to assert to your readers. The type of claim dictates the focus and direction your paper will take.
Types of Claims for Thesis Statements
Cause and Effect
The thesis statement is argumentative highlighting how a particular person, or event has caused certain things to transpire.
Prolonged smoking can lead to lung cancer
Fact or Definition
The thesis statement attempts to bring out the meaning to something or in other scenarios reaffirm or contradict a stated fact.
Life forms exist outside earth
Policies or Solutions
The thesis statement, in this case, argues for or against certain policy or solution approaches in solving problems.
GMOs are the solution to the existing food shortages globally
Claims about Value
The thesis statement highlights whether a particular thing has value or otherwise. It also shows how we have rated or categorized certain issues or things.
Global warming is a serious and worldwide problem
Types of Thesis Statements
The nature of the essay you are writing has a significant effect on the thesis statement that you’ll use. Just as there are different kinds of essays so are there thesis statements. We have three categories of essays: expository, analytical and argumentative.
The thesis statement will take the form of the essay. However, certain pieces cannot be categorized into either of the three, but still, the approach to writing the thesis statement is the same. The following are some types of thesis statements:
Persuasive Thesis Statement
A persuasive thesis statement is a compelling thesis statement, which can also be termed as being argumentative, strives to show your readers an accurate claim which you back with evidence. For a majority of essays, be they policy, compare and contrast , narrative or argumentative, the thesis statement is often persuasive. It is so because your piece gives an opinion or claim and an explanation on why.
Swimming is the best form of exercise because it allows you to exercise all your body muscles and it’s fun.
The goal of the essay is to show readers why swimming is an excellent form of exercise. My opinion will be ‘best form of exercise,’ I have then gone ahead and justified my opinion with a couple of reasons ‘exercise all your body muscles, and it is fun.’
Informative Thesis Statement
Expository or informative essays have an informative kind of thesis statement. Your thesis statement explains or informs and guides your reader to the conclusion that you’ve made with regards to a particular event, issue or individual.
To exercise all body muscles at once, you can take up swimming as a form of exercise.
The subject of your essay is ‘exercising body muscles,’ the focus your essay will take – ‘showing your audience how swimming can be the best exercise to take up.’
Analytical Thesis Statement
An analytical paper is more focused on research. It breakdowns issues or ideas, giving a more detailed explanation and evaluation to your audience.
An analysis of global warming effects and the challenges facing a reduction of greenhouse gases emission.
The paper will give an analysis of the effects of global warming and the challenges facing those trying to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, which is among the leading causes of global warming.
Creating a Good Thesis Statement
Coming up with a thesis statement is a process that requires much thought. You cannot have a thesis statement just by reading the essay topic. Before settling on a particular line of thinking or argument, you need to have evidence to back it up. Therefore, you will need to collect the necessary information, identify existing relationships if there are any, and see the significance of the information that forms the basis of your argument. This process will help you develop a “working thesis.” ‘Working’ because as you proceed with your paper, you are likely to make adjustments to it.
Qualities of a Good Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is not too general but rather narrowed down such that it leads to a particular line of thinking. You will also be keen to limit your thesis statement to what can be accomplished within the essay. Being general will make your essay not have much relevant or important information. Being specific allows a writer to give valuable information.
Originality is a key issue when it comes to writing. In fact, it is an offense to reproduce someone else’s work. For students, it can negatively impact on their academic performance and in some cases get them suspended from school. A strong thesis statement is one that you develop on your own. A good thesis statement is one that avoids the use of formula statements and generic arguments.
Your thesis statement needs to be clear such that anyone reading your paper can quickly see it. You need to avoid any misunderstandings, which implies that you cannot assume that your reader will automatically understand your sentence. This means that if there are any words that need defining, ensure that you do so. Therefore, be very clear avoiding any vagueness while stating your thesis statement.
States Your Position
A thesis statement as defined, is an opinion or stance that you will be taking. Therefore, this means that any good thesis statement does not just introduce the topic but lets your reader see the position or claim that you’re making in relation to that subject. Your position should not be general but specific; it also shouldn’t be a universal or self-evident argument. Give your readers a reason to read your paper!
The Position of Your Thesis Statement
Place your thesis statement at the beginning of your paper. Not specifically in the first paragraph, it could be in the second paragraph of your article if you are writing a long paper. Importantly, let it be evident such that anyone reading your paper can clearly see your argument. Placing it at the beginning of your paper gives it a sense of direction.
Strategies for Developing a Strong Thesis Statement
Hint 1: Using a Formula to derive a thesis statement
A formula statement is an option to use while developing your thesis statement. However it’s not specific enough and will require adjustments as you proceed with writing
Example of templates
Even though majority of readers ______ have argued that ______, detailed examination shows that ______.
___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.
Hint 2: Have a sentence that recaps the main points of the essay
Hint 3: If your paper entails answering a question, then turn your question to an assertion and validate your arguments.
Hint 4: Developing a thesis statement is a thinking process that takes time. After thoroughly understanding the subject of your essay, list down the most important point and eventually what you have is an organizational plan, which shows you what the thesis statement can be.
A thesis statement is a crucial part of your paper, and therefore it is very important that you get it right. A good thesis statement gives your paper a sense of direction that will not only make it easy for you to write it but also a blueprint for your readers. To write a good thesis statement, it is vital that you have a thorough understanding of certain aspects that include the subject of your essay, what a thesis statement is and the different types. There are different approaches that one can take as shown by the different strategies. Have a specific, original, and precise thesis statement that will not leave your readers wondering what your objective or argument in the paper was.
When in doubt, you can always seek the help of your supervisor or tutor. Having a strong thesis statement takes effort and skill, you need all the assist you can get if you’ve not mastered how to develop one.
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Handouts o Writing Center
Your thesis statement is the central argument of your essay. It must be
concise and well-written.
- Your thesis goes in the introductory paragraph. Don’t
hide it; make it clearly asserted at the beginning of your paper.
- Your thesis must make an argument. It is the road map
to the argument you will subsequently develop in your paper.
The key difference between an opinion
statement and thesis statement is that a thesis conveys to the reader that
the claim being offered has been thoroughly explored and is defendable by
evidence. It answers the “what” question (what is the argument?) and it
gives the reader a clue as to the “why” question (why is this
argument the most persuasive?).
Examples of good thesis statements:
- “The ability to purchase television advertising
is essential for any candidate’s bid for election to the Senate because
television reaches millions of people and thus has the ability to
dramatically increase name recognition.”
- The organizational structure of the United
Nations, namely consensus voting in the security council, makes it
incapable of preventing war between major powers.”
1. Thesis statements must make a claim or argument. They are not
statements of fact.
Statement of fact: “A candidates ability to afford television
advertising can have an impact on the outcome of Congressional elections.”
This is essentially an indisputable point and therefore, not a thesis
Similarly, the claim “The United Nations was established to promote
diplomacy between major powers.” is not likely to inspire much debate.
2. Thesis statements are not merely opinion statements.
Statement of opinion:“Congressional elections are simply the
result of who has the most money.” This statement does make a claim,
but in this format it is too much of an opinion and not enough of an
Similarly, “The United Nations is incapable of preventing war” is
closer to a thesis statement than the factual statement above because it
raises a point that is debatable. But in this format, it doesn’t offer the
reader much information; it sounds like the author is simply stating a
viewpoint that may or may not be substantiated by evidence.
In conclusion, your thesis should make clear
what your argument is; it should also provide the reader with some
indication of why your argument is persuasive.
For example: In the congressional elections example, why is money
important (and whose money? The candidates’? Corporations’? Special
interests’?), are other factors irrelevant (the candidates’ views on the
issues?) and for which types of elections is this true (is your argument
equally true for Senatorial elections and elections for the House of
Representatives? Why or why not?)?
In the other example, you will need to think about why the United Nations
is not capable of preventing war. Your thesis should indicate that you
have an understanding of the relevant historical circumstances and that
you are aware of alternative explanations.
Of course, one can re-work a thesis statement indefinitely and one can
almost always find something at fault with it. The point is that you must
be sure that your thesis statement is indicating to your reader that you
have an argument to make.
Back to handouts
- Structure and argumentation
- Structuring a thesis
- Crafting an argument
- The IMRaD format
- Language and style
- Writing one thing at a time
- Non-academic language
- The writing process
- Start writing
- Techniques for getting started
- From topic to research question
- Writing groups
- Start writing
- Formal requirements
- Disseminating your thesis
- Summary and foreword
- 1. Introduction
- 1.1 Background
- 1.2 Defining the scope of your thesis
- 1.3 Outline
- 2. Theory section
- 3. Method section
- 4. Analysis
- 5. Discussion
- Summary and foreword
- 1. Introduction
- 1.1 Background
- 1.2 Defining the scope of your thesis
- 1.3 Outline
- 2. Theory section
- 3. Method section
- 4. Analysis
- 5. Discussion
This section describes the main elements of a written thesis for the Norwegian bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Although the organising principles described here are most clearly relevant for empirical theses, much of the advice is also relevant for theoretical work. Please note that the formal requirements vary between different disciplines, and make sure to confer the guidelines that apply in your field.
For the contents in the various sections you may also confer Organising your writing.
Summary and foreword
Most readers will turn first to the summary (or abstract). Use it as an opportunity to spur the reader’s interest. The summary should highlight the main points from your work, especially the thesis statement, methods (if applicable), findings and conclusion. However, the summary does not need to cover every aspect of your work. The main objective is to give the reader a good idea of what the thesis is about.
The summary should be completed towards the end; when you are able to overview your project as a whole. It is nevertheless a good idea to work on a draft continuously. Writing a good summary can be difficult, since it should only include the most important points of your work. But this is also why working on your summary can be so useful – it forces you to identify the key elements of your writing project.
There are usually no formal requirements for forewords, but it is common practice to thank your supervisors, informants, and others who have helped and supported you. If you have received any grants or research residencies, you should also acknowledge these.
Note: Shorter assignments do not require abstracts and forewords.
Your introduction has two main purposes: 1) to give an overview of the main points of your thesis, and 2) to awaken the reader’s interest. It is recommended to rewrite the introduction one last time when the writing is done, to ensure that it connects well with your conclusion.
Tip: For a nice, stylistic twist you can reuse a theme from the introduction in your conclusion. For example, you might present a particular scenario in one way in your introduction, and then return to it in your conclusion from a different – richer or contrasting – perspective.
The introduction should include:
- The background for your choice of theme
- A discussion of your research question or thesis statement
- A schematic outline of the remainder of your thesis
The sections below discuss each of these elements in turn.
The background sets the general tone for your thesis. It should make a good impression and convince the reader why the theme is important and your approach relevant. Even so, it should be no longer than necessary.
What is considered a relevant background depends on your field and its traditions. Background information might be historical in nature, or it might refer to previous research or practical considerations. You can also focus on a specific text, thinker or problem.
Academic writing often means having a discussion with yourself (or some imagined opponent). To open your discussion, there are several options available. You may, for example:
- refer to a contemporary event
- outline a specific problem; a case study or an example
- review the relevant research/literature to demonstrate the need for this particular type of research
If it is common in your discipline to reflect upon your experiences as a practitioner, this is the place to present them. In the remainder of your thesis, this kind of information should be avoided, particularly if it has not been collected systematically.
Tip: Do not spend too much time on your background and opening remarks before you have gotten started with the main text.
Write three different opening paragraphs for your thesis using different literary devices
a) “set the scene” with a (short) narrative
b) adopt a historical approach to the phenomenon you intend to discuss
c) take an example from the media to give your topic current relevance.
Observe to what extent these different openings inspire you, and choose the approach most appropriate to your topic. For example, do you want to spur emotions, or remain as neutral as possible? How important is the historical background? The exercise can be done in small groups or pairs. Discuss what makes an opening paragraph successful (or not). How does your opening paragraph shed light on what is to follow? What will the reader’s expectations be?
1.2 Defining the scope of your thesis
One of the first tasks of a researcher is defining the scope of a study, i.e., its area (theme, field) and the amount of information to be included. Narrowing the scope of your thesis can be time-consuming. Paradoxically, the more you limit the scope, the more interesting it becomes. This is because a narrower scope lets you clarify the problem and study it at greater depth, whereas very broad research questions only allow a superficial treatment.
The research question can be formulated as one main question with (a few) more specific sub-questions or in the form of a hypothesis that will be tested.
Your research question will be your guide as your writing proceeds. If you are working independently, you are also free to modify it as you go along.
How do you know that you have drafted a research question? Most importantly, a research question is something that can be answered. If not, you have probably come up with a theme or field, not a question.
- Use interrogative words: how, why, which (factors/situations) etc.
- Some questions are closed and only invoke concrete/limited answers. Others will open up for discussions and different interpretations.
Asking “What …?” is a more closed question than asking “How?” or “In what way?”
Asking “Why” means you are investigating what causes of a phenomenon. Studying causality is methodologically demanding.
- Feel free to pose partially open questions that allow discussions of the overall theme, e.g., “In what way …?”; “How can we understand [a particular phenomenon]?”
- Try to condense your research question into one general question – and perhaps a few more specific sub-questions (two or three will usually suffice).
The outline gives an overview of the main points of your thesis. It clarifies the structure of your thesis and helps you find the correct focus for your work. The outline can also be used in supervision sessions, especially in the beginning. You might find that you need to restructure your thesis. Working on your outline can then be a good way of making sense of the necessary changes. A good outline shows how the different parts relate to each other, and is a useful guide for the reader .
It often makes sense to put the outline at the end of the introduction, but this rule is not set in stone. Use discretion: What is most helpful for the reader? The information should come at the right point – not too early and not too late.
2. Theory section
The theory used in an empirical study is meant to shed light on the data in a scholarly or scientific manner. It should give insights not achievable by ordinary, everyday reflections. The main purpose of using theory is to analyse and interpret your data. Therefore, you should not present theoretical perspectives that are not being put to use. Doing so will create false expectations, and suggests that your work is incomplete.
Not all theses have a separate theory section. In the IMRaD format the theory section is included in the introduction, and the second chapter covers the methods used.
What kind of theory should you choose? Since the theory is the foundation for your data analysis it can be useful to select a theory that lets you distinguish between, and categorise different phenomena. Other theories let you develop the various nuances of a phenomenon. In other words, you have a choice of either reducing the complexity of your data or expanding upon something that initially looks simple.
How much time and space should you devote to the theory chapter? This is a difficult question. Some theses dwell too long on theory and never get to the main point: the analysis and discussion. But it is also important to have read enough theory to know what to look for when collecting data. The nature of your research should decide: Some studies do not require much theory, but put more emphasis on the method, while other studies need a rich theory section to enable an interesting discussion.
3. Method section
In a scholarly research article, the section dealing with method is very important. The same applies to an empirical thesis. For students, this can be a difficult section to write, especially since its purpose may not always be clear.
The method chapter should not iterate the contents of methodology handbooks. For example, if you have carried out interviews, you do not need to list all the different types of research interview. You also do not need to describe the differences between quantitative and qualitative methods, or list all different kinds of validity and reliability.
What you must do is to show how your choice of design and research method is suited to answering your research question(s). Demonstrate that you have given due consideration to the validity and reliability of your chosen method. By “showing” instead of “telling”, you demonstrate that you have understood the practical meaning of these concepts. This way, the method section is not only able to tie the different parts of your thesis together, it also becomes interesting to read!
- Show the reader what you have done in your study, and explain why. How did you collect the data? Which options became available through your chosen approach?
- What were your working conditions? What considerations did you have to balance?
- Tell the reader what you did to increase the validity of your research. E.g., what can you say about the reliability in data collection? How do you know that you have actually investigated what you intended to investigate? What conclusions can be drawn on this basis? Which conclusions are certain and which are more tentative? Can your results be applied in other areas? Can you generalise? If so, why? If not, why not?
- You should aim to describe weaknesses as well as strengths. An excellent thesis distinguishes itself by defending – and at the same time criticising – the choices made.
Your analysis, along with your discussion, will form the high light of your thesis. In the IMRaD format, this section is titled “Results”. This is where you report your findings and present them in a systematic manner. The expectations of the reader have been built up through the other chapters, make sure you fulfill these expectations.
To analyse means to distinguish between different types of phenomena – similar from different. Importantly, by distinguishing between different phenomena, your theory is put to work. Precisely how your analysis should appear, however, is a methodological question. Finding out how best to organise and present your findings may take some time. A good place to look for examples and inspiration is repositories for master’s theses.
If you are analysing human actions, you may want to engage the reader’s emotions. In this case it will be important to choose analytical categories that correlate to your chosen theory. Engaging emotions is not the main point, but a way to elucidate the phenomenon so that the reader understands it in a new and better way.
Note: Not all theses include a separate chapter for analysis.
In many thesis the discussion is the most important section. Make sure that you allocate enough time and space for a good discussion. This is your opportunity to show that you have understood the significance of your findings and that you are capable of applying theory in an independent manner.
The discussion will consist of argumentation. In other words, you investigate a phenomenon from several different perspectives. To discuss means to question your findings, and to consider different interpretations. Here are a few examples of formulations that signal argumentation:
- On the one hand … and on the other …
- However …
- … it could also be argued that …
- … another possible explanation may be …
6. Conclusion – or summing up?
The final section of your thesis may take one of several different forms. Some theses need a conclusion, while for others a summing up will be appropriate. The decisive factor will be the nature of your thesis statement and/or research question.
Open research questions cannot always be answered, but if a definite answer is possible, you must provide a conclusion. The conclusion should answer your research question(s). Remember that a negative conclusion is also valid.
A summing up should repeat the most important issues raised in your thesis (particularly in the discussion), although preferably stated in a (slightly) different way. For example, you could frame the issues within a wider context.
Placing your thesis in perspective
In the final section you should place your work in a wider, academic perspective and determine any unresolved questions. During the work, you may have encountered new research questions and interesting literature which could have been followed up. At this point, you may point out these possible developments, while making it clear for the reader that they were beyond the framework of your current project.
- Briefly discuss your results through a different perspective. This will allow you to see aspects that were not apparent to you at the project preparation stage
- Highlight alternative research questions that you have found in the source materials used in the project
- Show how others have placed the subject area in a wider context
- If others have drawn different conclusions from yours, this will provide you with ideas of new ways to view the research question
- Describe any unanswered aspects of your project
- Specify potential follow up and new projects
A thesis should “bite itself in the tail”
There should be a strong connection between your conclusion and your introduction. All the themes and issues that you raised in your introduction must be referred to again in one way or another. If you find out at this stage that your thesis has not tackled an issue that you raised in the introduction, you should go back to the introduction and delete the reference to that issue. An elegant way to structure the text is to use the same textual figure or case in the beginning as well as in the end. When the figure returns in the final section, it will have taken on a new and richer meaning through the insights you have encountered, created in the process of writing.
J. Schimel, 2012 Writing Science. How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded. New York: Oxford University Press
Last updated: June 29, 2018
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