How to Write a Kick-Ass Thesis Statement


Writing a thesis statement can be hard, but not if you follow my three-part formula. Over the past two years, I found consistent problems with student thesis statements while  working as a tutor in the USF Writing Center. In response, I created a worksheet to help students develop their ideas into a thesis statement that explains three simple steps.

 

For teachers everywhere, in high school or college, I'd like to share how I teach thesis statements and my worksheet for use in your classroom.


The thesis is the point of your essay, the argument you wish to explain and defend. You may be able to express your thesis as a single (albeit long) sentence. This is okay because a thesis statement is a single idea—a complex idea, but a single idea. There are many ways to write a good thesis statement but usually a thesis has three parts:

 

   1)  a qualification                although...

   2)  a compelling reason      however...

   3)  a claim                           therefore...

 

Step 1: The Qualification

To make absolute statements causes your essay’s thesis to seem foolishly simplistic.  Nothing is true 100% of the time. Plus, by admitting up front that there is another side to the issue or opposing points of view, it demonstrates your interest in accuracy and builds your credibility as an author.

Answer these questions about your position:

  • Is what I say always true? 
  • When are there exceptions? 
  • How might a reasonable person object to my position?
  • Are there good reasons why my position may have a downside?

Example:  Although dozens of large K-12 public schools have been successful in the United States…

 

Step 2: The Compelling Reason

Despite the qualification, why do you still believe your position to be correct? What facts, data, or reasons supports your position in spite of the qualification? What is the reason for your position? Your thinking process? Keep in mind that this is a general statement. Your specific reasons will be explored in the body of your essay.

 

Example:  However, schools with small populations and class sizes have consistently shown higher rates of student success compared to schools with over 1000 students.

 

Step 3: The Claim

Based on the reasons provided in step two, what is the claim you want to make? What conclusions or inferences have you made based upon the evidence? What is your position on the issue? Depending on the context of the essay, the claim may be a deduction based on empirical observation and research (what is), or an opinion supported by evidence (what should be).

 

Example:  Therefore, placing limits upon school and classroom size will lead to more effective teaching, higher student test scores, and increased graduation rates.

 

Step 4: Put them all together

To write your thesis statement, combine the qualification, compelling reason, and claim in one or two sentences.

 

Sample thesis for a bibliographic essay (expository thesis):

While economists have always admitted that free trade has both positive and negative consequences, during the 1990s many argued that negative effects ultimately led to positive consequences and used the term “creative destruction” to describe this process. However, after the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession, the use of the term creative destruction has declined in academic journals, therefore the scholarly conversation about free trade, outsourcing, and globalization prior to the Great Recession was significantly different than the conversation after the Great Recession.

 

Sample thesis supported by evidence but requiring a value judgment:

Although some large K-12 schools have been successful in the United States, schools with small populations and class sizes have consistently shown high rates of student success, therefore limits should be placed limits upon school and classroom size, which will lead to more effective teaching, higher student test scores, and increased graduation rates.

 

Sample thesis arguing for scientific conclusion deduced from empirical observation:

Although all the red-footed tortoises were observed to follow one another’s gazes and lines of sight, which suggests a level of social awareness, no tortoises yawned immediately following the yawn of another tortoise, the empathic phenomena of “contagious yawning” observed in many species of mammals and birds. Therefore, red-footed tortoises, and perhaps all reptiles, lack the capacity for empathy. 


Download the info above as a worksheet that can be distributed and used in class.

 

Note: this worksheet was inspired by and developed from a similar handout created by one of my grad school colleagues for the FYC program at USF, which itself was inspired by a handout created for middle & high school students that is freely available on the web.

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Thesis Statement Handout.pdf
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Thesis Statement Handout.doc
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