A thesis statement in an essay is a sentence that explicitly identifies the purpose of the paper or previews its main ideas.

A thesis statement is an assertion, not a statement of fact or an observation.

  • Fact or observation: People use many lawn chemicals.
  • Thesis: People are poisoning the environment with chemicals merely to keep their lawns clean.

A thesis takes a stand rather than announcing a subject.

  • Announcement: The thesis of this paper is the difficulty of solving our environmental problems.
  • Thesis: Solving our environmental problems is more difficult than many environmentalists believe.

A thesis is the main idea, not the title. It must be a complete sentence that explains in some detail what you expect to write about.

  • Title: Social Security and Old Age.
  • Thesis: Continuing changes in the Social Security System makes it almost impossible to plan intelligently for one’s retirement.

A thesis statement is narrow, rather than broad. If the thesis statement is sufficiently narrow, it can be fully supported.

  • Broad: The American steel industry has many problems.
  • Narrow: The primary problem if the American steel industry is the lack of funds to renovate outdated plants and equipment.

A thesis statement is specific rather than vague or general.

  • Vague: Hemingway’s war stories are very good.
  • Specific: Hemingway’s stories helped create a new prose style by employing extensive dialogue, shorter sentences, and strong Anglo-Saxon words.

A thesis statement has one main point rather than several main points. More than one point may be too difficult for the reader to understand and the writer to support.

  • More than one main point: Stephen Hawking’s physical disability has not prevented him from becoming a world-renowned physicist, and his book is the subject of a movie.
  • One Main point: Stephen Hawking’s physical disability has not prevented him from becoming a world renowned physicist.

You can revise your thesis statement whenever you want to while you are writing your essay. Writers often discover what their real purpose and point is in the process of putting their thoughts into words and then reading what they’ve written.



The Thesis Statement

 A thesis statement is one of the greatest unifying aspects of a paper. It should act as mortar, holding together the various bricks of a paper, summarizing the main point of the paper “in a nutshell,” and pointing toward the paper’s development. Often a thesis statement will be expressed in a sentence or two; be sure to check with your professor for any particular requirements in your class–some professors prefer a more subtle approach!

The thesis statement can help “map” a paper as it suggests an order or direction for the paper’s development. A thesis statement, for example, might read:

Judy Syfer’s essay, “I Want a Wife,” exaggerates the marital expectations facing women in our society today.

The following sentence could continue:

Those expectations include managing a household, maintaining a career, and having a good relationship with a spouse.

In this example, the thesis statement suggests an obvious path for development in “marital expectations.” The writer develops the paragraph by exploring the term “marital expectations.” Three following paragraphs, for example, would logically discuss 1) household responsibilities, 2) careers, and 3) marital relationships.

The Weak “I will show” thesis:
Writers new to college prose often include such statements. Generally, faculty do not like them and they rarely appear in academic prose. This goes beyond avoiding the first person, a rule that is changing even in scientific writing. Nevertheless, a good thesis in a well structured introduction does not need to state “I hope to show why medieval teenagers lacked personal freedom.” That point will be apparent to readers soon enough; see the example below for how to improve this type of statement.

How? Why?
A good thesis statement often answers these questions. You may encounter a thesis statement that reads:

The lifestyle of a teenager in the Middle Ages was very different from the lifestyle of most modern American teenagers.

So what? Why should a reader continue? In what ways are the lifestyles of the youngsters different? Better versions of this statement might be:

Because of the relative freedom enjoyed by young people today, the lifestyle of modern American teenagers is very different from the lifestyle of teens in the Middle Ages. (this at least says why the difference exists)

A young person in the Middle Ages had very different expectations about marriage, family, and personal freedom than do young adults today. (this version of the statement emphasizes the Medieval, not modern, teenager, but it still does not present an argument to be defended)

This revision of the statement above does present a point “worth making,” a point one could contest or support with data:

A young person in the Middle Ages had fewer options for marriage, family, and personal privacy and freedom than do young adults today. (the essay could go on to support what the “options” were and why they were limited)

An even more detailed version of this thesis could “map” the paper for a reader:

Young people in the Middle Ages, who were considered young but responsible adults by the age of sixteen, had fewer social choices when compared to modern American teenagers. Unless they followed a religious calling, medieval teenagers had to contend with an arranged marriage and bearing children while living without what we would consider personal privacy or freedom.

Note how this statement takes more than a single sentence to make its point. Both of the thesis statements above are improvements because they do not simply state the obvious: they give a reason why or how we can accept the thesis statement. If you want a second example about how to get from an assignment to a thesis statement, we have prepared a detailed example from a paper about Gulf War

Using the thesis while writing:
This type of thesis serves another useful purpose: the writer can check the body of the paper against it, since it promises a reader what will follow. If the body contains other information, such as other major reasons for the difference sited, then the thesis may need to be revised to include it.






What is a thesis and how do I come up with one?

The first thing you need to recognize is that your topic is not a thesis statement. A thesis is a concise declaration of your position on a topic. For example, your topic may be “Discuss characterization in one of Shakespeare’s plays.” A statement like “Shakespeare presents many fascinating characters in Romeo and Juliet” cannot be your thesis because it states the obvious and fails to take a position on the topic assigned. Instead, try a clear thesis statement like “Shakespeare demonstrates remarkable insight into the adolescent mind through his characterization of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.” In order to develop your thesis, ask yourself questions about the topic.

  • How do you feel about the issue?
  • Is there anything about your topic that relates to something else in an interesting way? If so, how?
  • What makes your topic different from any other?
  • What are the parts of your topic?
  • Can you break down the topic and address only one specific part of it? Narrowly focused thesis statements often result in better writing, especially if the essay is short.
  • What are the causes or effects of your topic?

The thesis is your comment or position on the issue you are discussing. Because it gives a main claim to build your essay around, a successful thesis statement will help unify your essay.

What should I keep in mind as I work toward a thesis?

Be persuasive: you should attempt to convince readers of something that is not obvious. After all, there is no point in arguing a point of view that everyone shares.

Your thesis may present a problem that has no easy solution. As an essay writer, you should choose a problem that you can discuss in depth.

Your thesis should be supported by all your arguments & facts: if the thesis does not encompass all of the points in your essay, you will either have to re-work your thesis or remove unrelated points.

You might be able to state your thesis as an answer to a question. For example, the thesis: “essay assignments are a form of torture” answers the question: “what are essay assignments?” (notice that this thesis can be disagreed with: somebody else might answer the same question with “essay assignments are a time-honoured measure of student understanding”)

Don’t feel like you must have a set thesis before you begin writing. You may develop or modify your thesis through the writing process.

Don’t hesitate to be original. Your thesis may pose an argument in response to a question nobody has thought of asking before.

How can I test my thesis?

Test your thesis by examining its:

Strength: make a list of arguments that support your thesis. Then, make a list of objections to it. If these objections are stronger than your arguments, you should re-work your thesis.

Interest: does it state the obvious? If it’s so obvious that nobody could fail to see it, it’s probably not worth arguing. An interesting thesis offers a fresh, subtle, or controversial perspective

Specificity: is it too vague? For example, the statement “Shakespeare’s characterization demonstrates his incredible insight as a playwright” is too vague because your reader can’t be sure what you mean by “insight” or how it relates to “characterization.”

Manageability: can you handle the topic within the time frame/space provided? For example, a broad thesis may be, “Shakespeare portrays the depth and complexity of human nature throughout Hamlet.” Consider whether you will be able to discuss thoroughly “the depth and complexity of human nature” in a 1500-word essay.

Must I always have a thesis?

You need a thesis whenever you are arguing a position. Remember, a thesis declares your position on a topic. This kind of declaration will help you focus your argument and let the readers know what they should be paying attention to throughout the essay.

Only rarely can you write essays without thesis statements, and it is unlikely you will write many of them during your undergraduate career. The only essays that do not require a thesis are those that merely present information and do not offer an opinion on it. The purpose of most university essays is to demonstrate a deep understanding of a given topic, a requirement you cannot meet in a purely informational essay.

Please note that if you do write an essay without a thesis, you will still need to have a unifying idea and clear connections between your points.

Copyright © 1998
English Department
University of Calgary


Guide to Developing a Thesis Statement

The main purpose of a thesis statement is to help a reader identify the main idea of an essay, summary, or research paper. Another purpose of a thesis statement is to help a writer develop a plan for the writing of a paper. Most writers will change their thesis statements several times before they are satisfied that the thesis clearly communicates the main idea of the paper.

There is no one way to write a good thesis, but it is a good idea to decide on your thesis early in the writing process because it can help you narrow your topic and organize your information. Following are some examples of thesis statements.


Gallaudet has changed dramatically since 1986 when Gallaudet College became Gallaudet University.


Educational placement for deaf children in the U.S. follows a five-step screening process.


Many children became deaf in the 1960s because of an outbreak of Rubella.


As a result of the Rubella outbreak, schools for the deaf had to expand to accommodate new students.


Many educators of deaf children believe that Alexander Graham Bell’s philosophy of oralism prevented deaf children from having easy access to learning.


Recent research in deaf education shows that deaf children can get easy access to learning if their teachers communicate in American Sign Language.


Deaf people raised using American Sign Language seem to be more successful than deaf people raised orally.


Deaf children who use American Sign Language from birth are different from deaf children who learned Sign Language as adults.


American Sign Language is similar to French Sign Language because many ASL signs originated from LSF.


The quality of deaf education varies from country to country.


American education of deaf children was influenced by the French.


I. King Jordan raised three important issues during his recent speech.


Some hearing parents of deaf children support cochlear implants because they believe implants help deaf children communicate.


Many members of the deaf community oppose putting cochlear implants in deaf babies.


Deaf people think they are lucky to be deaf  because they are members of a close-knit community.


Deaf people think it’s difficult to be deaf because communication technology is often not accessible for deaf people as fast as it is for hearing people.






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