Thesis Statements: The Complete Guide

Thesis statements are pretty important, but they cause students a whole lot of trouble. You can find them in the introduction of an essay.  They’re usually only one sentence and they contain two important pieces of information:

  1. The main topic of the assignment
  2. Your stance (also called your view or opinion) on the topic.

Without a thesis statement, your essay might lack focus, structure and an argument (if your essay needs one).

Many students find thesis statements confusing, so I created this guide to make thesis statements easier to understand and write.

By the end of this article, you should know:

  • the five rules of good thesis statements
  • the mistakes to avoid when writing thesis statements
  • how to write a thesis statement in six steps

I’ve also made a free worksheet to go with this guide. It contains sentence structures, examples and exercises. Click here to download it.

Part Zero: Examples of Thesis Statement

Before we get into the Rules and the How To steps, let’s look at a couple of authentic examples. These are two thesis statements taken from the introductions of two academic journal articles that I have  recently read.

Note: these statements are quite complex, so don’t worry about understanding them. Just look at how they are structured.

The available evidence suggests that tests often do exert influence on learners and that individual learners, like teachers, will experience this influence in different ways. Although teacher and student perceptions of test influence have been compared, there is a lack of evidence relating to how washback to teachers and programmes might interact with washback to learners. Questions addressed in this study include: what expectations do students bring to IELTS preparation courses? And how do these compare with the expectations of non-IELTS learners, with teacher perceptions of course content and with experiences reported at course.

Green, A., 2006. Washback to the learner: Learner and teacher perspectives on IELTS preparation course expectations and outcomes. Assessing Writing, 11, pp. 113-134.

This thesis statement does two things: it shows us the focus of the study AND it tells us that the topic is significant.

In an essay on music that hardly involves procedures but focuses on historical facts, specific relational processes (i.e., clauses that involve verbs such as is and are and convey facts) are expected to constitute a large proportion of the writing. Therefore, to write appropriately for a particular genre, a writer needs to understand what is expected; the writing should include a high percentage of those clausal constructions that meet genre expectations. This study examines the use of process types during drafting in the scientific-expository genre, in an essay written on the topic, Should genetic modification be approved?

Li, A., 2012. Transitivity Shifts in Academic Writing. Asian EFL Journal, 14 (4), pp. 107-133.

This thesis statement shows that the topic the writer is focusing on is a significant one. The statement also tells us what the writer will focus on.

We can see a few similarities between these:

  • The present tense is used
  • They show the focus of the text
  • They make the topic seem important
Bonus! Get my free Thesis Statements Worksheet and write incredible thesis statements!

Part 1: The Five Rules of Thesis Statements

Rule 1: Make it Simple

What’s wrong with the following thesis statement?

The significance of the thesis statement is undeniable in the debate of academic writings, for without one, a trenchant and convincing argument cannot engage in efficacious development.

It’s too long and complicated. The language is too complex and some words are outdated.

Don’t go crazy with the electronic dictionary or online translator! Use words that you know how to use, and keep your sentence simple, clear and direct.

Rule 2: Make it Focused and Interesting

What’s wrong with the following thesis statement?

This essay will discuss the significance of thesis statements.

It’s too general. Yes, it tells us that it is about thesis statements, but it doesn’t give us a main focus or the writer’s stance/argument. It’s also pretty boring.

Think about what you really want to tell your audience in relation to your topic. Do you agree or disagree? Is something positive or negative? Have an opinion!

Thesis statements

This is the average student trying to think of a good thesis statement

 Rule 3: Don’t be too Specific

What’s wrong with the following thesis statement?

Thesis statements written for argumentative essays evaluating the effects of globalisation on less economically developed countries tend to be the strongest.

It’s too specific. This thesis statement gives a really narrow view of the topic. As a result, the student who wrote this might run out of things to write about their topic.

If you think your thesis statement is too specific, ask yourself, “How much can I write about this topic?”

If you think your essay is too short and you have nothing to write about, look at your thesis statement – it might be too specific!

Bonus! Get my free Thesis Statements Worksheet and write incredible thesis statements!

Rule 4: Don’t Include your Emotions

What’s wrong with the following thesis statement?

I think thesis statements are great, wonderful and brilliant, and really help to make a super essay!

It’s too informal. We can tell that this person really likes thesis statementsbut that’s not the point. They have used informal and emotional language to show their opinion.

This makes their argument less academic and more personal and emotional.

You can give your opinion, but avoid using informal phrases, such as ‘I think’, and emotive words, such as ‘great’, ‘super’ and ‘wonderful’.

 Rule 5: Make it a Statement

What’s wrong with the following thesis statement?

Why do many experts agree that thesis statements are essential for creating a strong argument in an essay?

It’s not a statement – it’s a question!

This is quite a common error, and could show that you are unsure about what you are writing.

If you see a question mark at the end of your thesis statement, go back and rewrite it. Make sure your thesis statements are statements, and show that you have an opinion.

HALFWAY CHECKPOINT

Well done for getting through part 1! So far we’ve looked at the five rules to creating a good thesis statement, and the mistakes that you should avoid.

We’ve seen 5 examples of poor thesis statements, so here’s an example of a decent one:

The thesis statement is arguably the most significant sentence in any academic text.

In the next part of this article, we’re going to look at how to write a thesis statement.

Bonus! Get my Free Thesis Statements Worksheet and write incredible thesis statements!

Part 2: How to Write a Thesis Statement

Step 1: Understand your Assignment

Before you can write your thesis statement, you need to understand what your assignment is asking you to do.

We’ll use this as an example:               thesis statement assignment title 

  • Decide on the type of assignment: This is an analytical and discussion based essay.

This means that you will need to look at something in detail from more than one point of view and give your own opinion.

  • Look at the topic of the assignment task: this will tell you what to focus on.

In the example, the topic is: the effect of social media on the productivity of university students.

  • Look at the instruction verbs: this will tell you what to do.

In this example, the instruction verb is ‘examine’. This means that you need to look at the topic in detail and then give your opinion on it.

To sum up: we need to look in detail at how social media, such as Facebook, increases or decreases the amount of studying university students do. Then we need to give our opinion on it.

Step 2: Brainstorm your First Thoughts on the Topic.

 After understanding the question, we need to think about our first opinion.

So, what’s your first thought right now?

Do you think social media makes students more productive or less productive?

While you’re deciding, write down everything you can think of about the topic. Try to organise your thoughts to reflect the assignment task.

Here’s an example of organising ideas into a table for our assignment title: Examine the effect of social media on the productivity of university students.

Thesis statements

Once you’ve decided, you need to make a list of reasons why you think that. This is your first stance.

From the list above, do you think our first stance is positive or negative?

Step 3: Research your Topic

This is an academic assignment, so your opinion isn’t enough. You need to research your topic to find relevant information which supports or refutes your initial stance.

It’s good to have a stance before you start researching because it can make you more critical.

Researching can be tough, so check out this post on how to be more effective at reading.

As your research, build on your current table. Here’s an example (note the research articles are not real – I’ve made them up for this guide):
Thesis statements

Bonus! Get my Free Thesis Statements Worksheet and write incredible thesis statements!

Step 4: Re-evaluate your Stance.

Your stance is your opinion.

After researching your topic, you need to re-evaluate your stance. This means that you need to look at all of the information that you have collected and decide whether you will keep your stance the same or change it.

It’s fine to keep your stance the same and it’s fine to change it. Just make sure that you have the evidence to support it.

After looking at the evidence from step 3, I think we can say that social media is both positive and negative, but mostly negative.

Step 5: Draft your thesis statement – make it clear, simple, and direct.

Now you need to draft your thesis statement. Use the rules above to help you write your thesis statement.

You can paraphrase the assignment question/task.

Here’s an example of a draft thesis statement using our assignment topic:

Thesis statement draftAs you can see, the topic is there and our stance is there. It’s just not very strong and it’s a bit informal.

If you want more thesis statement help, download my free worksheet here

Step 6: Refine your thesis statement

After drafting your thesis statement, you need to edit your thesis statement.

Look at word order, sentence structure, word use, punctuation, spelling and any other common language problems.

Basically, you’re refining your thesis statement and making it clearer.

Our final thesis statement could look like this:

thesis statements
In this example, we’ve used a new sentence structure (learn more about it in the free worksheet), removed the informal language, used noun phrases to give more information, and used language which reflects our opinion (some = weak, mostly = strong).

We can make it even stronger by including some reasons for our stance:

thesis statementsNow you can to put your thesis statement in your introduction.

Final Words

That’s the end of our Thesis Statement workshop! You should now be a thesis statement expert!

All you need to do now is:

  1. Download my free 4-page thesis statements worksheet and work through the exercises. Click here to download it.
  2. Use the worksheet to write your thesis statement.
  3. Post your statement in the comments below.

 

About the Author Sam

Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.

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