A thesis can be found in many places—a debate speech, a lawyer’s closing argument, even an advertisement. But the most common place for a thesis statement (and probably why you’re reading this article) is in an essay.
Whether you’re writing an argumentative paper, an informative essay, or a compare/contrast statement, you need a thesis. Without a thesis, your argument falls flat and your information is unfocused. Since a thesis is so important, it’s probably a good idea to look at some tips on how to put together a strong one.
What is a “thesis statement” anyway?
You may have heard of something called a “thesis.” It’s what seniors commonly refer to as their final paper before graduation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That type of thesis is a long, well-written paper that takes years to piece together.
Instead, we’re talking about a single sentence that ties together the main idea of any argument. In the context of student essays, it’s a statement that summarizes your topic and declares your position on it. This sentence can tell a reader whether your essay is something they want to read.
2 Categories of Thesis Statements: Informative and Persuasive
Just as there are different types of essays, there are different types of thesis statements. The thesis should match the essay.
For example, with an informative essay, you should compose an informative thesis (rather than argumentative). You want to declare your intentions in this essay and guide the reader to the conclusion that you reach.
To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you must procure the ingredients, find a knife, and spread the condiments.
This thesis showed the reader the topic (a type of sandwich) and the direction the essay will take (describing how the sandwich is made).
Most other types of essays, whether compare/contrast, argumentative, or narrative, have thesis statements that take a position and argue it. In other words, unless your purpose is simply to inform, your thesis is considered persuasive. A persuasive thesis usually contains an opinion and the reason why your opinion is true.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best type of sandwich because they are versatile, easy to make, and taste good.
In this persuasive thesis statement, you see that I state my opinion (the best type of sandwich), which means I have chosen a stance. Next, I explain that my opinion is correct with several key reasons. This persuasive type of thesis can be used in any essay that contains the writer’s opinion, including, as I mentioned above, compare/contrast essays, narrative essays, and so on.
2 Styles of Thesis Statements
Just as there are two different types of thesis statements (informative and persuasive), there are two basic styles you can use.
The first style uses a list of two or more points. This style of thesis is perfect for a brief essay that contains only two or three body paragraphs. This basic five-paragraph essay is typical of middle and high school assignments.
C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is one of the richest works of the 20th century because it offers an escape from reality, teaches readers to have faith even when they don’t understand, and contains a host of vibrant characters.
In the above persuasive thesis, you can see my opinion about Narnia followed by three clear reasons. This thesis is perfect for setting up a tidy five-paragraph essay.
In college, five paragraph essays become few and far between as essay length gets longer. Can you imagine having only five paragraphs in a six-page paper? For a longer essay, you need a thesis statement that is more versatile. Instead of listing two or three distinct points, a thesis can list one overarching point that all body paragraphs tie into.
Good vs. evil is the main theme of Lewis’s Narnia series, as is made clear through the struggles the main characters face in each book.
In this thesis, I have made a claim about the theme in Narnia followed by my reasoning. The broader scope of this thesis allows me to write about each of the series’ seven novels. I am no longer limited in how many body paragraphs I can logically use.
Formula for a Strong Argumentative Thesis
One thing I find that is helpful for students is having a clear template. While students rarely end up with a thesis that follows this exact wording, the following template creates a good starting point:
___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.
Conversely, the formula for a thesis with only one point might follow this template:
___________________ is true because of _____________________.
Students usually end up using different terminology than simply “because,” but having a template is always helpful to get the creative juices flowing.
The Qualities of a Solid Thesis Statement
When composing a thesis, you must consider not only the format, but other qualities like length, position in the essay, and how strong the argument is.
Length: A thesis statement can be short or long, depending on how many points it mentions. Typically, however, it is only one concise sentence. It does contain at least two clauses, usually an independent clause (the opinion) and a dependent clause (the reasons). You probably should aim for a single sentence that is at least two lines, or about 30 to 40 words long.
Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.
Strength: Finally, for a persuasive thesis to be strong, it needs to be arguable. This means that the statement is not obvious, and it is not something that everyone agrees is true.
Example of weak thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make because it just takes three ingredients.
Most people would agree that PB&J is one of the easiest sandwiches in the American lunch repertoire.
Example of a stronger thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun to eat because they always slide around.
This is more arguable because there are plenty of folks who might think a PB&J is messy or slimy rather than fun.
Composing a thesis statement does take a bit more thought than many other parts of an essay. However, because a thesis statement can contain an entire argument in just a few words, it is worth taking the extra time to compose this sentence. It can direct your research and your argument so that your essay is tight, focused, and makes readers think.
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In order for the first paragraph of an essay to actually be a proper introduction (in other words, for it to fulfill the requirements of a proper introduction), it must do two things. These two things are:
1) Include a thesis statement.
2) Provide a preview or essay plan for the essay.
So what do these two things mean?
1) A thesis statement is the sentence (or sometimes sentences) that tells the reader what the position of the author is. When you are given an essay question, the thesis statement is your clear and concise answer to the question. For example, if an essay question was ‘What were the causes of the Holocaust in World War II?’ then your thesis statement would be something like ‘There were many complicated and inter-related causes for the Holocaust, including the economy of Germany, the ideology of the fascists, and Hitler’s personal racism.’
A ‘thesis’ is an ‘argument’, so the thesis statement indicates what the argument of the essay is, or what argument (or point of view) the author of the essay will be putting across to readers.
2) An introduction must introduce all the main points that the essay will discuss. Argumentative essays must provide evidence in order to back up or support the thesis statement. This means you have to provide proof to back up your answer to the essay question. So if your essay is on the causes of the Holocaust, and your essay is going to discuss six main causes (two paragraphs on each), then your introduction must list (or introduce) each of these six main causes. So an essay map or preview is just a list of topics that your essay will discuss. Usually this list is linked to your thesis statement, or comes straight after it.
When writing an essay, you must use ‘topic sentences’. These are sentences that go at the beginning of each paragraph in which you are about to discuss a new topic. So in the example we have been looking at of the Holocaust essay, I mentioned that the essay will discuss six reasons for the Holocaust and each reason will have two paragraphs. So that means that every second paragraph would use a ‘topic sentence’ since it would be moving on to discuss another reason for the Holocaust. Here are some examples of topic sentences for the example essay:
‘The most significant cause for the Holocaust is the economic state of Germany.’
‘Another reason why the Holocaust occurred is due to Hitler’s personal views.’
These sentences let the reader know what the paragraph will discuss (what the next point to be discussed in the essay is) and also relate the paragraph back to the introduction. This gives the essay a nice flow, and shows that it has been well organised.
So, you can tell what the topic of the first body paragraph is by reading the topic sentence, which is the first sentence in the paragraph.
A concluding sentence goes at the end of a paragraph or topic, and sums up for the readers what has just been discussed and relates it back to the question.
So if you had used the topic sentence ‘The most significant cause for the Holocaust is the economic state of Germany’ and then written a paragraph or several paragraphs discussing this topic, a concluding sentence could be: ‘Thus it can be seen that the economic state of Germany was the most important cause for the Holocaust.’
Topic sentences and concluding sentences go before and after your paragraphs like a sandwich, leading the reader through your essay.