Thesis Statements – The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2023)

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.

Introduction

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 ofthe 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 createa 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.

(Video) All About Thesis Statements: A Study Guide

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.

Examples

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.

(Video) Outlines - UNC Writing Center

  • 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.

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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.

(Video) How Do Stories Build the Us We Care About?

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.

Works consulted

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.

(Video) Anatomy of a Philosophy Essay

Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers, 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

Thesis Statements – The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1) This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.
You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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FAQs

What is a good example of a thesis statement? ›

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.

What is a good college thesis statement? ›

Making a thesis arguable requires a statement that promotes degrees of adherence. In other words, a good thesis takes a stand on an issue in which a range of responses are possible, and no matter what your point is, it will likely produce a range of responses, from strong agreement to strong disagreement.

What is the easiest way to find a thesis statement? ›

The thesis statement is located in the introductory paragraph, almost always at the end of that paragraph. It usually consists of a single sentence. the writer's opinion or claim about that topic; i.e., it provides a specific focus for the reader.

Is a thesis statement a full sentence? ›

The thesis sentence is the main assertion of an essay. Your thesis should tell your reader the main point or idea of your paper. A good thesis will be clearly identifiable within the paper and will be narrow, purposeful, and specific. A thesis statement must ALWAYS be a complete sentence.

How many sentences is a thesis statement? ›

Thesis statements are often one sentence, however, in some cases (e.g. a very in-depth or detailed paper) it may be appropriate to include a longer thesis statement. You should ask your professor for their advice if you think you need to use a thesis statement that is longer than one sentence.

How do you write a thesis statement for an introduction paragraph? ›

First, the thesis must state your topic. Second, the thesis must convey what you will prove about your topic (your opinion about that topic). The thesis statement is most often embedded in the introductory paragraph, usually at the end of that paragraph. Try this strategy to develop and narrow a thesis statement.

Where can I find a thesis statement? ›

The thesis statement is usually found at the end of an introductory paragraph. It's planted early in the essay because it informs the reader of the main important idea that encompasses the entire essay. 3. A thesis statement is not always one sentence; the length of the thesis depends on the depth of the essay.

What is a thesis statement and topic sentence? ›

A thesis statement (the main point of a whole essay) is usually found at the end of an introduction. A topic sentence (the main point of a paragraph) is usually at the beginning of a paragraph. Thesis statements and topic sentences are similar in some ways: - They are full sentences that communicate a full idea.

How long should a thesis statement be? ›

A thesis statement must be one sentence in length, no matter how many clauses it contains. Clear writing is more important than rules like these. Use two or three sentences if you need them. A complex argument may require a whole tightly-knit paragraph to make its initial statement of position.

What are the 4 characteristics of strong thesis statement? ›

A thesis statement is your interpretation of the subject, not the topic itself. A strong thesis is specific, precise, forceful, confident, and is able to be demonstrated.

Can a thesis statement be a question? ›

A thesis statement is not a question. A statement has to be debatable and prove itself using reasoning and evidence. A question, on the other hand, cannot state anything. It is a great lead into a thesis, but it is not a thesis statement.

What words should not be in a thesis statement? ›

Avoids vague words such as "good," "interesting," "a serious problem," "in many ways," etc. NOTE: A thesis statement should not be a well-known fact (Ex. Bats are nocturnal mammals.).

Does a thesis statement have 3 parts? ›

General Thesis Statement Tips

A thesis statement generally consists of two parts: your topic, and then the analysis, explanation(s), or assertion(s) that you're making about the topic. The kind of thesis statement you write will depend on what kind of paper you're writing.

Is a thesis statement a paragraph? ›

A thesis statement is usually at the end of an introductory paragraph. The sentences that precede the sentence will introduce it, and the sentences that follow will support and explain it. Just as a topic sentence introduces and organizes a paragraph, a thesis statement helps readers recognize what is to follow.

What is a thesis statement in an essay? ›

A thesis statement is the main idea of an essay. It consists of the topic of the essay and the writer's claim about the topic that will be proven throughout the essay. The thesis usually appears at the end of the introduction, often as the last sentence, and lets the reader know what to expect. Topic + Claim = Thesis.

Which is the most effective thesis statement? ›

The best thesis statement is a balance of specific details and concise language. Your goal is to articulate an argument in detail without burdening the reader with too much information.

What is the thesis statement in the first paragraph? ›

A thesis statement clearly identifies the topic being discussed, includes the points discussed in the paper, and is written for a specific audience. Your thesis statement belongs at the end of your first paragraph, also known as your introduction.

Is there a structure for a thesis statement? ›

The basic elements of a thesis are: Abstract, Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusion.

What is the structure of a thesis statement *? ›

In simple terms, first a thesis statement will have a main topic sentence formed from questioning it, then the writer's statement regarding the topic sentence, and finally ends with the specific supporting points detailing the writer's statement for justifying its relation with the topic sentence.

What is a good thesis statement example for an argumentative essay? ›

Most people would agree that junk food is bad for your health. Because junk food is bad for your health, the size of sodas offered at fast-food restaurants should be regulated by the federal government is a debatable thesis. Reasonable people could agree or disagree with the statement.

What is a thesis statement in a 5 paragraph essay? ›

The thesis statement is usually only one sentence and is made up of the topic, focus, and three main points of the essay. Each body paragraph should start with a transition — either a word or phrase, like First, or Another important point is. Then, the first sentence should continue with your topic sentence.

What are good sentence starters for essays? ›

Below is a list of possible sentence starters, transitional and other words that may be useful. This essay discusses … … is explored … … is defined … The definition of … will be given … is briefly outlined … … is explored … The issue focused on …. … is demonstrated ... … is included …

Is a thesis statement a topic? ›

A thesis statement is written to state the main purpose or argument of your writing. That means that your thesis statement will be supported through all of the body paragraphs that make up your essay. A topic sentence is the first sentence of a body paragraph.

What is a characteristic of a strong thesis statement? ›

A good thesis should be narrow, and not too broad or too vague. If the topic is too broad, you won't be able to cover the entire topic in your paper. If it's too narrow, you might not be able to find research, and your paper probably won't be long enough. Too Broad: College students have a lot of responsibilities.

What is this thesis statement? ›

What is a Thesis Statement? The thesis statement is the sentence that states the main idea of a writing assignment and helps control the ideas within the paper. It is not merely a topic. It often reflects an opinion or judgment that a writer has made about a reading or personal experience.

What is the formula for a strong thesis statement? ›

As academic writers, our goal is to present our argument to readers in a clear, original, and specific way. you're making.) An easy to remember formula: T + C because SW? [Topic + Claim because “So What?”] The Topic of a thesis is whatever the overall essay is about.

Which is the first step for writing a strong thesis statement? ›

Which is the first step for writing a strong thesis statement? Review your research question. What does a thesis statement do? It tells readers what the report will show or prove.

Can I use a quote in my thesis statement? ›

Yes, it's technically your opinion, but the goal of a thesis and a thesis paper is to argue your opinion so eloquently that it can convince others, therefore making the “I” behind “I believe” irrelevant. Quotes don't count as thesis statements. Quotes are often used in the introduction, but not the thesis itself.

Can a thesis statement start with because? ›

Yes, you can absolutely start a sentence with “because.”

What makes a thesis statement bad and good? ›

A well-developed thesis statement should clearly and concisely communicate the main point, purpose, or argument of a paper. A weak thesis may be unfocused, incomplete, or inaccurate in some way.

What is a successful thesis statement? ›

A good thesis: Can be developed with evidence throughout your paper. In other words, you should be able to say it in 1-2 sentences, but that shouldn't be all that there is to say on the topic. Is argumentative, not in a negative sense, but in that it can be supported and may have counter-arguments.

Can a thesis statement be 3 words? ›

There is no exact word count for a thesis statement, as the length depends on your level of knowledge and expertise. It usually has two sentences, so between 20-50 words.

What are the 4 types of thesis statements? ›

There are three main types of thesis statements, which may include; analytical, argumentative, and explanatory.

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