How to Write a Kick-Ass Thesis Statement

Writing a great thesis statement is easy if you follow this process


I always found the same problems in my students' thesis statements so I created a worksheet to help them develop their ideas that is relevant for high school or college students.

 

There are different types of thesis statements for different genres and discourses. This handout and activity outlines theses for three types:
1)  persuasive academic papers  (academic discourse)
2)  persuasive non-academic essays  (public discourse)

3)  expository essays  (not persuasive)

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

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basic features

The thesis is the point of your essay, the argument you wish to explain and defend. It does not have to be a single sentence, but you can usually express your thesis as a single (albeit long) sentence. A long sentence 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 before you can become a chef and create your own dishes you have to be a cook and follow a cookbook. This cookbook promotes thesis statements with three parts:

1)  a qualification

2)  a compelling reason

3)  a claim

although ...

however ...

therefore ...



thesis statements for academic discourse

How scientists and scholars debate

Academic discourse is a debate about "what is" rather than "what should be." It is a debate with and about facts and evidence, not values. This can be perplexing — after all, don't facts speak for themselves? How can there be disagreement over facts?

 

Scientists and scholars debate which facts, evidence, and data are the most relevant, the most complete, and the most recent. They debate whether methods of data collection, experimental design, and testing are accurate, rigorous, and relevant. They debate which conclusions are justified by the evidence. And then there is the question of one's operational paradigm.... So just because we are dealing with hard data and empirical evidence doesn't mean there isn't plenty of opportunity for disagreement.

 

Consequence for thesis statements

Academic thesis statements argue for a conclusion(s) one should reach based upon evidence. They introduce the topic, the compelling evidence, potentially contradictory evidence, and the author's claim. They outline how the author will persuade their reader with evidence alone.


Thesis statements for public discourse

The nature of public debate

Public discourse is a debate about "what should be" rather than "what is." It is not a debate about the facts, but what should be done in light of the facts. This requires us to debate values like right and wrong, what we think is important, and what is best. That's because in the public or civic sphere everything we do or don't do affects everyone unequally. Choosing a course of action means considering the rights and interests of individuals and organizations, and making ethical and moral choices.

 

Consequences for thesis statements

Thesis statements for persuasive essays like op-eds argue for a course of action based upon both evidence and values. They introduce the topic, the compelling evidence, the author's values, and the author's claim.

thesis writing process for academic & public policy essays

Step 1: Your Research Question

Don’t write a thesis statement until you have asked a question and conducted research to answer it. During the course of your research you likely found information that caused you to reframe or revise your question.

 

Academic Discourse Example:

Original question: Why did millions of jellyfish wash up on Florida beaches last year?

Revised question: What causes jellyfish blooms?

 

Public Discourse Example:

Original question: Which are better, small colleges or big universities?

Revised question: What is the optimal teacher-to-student ratio?

 

Step 2: Your Position

You likely found that different researchers/scholars/advocates/activists/et cetera made different claims and came to different conclusions about your research question. Or perhaps you found individual articles had pieces of the puzzle but none put the whole puzzle together. Regardless, you should have read enough to have an opinion or to have reached your own conclusions. This is your position.

 

Academic Discourse Example:

Pollution and overfishing are the primary causes of jellyfish blooms

 

Public Discourse Example:

The optimal teacher-to-student ratio for a college classroom is 1:12

 

Step 3: The Qualification

Absolute statements make your essay’s thesis seem foolishly simplistic. Answer these questions about your position: Is my position always true? When are there exceptions? How might a reasonable person object to my position? Are there good reasons why someone could question or doubt my position?

 

Academic Discourse Example:

Warming ocean temperatures also contribute to jellyfish blooms and an unusually warm sea one year can trigger a bloom

 

Public Discourse Example:

Students can and have succeed in large lecture-style courses

 

Step 4: The Reason

Reflect on the reasons why you still believe your position to be correct in spite of the qualification. What is the overall reason someone should agree with your position?

 

Academic Discourse Example:

Ocean temperatures are rising more or less uniformly across the globe, and jellyfish live everywhere, but jellyfish blooms are mostly concentrated in a few places

 

Public Discourse Example:

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the most learning comes from one-on-one instruction

 

Step 5: Put Them All Together

Combine your qualification, reason, and position into one sentence. Present your qualification first. This demonstrates your interest in accuracy and builds trust with the reader. Next, present your general reason which demonstrates your thinking process, and finally the punch line — your position. In the sample theses below the qualification comes first, then the reason, and finally the position:

 

Academic Discourse Example:

Although warming waters caused by climate change contribute to increased jellyfish numbers, jellyfish populations are not rising uniformly across the world’s oceans, therefore population and overfishing are the primary causes of jellyfish blooms.

 

Public Discourse Example:

Although the scientific literature overwhelming shows the best learning comes from one-on-one instruction, budgetary realities make individualized instruction impossible and there are diminishing returns beyond a 1:12 teacher-to-student ratio, therefore we should implement a classroom ratio of 1:12 to give students the most bang for the taxpayer’s buck.


thesis statements for expository essays

What is an expository essay?

An expository essay does not make an argument. It does not try to convince the reader of something or persuade them to accept the author's point. Instead, it simply explains something. It's a "just the facts" essay that is primarily descriptive. It's purpose is to inform, clarify, or illustrate. For example, an expository essay can describe a person, place, event, sensation, process, problem, or cause and effect. It can also compare and contrast two things.

 

Consequences for thesis statements

As a result, expository thesis statements do not make claims and are shorter and simpler than argumentative theses. You don't need a qualification in an expository thesis.

 

Expository essays still need a thesis statement because you still need to outline for the reader what they will learn if they continue reading your essay.

 

Examples

  • A land of fire and floods, Florida's Kissimmee Prairie is a ecosystem adapted to both regular lightning-strike fires and seasonal flooding.
  • The US president is politically weaker than a parliament's prime minister because unlike a prime minister he or she cannot introduce legislation into Congress, dissolve Congress, or call new elections.