Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Writing Tips: Thesis Statements
Defining the Thesis Statement
What is a thesis statement?
Every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message. The argument(s) you make in your paper should reflect this main idea. The sentence that captures your position on this main idea is what we call a thesis statement.
How long does it need to be?
A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.
Questions to Ask When Formulating Your Thesis
Where is your thesis statement?
You should provide a thesis early in your essay -- in the introduction, or in longer essays in the second paragraph -- in order to establish your position and give your reader a sense of direction.
Tip: In order to write a successful thesis statement:
- Avoid burying a great thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph or late in the paper.
- Be as clear and as specific as possible; avoid vague words.
- Indicate the point of your paper but avoid sentence structures like, “The point of my paper is…”
Is your thesis statement specific?
Your thesis statement should be as clear and specific as possible. Normally you will continue to refine your thesis as you revise your argument(s), so your thesis will evolve and gain definition as you obtain a better sense of where your argument is taking you.
Tip: Check your thesis:
- Are there two large statements connected loosely by a coordinating conjunction (i.e. "and," "but," "or," "for," "nor," "so," "yet")?
- Would a subordinating conjunction help (i.e. "through," "although," "because," "since") to signal a relationship between the two sentences?
- Or do the two statements imply a fuzzy unfocused thesis?
- If so, settle on one single focus and then proceed with further development.
Is your thesis statement too general?
Your thesis should be limited to what can be accomplished in the specified number of pages. Shape your topic so that you can get straight to the "meat" of it. Being specific in your paper will be much more successful than writing about general things that do not say much. Don't settle for three pages of just skimming the surface.
The opposite of a focused, narrow, crisp thesis is a broad, sprawling, superficial thesis. Compare this original thesis (too general) with three possible revisions (more focused, each presenting a different approach to the same topic):
- Original thesis:
- There are serious objections to today's horror movies.
- Revised theses:
- Because modern cinematic techniques have allowed filmmakers to get more graphic, horror flicks have desensitized young American viewers to violence.
- The pornographic violence in "bloodbath" slasher movies degrades both men and women.
- Today's slasher movies fail to deliver the emotional catharsis that 1930s horror films did.
Is your thesis statement clear?
Your thesis statement is no exception to your writing: it needs to be as clear as possible. By being as clear as possible in your thesis statement, you will make sure that your reader understands exactly what you mean.
Tip: In order to be as clear as possible in your writing:
- Unless you're writing a technical report, avoid technical language. Always avoid jargon, unless you are confident your audience will be familiar with it.
- Avoid vague words such as "interesting,” "negative," "exciting,” "unusual," and "difficult."
- Avoid abstract words such as "society," “values,” or “culture.”
These words tell the reader next to nothing if you do not carefully explain what you mean by them. Never assume that the meaning of a sentence is obvious. Check to see if you need to define your terms (”socialism," "conventional," "commercialism," "society"), and then decide on the most appropriate place to do so. Do not assume, for example, that you have the same understanding of what “society” means as your reader. To avoid misunderstandings, be as specific as possible.
Compare the original thesis (not specific and clear enough) with the revised version (much more specific and clear):
- Original thesis: Although the timber wolf is a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated. [if it's so timid and gentle -- why is it being exterminated?]
- Revised thesis: Although the timber wolf is actually a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated because people wrongfully believe it to be a fierce and cold-blooded killer.
Does your thesis include a comment about your position on the issue at hand?
The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic, how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to a simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.
- Avoid merely announcing the topic; your original and specific "angle" should be clear. In this way you will tell your reader why your take on the issue matters.
- Original thesis: In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between fairy tales and early childhood.
- Revised thesis: Not just empty stories for kids, fairy tales shed light on the psychology of young children.
- Avoid making universal or pro/con judgments that oversimplify complex issues.
- Original thesis: We must save the whales.
- Revised thesis: Because our planet's health may depend upon biological diversity, we should save the whales.
- When you make a (subjective) judgment call, specify and justify your reasoning. “Just because” is not a good reason for an argument.
- Original thesis: Socialism is the best form of government for Kenya.
- Revised thesis: If the government takes over industry in Kenya, the industry will become more efficient.
- Avoid merely reporting a fact. Say more than what is already proven fact. Go further with your ideas. Otherwise… why would your point matter?
- Original thesis: Hoover's administration was rocked by scandal.
- Revised thesis: The many scandals of Hoover's administration revealed basic problems with the Republican Party's nominating process.
Do not expect to come up with a fully formulated thesis statement before you have finished writing the paper. The thesis will inevitably change as you revise and develop your ideas—and that is ok! Start with a tentative thesis and revise as your paper develops.
Is your thesis statement original?
Avoid, avoid, avoid generic arguments and formula statements. They work well to get a rough draft started, but will easily bore a reader. Keep revising until the thesis reflects your real ideas.
Tip: The point you make in the paper should matter:
- Be prepared to answer “So what?” about your thesis statement.
- Be prepared to explain why the point you are making is worthy of a paper. Why should the reader read it?
Compare the following:
- Original thesis:
- There are advantages and disadvantages to using statistics. (a fill-in-the-blank formula)
- Revised theses:
- Careful manipulation of data allows a researcher to use statistics to support any claim she desires.
- In order to ensure accurate reporting, journalists must understand the real significance of the statistics they report.
- Because advertisers consciously and unconsciously manipulate data, every consumer should learn how to evaluate statistical claims.
Avoid formula and generic words. Search for concrete subjects and active verbs, revising as many "to be" verbs as possible. A few suggestions below show how specific word choice sharpens and clarifies your meaning.
- Original: “Society is...” [who is this "society" and what exactly is it doing?]
- Revised: "Men and women will learn how to...," "writers can generate...," "television addicts may chip away at...," "American educators must decide...," "taxpayers and legislators alike can help fix..."
- Original: "the media"
- Revised: "the new breed of television reporters," "advertisers," "hard-hitting print journalists," "horror flicks," "TV movies of the week," "sitcoms," "national public radio," "Top 40 bop-til-you-drop..."
- Original: "is, are, was, to be" or "to do, to make"
- Revised: any great action verb you can concoct: "to generate," "to demolish," "to batter," "to revolt," "to discover," "to flip," "to signify," "to endure..."
Use your own words in thesis statements; avoid quoting. Crafting an original, insightful, and memorable thesis makes a distinct impression on a reader. You will lose credibility as a writer if you become only a mouthpiece or a copyist; you will gain credibility by grabbing the reader with your own ideas and words.
A well-crafted thesis statement reflects well-crafted ideas. It signals a writer who has intelligence, commitment, and enthusiasm.
Sure, you’re a lover not a fighter. I am too. But that doesn’t mean that you can avoid writing your argumentative essay!
Since you have to write an argumentative essay, you might as well learn how to write it well, right?
I’ve said it time and time again—there’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page. Putting together an argumentative essay outline is the perfect way to turn your blank document into a ready-to-use template. All you have to do is fill in the blanks!
In this blog post, I’m going to share with you how to create an argumentative essay outline. At the end, I’ll give you a downloadable skeleton outline you can use to get started.
Structure of the Argumentative Essay OutlineIf you distill your argumentative essay outline down to its basics, you’ll find that it’s made of four main sections:
- Developing Your Argument
- Refuting Opponents’ Arguments
That’s not so bad! There’s really nothing to be afraid of.
Here’s how your argumentative essay outline would look if you turned it into a pretty picture:
Each of these four sections requires some important elements. Let’s break those down now.
Argumentative Essay Outline Section 1: Your Intro
Your introduction is where you lay the foundation for your impenetrable argument. It’s made up of a hook, background information, and a thesis statement.
1. Hook. Your first sentence is comprised of a “hook.” Don’t know what a hook is? A hook is a sentence that grabs your reader’s attention just like a good Jackie Chan movie grabs the attention of a martial arts fan.
Let’s say I’m writing an argumentative essay about why American people should start eating insects.
My hook could be, “For those interested in improving their diets and the environment, say ‘goodbye’ to eating chicken, fish, and beef and ‘hello’ to eating silk worms, crickets, and caterpillars.”
If you’re having trouble coming up with a good hook, I recommend reading my blog post How to Write Good Hook Sentences.
2. Background information. The next part of your intro is dedicated to offering some detailed background information on your topic.
Try answering the following questions:
What is the issue at hand? Who cares? Where is this issue prevalent? Why is it important?
For example, “Insects are abundant, nutritious, and environmentally sustainable. Currently, people in the United States shun the idea of eating insects as part of their diets, favoring instead less nutritious and environmentally destructive food options, such as beef and pork. The UN recently issued a statement calling for more world citizens to embrace the many benefits of eating insects.”
3. Thesis. Your thesis typically makes up the last sentence of your intro paragraph. This is where you clearly state your position on the topic and give a reason for your stance.
For example, “A diet of insects can help fix problems related to starvation, obesity, and climate change, and therefore, United States citizens should learn to rely on a variety of insects over chicken, beef, and fish as their main source of protein and nutrition.”
Notice the word “should” in my thesis statement? Using this word makes it clear I’m taking a stance on the argument.
You’ll also notice that my thesis statement sets up the three claims I’m going to expand on later: a diet of insects can help fix problems related to starvation, obesity, and climate change.
Here are even more example argumentative thesis statements.
Let’s talk about adding those claims to our argumentative essay outline now.
Argumentative Essay Outline Section 2: Developing Your Argument
Now that you have filled in the general points of your topic and outlined your stance in the introduction, it’s time to develop your argument.
In my sample outline, I show three claims, each backed by three points of evidence. Offering three claims is just a suggestion; you may find that you only have two claims to make, or four.
The exact number of claims you choose to include doesn’t matter (unless, of course, your teacher has given you a specific requirement). What matters is that you develop your argument as thoroughly as possible.
1. What is a claim? A claim is a statement you make to support your argument.
For example, “Bugs are highly nutritious and eating them can fix the problem of hunger and malnutrition in the United States.”
Great! So I’ve made my claim. But who’s going to believe me? This is where evidence comes into play.
2. What is evidence? For each claim you make, you need to provide supporting evidence. Evidence is factual information from reliable sources.
It is not personal knowledge or anecdotal.
For example, “Researchers at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United States state that ‘Termites are rich in protein, fatty acids, and other micronutrients. Fried or dried termites contain 32–38 percent proteins.’“
My outline shows three pieces of evidence to support each claim, but you may find that each claim doesn’t necessarily have three pieces of evidence to back it. Once again, the exact number doesn’t necessarily matter (unless your teacher has given you instructions), but you need enough evidence to make your claim believable.
Once you have gathered your evidence to support your claims, it’s time to add the next important element of your argumentative essay outline: refuting your opponents’ arguments.
Let’s talk about that now.
Argumentative Essay Outline Section 3: Refuting Opponents’ Arguments
In this section, you state your opponents’ views and then offer a rebuttal.
For example, “Opponents of insect eating from the Beef Council of America say that it is too difficult and time consuming to catch crickets, so it is not easy to gather enough food for a meal, whereas a cow is large and contains a lot of meat for many meals.”
Oh diss! We know the Beef Council just wants us to keep eating McD’s hamburgers and skip the cricket soup. (By the way—I just made that up. The Beef Council did not say that. In your essay, make sure to use real facts.)
Now it’s time to set the opponents straight with a refutation that is full of hard evidence and that will bring them to their knees.
For example, “According to researchers Cerritos and Cano-Santana, the best time to harvest crickets is to catch them in the hour just before sunrise when they are least active. What’s more, it is easy to develop the infrastructure to farm crickets in a way that is more sustainable than cattle farming.”
Booyah! The Beef Council has been served (crickets).
Once you have refuted your opponents’ viewpoints, it’s time to sail to the finish line with your conclusion.
Argumentative Essay Outline Section 4: Conclusion
In your conclusion, you are going to accomplish two important tasks.
1. Restate the importance of your issue. Similar to what you did in your introduction, you want to restate why this topic is critical.
For example, “Simply by incorporating insects into their diets, U.S. citizens can improve the sustainability and nutrition of the American diet.”
2. Paint a picture of the world if your argument is (or is not) implemented. In the final part of your conclusion, make your audience think about the ramifications of your argument. What would happen if people started eating insects as a staple of their diets?
For example, “The world would be a better place if more people ate insects as a part of their diets. Fewer people would go hungry, more people would get the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients they need to live healthy lifestyles, and our planet would be relieved of the burden of an unsustainable food system.
Closing with a clear picture of the world as you would like it to be can leave your reader convinced that your argument is valid.
Download the Argumentative Essay Outline TemplateOnce you break it down, writing an argumentative essay outline isn’t that daunting.
Download this skeleton Argumentative Essay Outline to get started.
Before you go off into the sunset and use my outline template, make sure that you are following the guidelines specific to your course. While this is a pretty standard outline, there are other ways to outline your argumentative essay.
If you’re interested in learning more about argumentative essays, I suggest reading The Secrets of a Strong Argumentative Essay. Want even more knowledge? Check out this argumentative essay infographic!
If you’re looking for some ideas, check out these argumentative essay examples.
When you have your argumentative essay and outline ready to go, you can always have one of our awesome editors give it a second look.
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