Research Paper: A step-by-step guide: 3. Thesis Statement & Outline

  • 1. Getting Started
  • 2. Topic Ideas
  • 3. Thesis Statement & Outline
  • 4. Appropriate Sources
  • 5. Search Techniques
  • 6. Taking Notes & Documenting Sources
  • 7. Evaluating Sources
  • 8. Citations & Plagiarism
  • 9. Writing Your Research Paper


About Thesis Statements

Qualities of a thesis statement.

Thesis statements:

  • state the subject matter and main ideas of a paper.
  • appear in the first paragraph and announces what you will discuss in your paper.
  • define the scope and focus of your essay, and tells your reader what to expect.  
  • are not a simple factual statement.  It is an assertion that states your claims and that you can prove with evidence.
  • should be the product of research and your own critical thinking.
  • can be very helpful in constructing an outline for your essay; for each point you make, ask yourself whether it is relevant to the thesis.

Steps you can use to create a thesis statement

1. Start out with the main topic and focus of your essay.

youth gangs + prevention and intervention programs

2. Make a claim or argument in one sentence.  It can be helpful to start with a question which you then turn into an argument

Can prevention and intervention programs stop youth gang activities?  How?  ►►►  "Prevention and intervention programs can stop youth gang activities by giving teens something else to do."

3. Revise the sentence by using specific terms.

"Early prevention programs in schools are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement by giving teens good activities that offer a path to success."

4. Further revise the sentence to cover the scope of your essay and make a strong statement.

"Among various prevention and intervention efforts that have been made to deal with the rapid growth of youth gangs, early school-based prevention programs are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement, which they do by giving teens meaningful activities that offer pathways to achievement and success."

5. Keep your thesis statement flexible and revise it as needed. In the process of researching and writing, you may find new information or refine your understanding of the topic.

You can view this short video for more tips on how to write a clear thesis statement.

An outline is the skeleton of your essay, in which you list the arguments and subtopics in a logical order. A good outline is an important element in writing a good paper. An outline helps to target your research areas, keep you within the scope without going off-track, and it can also help to keep your argument in good order when writing the essay.  Once your outline is in good shape, it is much easier to write your paper; you've already done most of the thinking, so you just need to fill in the outline with a paragraph for each point.

To write an outline: The most common way to write an outline is the list format.  List all the major topics and subtopics with the key points that support them. Put similar topics and points together and arrange them in a logical order.    Include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. 

A list outline should arrange the main points or arguments in a hierarchical structure indicated by Roman numerals for main ideas (I, II, III...), capital letters for subtopics (A, B, C...), Arabic numerals for details (1,2,3...), and lower-case letters for fine details if needed (a,b,c...). This helps keep things organized.  

Here is a shortened example of an outline:

Introduction: background and thesis statement

I. First topic

1. Supporting evidence 2. Supporting evidence

II. Second Topic

III. Third Topic

I. Summarize the main points of your paper II. Restate your thesis in different words III. Make a strong final statement

You can see examples of a few different kinds of outlines and get more help at the Purdue OWL .

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  • Next: 4. Appropriate Sources >>
  • Last Updated: Apr 18, 2023 12:12 PM
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Academia Insider

Step-By-Step Guide To Write Your Thesis Outline

Navigating the intricate maze of thesis writing can be daunting for many students. Unearthing the secrets of creating a coherent structure that communicates complex ideas with clarity is no small task.

Yet, every academic journey hinges on the effective presentation of one’s research, findings, and conclusions. Dive into this comprehensive guide, brimming with insider knowledge, to unravel the mysteries of crafting the perfect thesis outline. 

What Is A Thesis Outline?

Thesis Outline is a step-by-step guide that helps you list all the major topics and subtopics in a logical order. For example:

  • Introduction : Overview of your research.
  • Literature Review : Summary of existing research on the topic.
  • Methodology : Research methods employed.
  • Chapters : Organise your main ideas, claims, and supporting ideas in sections.
  • Conclusion : Conclude your findings, limitations, and future implications.

does every outline need a thesis statement

Chapter 1: Introduction & Thesis Statement

Crafting an impactful introduction and thesis statement is a critical step in the writing process. Having a well-organised introduction and thesis statement can be the roadmap that ensures your research paper flows logically. 

Thesis Statement : Often at the end of introduction, it is a specific sentence that states your claims, which you intend to prove with evidence. For instance, “An effective way to prevent youth gang involvement is through community engagement and education.”

Research Question : This guides your thesis or dissertation outline and dictates the scope of your investigation. For instance, “What strategies can communities employ to prevent youth gang involvement?”

Butte College, a reputable academic institution, suggests that thesis statements should remain flexible. As you draft and revise, you might discover new information that could lead to adjustments.

AI tools, like Google Docs, can simplify this iterative process, with features enabling researchers to copy, paste, and reorganise content.

For those unsure where to start, numerous thesis outline templates are available online. Some may even prefer the traditional method of using Roman numerals and capital letters for the organisational structure.

Always remember, your thesis statement and outline are preliminary; as your research unfolds, they should evolve. So, embrace the dynamic nature of the writing process and adapt as necessary.

Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature and Research

To begin, formulate a specific research question and a thesis statement that states your claims. This is the backbone of your literature review, ensuring your content remains focused. 

Once you have a draft, critically analyze the content for repetitive elements. Engage in critical thinking: does each sentence and paragraph add value?

As you delve deeper into academic writing, the scope of your literature review might shift. It’s essential to keep your thesis statement flexible and revise it as needed. You may find new information or methodologies that can influence your overview.

Your literature review should also cite previous works effectively. Proper citation:

  • Supports your claims
  • Gives an overview of the existing research methods.

Every citation and summary should help prove your thesis with evidence. Don’t just copy and paste, understand and integrate.

As you organize your ideas and subtopics, ensure they align with your research methods, offering a clear pathway from introduction to conclusion. For those using the APA format, there are specific guidelines and thesis outline templates available.

Always remember to consult with your supervisor or use AI tools to enhance your literature review’s quality. By maintaining a logical order and clarity, your literature review will form a foundational chapter in your academic thesis or dissertation.

Chapter 3: Methodology

The methodology chapter allows a researcher to outline their specific methods, offering a clear guide for replicating the study if needed. When drafting this chapter:

  • You must be precise, presenting content in a logical order to ensure clarity.
  • Explain your methodological approach. Did you opt for a quantitative or qualitative method?
  • Elaborate on the research question your thesis aims to answer and specify if you collected primary or secondary data.

This forms the foundation of your methodology and provides a framework for your readers.

Next, delve into your methods of data collection. Whether it’s surveys or interviews, detail the research methods, offering a sample paragraph, perhaps.

Organize your ideas and describe the tools and procedures used. In a research paper or thesis document, it’s essential to ensure that another researcher can replicate your methods. Therefore, being specific about:

  • Instruments
  • Softwares, and
  • Sampling method 

These information can be invaluable to your future readers.

The subsequent step involves explaining your methods of analysis. For instance, if dealing with numbers, mention any statistical software like SPSS and the specific tests employed. For qualitative data, elucidate how you categorised responses.

Lastly, don’t forget to justify your methodological choices. If certain popular methods weren’t used, provide reasons. An effective way to bolster this section is by referencing similar existing research or citing academic guidelines that support your approach.

Chapter 4: Findings

This chapter should objectively report the results of your research, ensuring the content remains separate from any personal interpretation. 

Quantitative Research: Structure this section around your research questions or hypotheses. Include both descriptive (e.g., means, standard deviations) and inferential statistics (like t-scores and p-values).

Consider to incorporate visual aids like graphs and tables only when they genuinely add value for the reader.

Qualitative Research: Findings might revolve around key themes that emerged during data analysis. Here, present general observations and cite specific quotations that resonate with the research question. 

You may find it helpful to create an outline, ensuring each theme is explored in a logical order. If you have extensive data, like full interview transcripts, consider adding them to an appendix.

Always draft and revise this chapter in the past tense. And remember, while the findings section provides a summary of your research, refrain from speculative conclusions—these belong in the discussion and conclusion chapters.

Using these guidelines, you’ll ensure your findings are presented in a clear and academic manner.

Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusions, Discussion, and Recommendations

In your thesis, this chapter offers an opportunity to concisely encapsulate your research. It is essential to maintain a logical order while constructing this section. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • Summary & Discussion : Synthesise the main findings from your research paper into a summary, addressing how the results provide answers. Consider the implications of your findings and any unexpected insights that arose during the research process.
  • Conclusions : It’s the point where you cement the importance of your research. Discuss how your findings either confirm or challenge existing literature review insights. Your conclusion should tie all the chapters together, providing an overview of key points that support your main claims without introducing new data.
  • Recommendations : Elaborate on future research implications, ensuring they don’t undermine your work but rather enrich your conclusions. If your research has practical applications, like in policy, frame your suggestions in a way that’s not imperative.
  • Final Touches : Once the chapter is drafted, revise it as needed. Utilise thesis outline templates or tools like Google Docs to ensure organisational structure. Always cite sources accurately and check the format.

Remember, this chapter is a reflection of your critical thinking and academic writing abilities. It’s more than a summary; it’s an assertion of your contribution to your field. And if you ever need assistance, consider using AI tools or consult Butte College resources for additional insights.

Wrapping Up: Creating Thesis Outline Is Not Rocket Science

Crafting a thesis outline need not be an overwhelming challenge. This guide simplifies the process, providing clear steps to shape your academic work.

From the foundation of introductions and thesis statements to utilising AI tools for drafts, the path to a coherent and impactful thesis outline is demystified. Hopefully you are now well-equipped to navigate the world of academic writing with confidence.

does every outline need a thesis statement

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.

Thank you for visiting Academia Insider.

We are here to help you navigate Academia as painlessly as possible. We are supported by our readers and by visiting you are helping us earn a small amount through ads and affiliate revenue - Thank you!

does every outline need a thesis statement

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does every outline need a thesis statement

Reference management. Clean and simple.

How to write a thesis statement + examples

Thesis statement

What is a thesis statement?

Is a thesis statement a question, how do you write a good thesis statement, how do i know if my thesis statement is good, examples of thesis statements, helpful resources on how to write a thesis statement, frequently asked questions about writing a thesis statement, related articles.

A thesis statement is the main argument of your paper or thesis.

The thesis statement is one of the most important elements of any piece of academic writing . It is a brief statement of your paper’s main argument. Essentially, you are stating what you will be writing about.

You can see your thesis statement as an answer to a question. While it also contains the question, it should really give an answer to the question with new information and not just restate or reiterate it.

Your thesis statement is part of your introduction. Learn more about how to write a good thesis introduction in our introduction guide .

A thesis statement is not a question. A statement must be arguable and provable through evidence and analysis. While your thesis might stem from a research question, it should be in the form of a statement.

Tip: A thesis statement is typically 1-2 sentences. For a longer project like a thesis, the statement may be several sentences or a paragraph.

A good thesis statement needs to do the following:

  • Condense the main idea of your thesis into one or two sentences.
  • Answer your project’s main research question.
  • Clearly state your position in relation to the topic .
  • Make an argument that requires support or evidence.

Once you have written down a thesis statement, check if it fulfills the following criteria:

  • Your statement needs to be provable by evidence. As an argument, a thesis statement needs to be debatable.
  • Your statement needs to be precise. Do not give away too much information in the thesis statement and do not load it with unnecessary information.
  • Your statement cannot say that one solution is simply right or simply wrong as a matter of fact. You should draw upon verified facts to persuade the reader of your solution, but you cannot just declare something as right or wrong.

As previously mentioned, your thesis statement should answer a question.

If the question is:

What do you think the City of New York should do to reduce traffic congestion?

A good thesis statement restates the question and answers it:

In this paper, I will argue that the City of New York should focus on providing exclusive lanes for public transport and adaptive traffic signals to reduce traffic congestion by the year 2035.

Here is another example. If the question is:

How can we end poverty?

A good thesis statement should give more than one solution to the problem in question:

In this paper, I will argue that introducing universal basic income can help reduce poverty and positively impact the way we work.

  • The Writing Center of the University of North Carolina has a list of questions to ask to see if your thesis is strong .

A thesis statement is part of the introduction of your paper. It is usually found in the first or second paragraph to let the reader know your research purpose from the beginning.

In general, a thesis statement should have one or two sentences. But the length really depends on the overall length of your project. Take a look at our guide about the length of thesis statements for more insight on this topic.

Here is a list of Thesis Statement Examples that will help you understand better how to write them.

Every good essay should include a thesis statement as part of its introduction, no matter the academic level. Of course, if you are a high school student you are not expected to have the same type of thesis as a PhD student.

Here is a great YouTube tutorial showing How To Write An Essay: Thesis Statements .

does every outline need a thesis statement

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Thesis Statements

What this handout is about.

This handout describes what a thesis statement is, how thesis statements work in your writing, and how you can craft or refine one for your draft.


Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion—convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement:

  • tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
  • is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
  • directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel.
  • makes a claim that others might dispute.
  • is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper (most often, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.

If your assignment asks you to take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you may need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft. The assignment may not explicitly state that you need a thesis statement because your instructor may assume you will include one. When in doubt, ask your instructor if the assignment requires a thesis statement. When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue, it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it persuasively. (Check out our handout on understanding assignments for more information.)

How do I create a thesis?

A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis” that presents a basic or main idea and an argument that you think you can support with evidence. Both the argument and your thesis are likely to need adjustment along the way.

Writers use all kinds of techniques to stimulate their thinking and to help them clarify relationships or comprehend the broader significance of a topic and arrive at a thesis statement. For more ideas on how to get started, see our handout on brainstorming .

How do I know if my thesis is strong?

If there’s time, run it by your instructor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback. Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own. When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis, ask yourself the following :

  • Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question. If the prompt isn’t phrased as a question, try to rephrase it. For example, “Discuss the effect of X on Y” can be rephrased as “What is the effect of X on Y?”
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to  be “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
  • Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.

Suppose you are taking a course on contemporary communication, and the instructor hands out the following essay assignment: “Discuss the impact of social media on public awareness.” Looking back at your notes, you might start with this working thesis:

Social media impacts public awareness in both positive and negative ways.

You can use the questions above to help you revise this general statement into a stronger thesis.

  • Do I answer the question? You can analyze this if you rephrase “discuss the impact” as “what is the impact?” This way, you can see that you’ve answered the question only very generally with the vague “positive and negative ways.”
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not likely. Only people who maintain that social media has a solely positive or solely negative impact could disagree.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? No. What are the positive effects? What are the negative effects?
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? No. Why are they positive? How are they positive? What are their causes? Why are they negative? How are they negative? What are their causes?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? No. Why should anyone care about the positive and/or negative impact of social media?

After thinking about your answers to these questions, you decide to focus on the one impact you feel strongly about and have strong evidence for:

Because not every voice on social media is reliable, people have become much more critical consumers of information, and thus, more informed voters.

This version is a much stronger thesis! It answers the question, takes a specific position that others can challenge, and it gives a sense of why it matters.

Let’s try another. Suppose your literature professor hands out the following assignment in a class on the American novel: Write an analysis of some aspect of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. “This will be easy,” you think. “I loved Huckleberry Finn!” You grab a pad of paper and write:

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.

You begin to analyze your thesis:

  • Do I answer the question? No. The prompt asks you to analyze some aspect of the novel. Your working thesis is a statement of general appreciation for the entire novel.

Think about aspects of the novel that are important to its structure or meaning—for example, the role of storytelling, the contrasting scenes between the shore and the river, or the relationships between adults and children. Now you write:

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore.
  • Do I answer the question? Yes!
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? Not really. This contrast is well-known and accepted.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? It’s getting there–you have highlighted an important aspect of the novel for investigation. However, it’s still not clear what your analysis will reveal.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? Not yet. Compare scenes from the book and see what you discover. Free write, make lists, jot down Huck’s actions and reactions and anything else that seems interesting.
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? What’s the point of this contrast? What does it signify?”

After examining the evidence and considering your own insights, you write:

Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.

This final thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content. Of course, for the essay itself to be successful, you must now present evidence from the novel that will convince the reader of your interpretation.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Ramage, John D., John C. Bean, and June Johnson. 2018. The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing , 8th ed. New York: Pearson.

Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers , 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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How to Write a Thesis Statement & Essay Outline

  • Posted on February 29, 2024 February 29, 2024

How to Write a Thesis Statement & Essay Outline

Writing your thesis statement and planning out your essay outline are two of the most important things you can do if you want to have a concise, accurate, and interesting argumentative essay. In addition, the time you spend brainstorming your research paper will save you hours of edits in the long run.

A good thesis statement is the backbone of your entire essay. Fortunately, writing thesis statements is easy if you follow our step-by-step guide that walks you through crafting a robust argumentative thesis statement.

The main point of your essay should be highlighted in your thesis statement. You can further expound upon this central theme in your introductory paragraph, letting your audience know exactly what they can expect from your paper. It’s essential to make your thesis statement as straightforward as possible, laying out the case for the rest of your paper.

What is a Thesis Statement?

A strong thesis statement gives your audience a clear understanding of what to expect from your essay. Think of it like a micro-roadmap that efficiently lets your readers know where the essay will take them.

Most thesis statements revolve around proving a point or making a specific claim. While it can be based upon your opinion, it’s also vital to remember that you need to substantiate any claims that you make with facts.

It’s important to have one significant theme in your thesis statement. If you try to express too many things, you will confuse the reader. Thesis statements need to be concise, crystal-clear and express a statement of fact. Therefore, mastering a thesis is a crucial part of all essay writing.

You can also use your thesis statement to address a specific issue and explain how you’ll break it down in your essay. If you’re talking about something controversial, you should substantiate your claims with facts and logic. The best essays tackle complex topics by  breaking them down into logical and easily understandable chunks.

If you’re dealing with a hot-button topic, it’s a good idea to mention that there are other viewpoints. Then, you can dissect these viewpoints and explain why you disagree with them later on in your essay.

What to Include in a Thesis Statement

Start off with a working thesis. Give some thought to your thesis statement’s significant points, and condense them until you have a very compact but straightforward statement about the issue. Make sure that you include plenty of supporting evidence to back up your thesis.

Although all thesis statements are different, there are some general qualities that you should strive to include. First, spend some time crafting your thesis because the clearer you are on your objectives, the easier your essay will be to write.

  • Your thesis statement should be concise, direct, and clear
  • It should encapsulate your essay as much as possible
  • The thesis should contain a combination of opinion and support

You also need to brainstorm the critical components of your essay. What are you trying to achieve? Who is your audience? Think about what the reader would want to learn from the essay and distill it down into one very powerful line.

It’s completely natural to spend a significant amount of time on your thesis statement. You might be tempted to jump right into your essay without ironing out the finer points, but this can make the writing muddied or challenging to read. So instead, spend as much time as you need to come up with a good thesis statement that you can back up with facts.

What is an Outline?

Once you have your thesis statement, it’s time to jump into your outline. Good outlines combine logical frameworks with plenty of brainstorming and act as a template for the whole essay. Your outline is an integral part of the writing process, as it allows you to look at all of the subtopics of your essay in logical order.

Every subtopic should reflect your thesis statement and bolster your position. Start with your introductory paragraph and then drill down into the finer points of the essay. Finally, address conflicting viewpoints and explain why you’ve taken the position you have.

A constructive way of coming up with opposing viewpoints is to write down bullet points from the other side. Then, think of all of the counterarguments that you’ve heard and write down logical rebuttals to them. If you’re having trouble coming up with counterarguments, search for your topic online and read a few papers that express differing views.

The best outlines are analytical, expository, and argumentative. They teach the audience something new through a logical process. Although your thesis statement can be based on opinion, it’s vital that you back it up with facts and explain why the audience should trust your authority.

Drafting Your Essay Outline

Now, it’s time to draft your essay outline. The more prep work you do in the beginning, the fewer edits that you’ll need to do later on. Identify what will go into your first paragraph and what the key points of your essay will be.

Write down these points and organize them into a logical framework. Try to blend the points into each other, guiding the reader on a comprehensive overview of why your thesis statement is important and correct. Every subtopic should echo your thesis statement.

All outlines should contain an introduction, body, and conclusion.


Your introduction is a brief overview of your essay. Give your reader a general idea of what you’ll be covering and why it’s crucial. You don’t have to go into too much detail here, as your essay body will undoubtedly elaborate on your key points.

Your body will be the longest part of the essay and contain all of your subtopics. Please spend some time crafting and organizing your body so that it’s as straightforward as possible with a strong focus on accessibility. Remember, each body paragraph should bring something new to the essay.

The conclusion is where you wrap everything up. Make sure that you restate your thesis and hit on any critical points the essay addressed. You will want to write a powerful closing statement too.

Final Thoughts

Once you have your thesis statement and outline done, it’s time to start writing your essay. At this point, you should think about what style you want to use. Some high schools and colleges prefer  APA style , whereas others want you to write your essay in  AP style . If you don’t know which one your school is looking for, ask your professor or inquire at your writing center. There are guides for both online.

After you’re done writing your essay, read it through to ensure that it coincides with your thesis statement. If you’ve written your thesis statement and outline properly, there should be minimal content edits.

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Thesis Outline – Example, Template and Writing Guide

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Thesis Outline

Thesis Outline

Thesis outline is a document that outlines the structure and content of a thesis , which is a long-form academic paper that presents an original argument or research on a particular topic. The outline serves as a roadmap for the thesis, providing an overview of the major sections, sub-sections, and the general flow of the argument.

Thesis outline typically follows a standard format and includes the following sections:

  • Title page: This page includes the thesis title, author’s name, department, university, and the date of submission.
  • Abstract : This section is a brief summary of the thesis, highlighting the main points and conclusions. It usually contains around 150-300 words.
  • Table of contents: This page lists all the chapters, sections, and subsections of the thesis, along with their page numbers.
  • Introduction: This section introduces the topic of the thesis, presents the research question or hypothesis, and provides an overview of the methodology and the scope of the study.
  • Literature review: This chapter provides a critical analysis of the existing literature on the topic, highlighting the gaps, inconsistencies, and controversies.
  • Methodology : This section explains the research design, data collection methods, and data analysis techniques used in the study.
  • Results : This chapter presents the findings of the study, using tables, charts, and graphs to illustrate the data.
  • Discussion : This section interprets the results and relates them to the research question or hypothesis. It also discusses the implications, limitations, and future directions of the study.
  • Conclusion : This section summarizes the main points of the thesis, restates the research question or hypothesis, and provides a final conclusion.
  • References : This page lists all the sources cited in the thesis, following a specific citation style (APA, MLA, etc.).
  • Appendices : This section includes any additional materials, such as questionnaires, interview transcripts, or raw data, that are relevant to the study but not included in the main text.

Thesis Outline Example

Thesis Outline Example and Template Sample is as follows:

I. Introduction

  • Background and Context
  • Problem Statement
  • Research Questions
  • Objectives and Scope
  • Significance of the Study
  • Chapter Overview

II. Literature Review

  • Introduction to Literature Review
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Previous Research on the Topic
  • Critical Analysis of the Literature
  • Summary and Conclusion

III. Methodology

  • Introduction to Methodology
  • Research Design and Approach
  • Sampling Strategy
  • Data Collection Methods
  • Data Analysis Techniques
  • Ethical Considerations
  • Limitations and Delimitations

IV. Results

  • Introduction to Results
  • Presentation of Data
  • Analysis of Findings
  • Discussion of Results

V. Discussion

  • Introduction to Discussion
  • Interpretation of Results
  • Comparison with Previous Research
  • Implications and Applications of the Findings
  • Limitations and Future Directions

VI. Conclusion

  • Summary of Findings
  • Conclusions and Recommendations
  • Contribution to the Field
  • Implications for Future Research

VII. References

VIII. Appendices

  • Survey Instrument
  • Data Tables and Figures
  • Institutional Review Board Approval
  • Informed Consent Form

How to Write Thesis Outline

Here are some steps to follow when writing a thesis outline:

  • Identify the purpose and scope of your thesis: Before you start writing, you should have a clear understanding of the research questions , objectives, and hypotheses of your thesis, as well as the specific requirements and guidelines of your institution.
  • Organize your ideas into sections: Divide your thesis into logical sections, such as introduction, literature review , methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. Think about the main points you want to make in each section and how they relate to the overall theme of your thesis.
  • Write a brief summary for each section: Write a few sentences summarizing the main ideas and objectives of each section. This will help you stay focused and avoid including irrelevant or redundant information.
  • Create a table of contents: List the main sections and subsections of your thesis, along with their page numbers, to create a clear and organized outline.
  • Review and revise your outline: Make sure your outline follows a logical and coherent structure, and that each section flows smoothly into the next. Revise your outline as necessary to ensure that it accurately reflects the content and structure of your thesis.
  • Seek feedback from your advisor or committee: Share your outline with your thesis advisor or committee members to get their feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Purpose of Thesis Outline

The purpose of a thesis outline is to provide a clear and organized structure for your thesis, which will help you to:

  • Stay organized : An outline helps you to break down your thesis into manageable sections, making it easier to plan your research and writing process.
  • Ensure logical flow: A well-structured outline ensures that your thesis has a logical and coherent flow, with each section building on the previous one.
  • Avoid duplication and irrelevant information: An outline helps you to avoid including duplicate or irrelevant information, ensuring that your thesis is focused and to-the-point.
  • Meet institutional requirements: Many institutions have specific guidelines for the structure and format of a thesis, and an outline can help you to ensure that your thesis meets these requirements.
  • Get feedback and guidance: An outline can be shared with your thesis advisor or committee members for feedback and guidance, helping you to refine your research and writing approach.

About the author

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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does every outline need a thesis statement

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Writing a Paper: Thesis Statements

Basics of thesis statements.

The thesis statement is the brief articulation of your paper's central argument and purpose. You might hear it referred to as simply a "thesis." Every scholarly paper should have a thesis statement, and strong thesis statements are concise, specific, and arguable. Concise means the thesis is short: perhaps one or two sentences for a shorter paper. Specific means the thesis deals with a narrow and focused topic, appropriate to the paper's length. Arguable means that a scholar in your field could disagree (or perhaps already has!).

Strong thesis statements address specific intellectual questions, have clear positions, and use a structure that reflects the overall structure of the paper. Read on to learn more about constructing a strong thesis statement.

Being Specific

This thesis statement has no specific argument:

Needs Improvement: In this essay, I will examine two scholarly articles to find similarities and differences.

This statement is concise, but it is neither specific nor arguable—a reader might wonder, "Which scholarly articles? What is the topic of this paper? What field is the author writing in?" Additionally, the purpose of the paper—to "examine…to find similarities and differences" is not of a scholarly level. Identifying similarities and differences is a good first step, but strong academic argument goes further, analyzing what those similarities and differences might mean or imply.

Better: In this essay, I will argue that Bowler's (2003) autocratic management style, when coupled with Smith's (2007) theory of social cognition, can reduce the expenses associated with employee turnover.

The new revision here is still concise, as well as specific and arguable.  We can see that it is specific because the writer is mentioning (a) concrete ideas and (b) exact authors.  We can also gather the field (business) and the topic (management and employee turnover). The statement is arguable because the student goes beyond merely comparing; he or she draws conclusions from that comparison ("can reduce the expenses associated with employee turnover").

Making a Unique Argument

This thesis draft repeats the language of the writing prompt without making a unique argument:

Needs Improvement: The purpose of this essay is to monitor, assess, and evaluate an educational program for its strengths and weaknesses. Then, I will provide suggestions for improvement.

You can see here that the student has simply stated the paper's assignment, without articulating specifically how he or she will address it. The student can correct this error simply by phrasing the thesis statement as a specific answer to the assignment prompt.

Better: Through a series of student interviews, I found that Kennedy High School's antibullying program was ineffective. In order to address issues of conflict between students, I argue that Kennedy High School should embrace policies outlined by the California Department of Education (2010).

Words like "ineffective" and "argue" show here that the student has clearly thought through the assignment and analyzed the material; he or she is putting forth a specific and debatable position. The concrete information ("student interviews," "antibullying") further prepares the reader for the body of the paper and demonstrates how the student has addressed the assignment prompt without just restating that language.

Creating a Debate

This thesis statement includes only obvious fact or plot summary instead of argument:

Needs Improvement: Leadership is an important quality in nurse educators.

A good strategy to determine if your thesis statement is too broad (and therefore, not arguable) is to ask yourself, "Would a scholar in my field disagree with this point?" Here, we can see easily that no scholar is likely to argue that leadership is an unimportant quality in nurse educators.  The student needs to come up with a more arguable claim, and probably a narrower one; remember that a short paper needs a more focused topic than a dissertation.

Better: Roderick's (2009) theory of participatory leadership  is particularly appropriate to nurse educators working within the emergency medicine field, where students benefit most from collegial and kinesthetic learning.

Here, the student has identified a particular type of leadership ("participatory leadership"), narrowing the topic, and has made an arguable claim (this type of leadership is "appropriate" to a specific type of nurse educator). Conceivably, a scholar in the nursing field might disagree with this approach. The student's paper can now proceed, providing specific pieces of evidence to support the arguable central claim.

Choosing the Right Words

This thesis statement uses large or scholarly-sounding words that have no real substance:

Needs Improvement: Scholars should work to seize metacognitive outcomes by harnessing discipline-based networks to empower collaborative infrastructures.

There are many words in this sentence that may be buzzwords in the student's field or key terms taken from other texts, but together they do not communicate a clear, specific meaning. Sometimes students think scholarly writing means constructing complex sentences using special language, but actually it's usually a stronger choice to write clear, simple sentences. When in doubt, remember that your ideas should be complex, not your sentence structure.

Better: Ecologists should work to educate the U.S. public on conservation methods by making use of local and national green organizations to create a widespread communication plan.

Notice in the revision that the field is now clear (ecology), and the language has been made much more field-specific ("conservation methods," "green organizations"), so the reader is able to see concretely the ideas the student is communicating.

Leaving Room for Discussion

This thesis statement is not capable of development or advancement in the paper:

Needs Improvement: There are always alternatives to illegal drug use.

This sample thesis statement makes a claim, but it is not a claim that will sustain extended discussion. This claim is the type of claim that might be appropriate for the conclusion of a paper, but in the beginning of the paper, the student is left with nowhere to go. What further points can be made? If there are "always alternatives" to the problem the student is identifying, then why bother developing a paper around that claim? Ideally, a thesis statement should be complex enough to explore over the length of the entire paper.

Better: The most effective treatment plan for methamphetamine addiction may be a combination of pharmacological and cognitive therapy, as argued by Baker (2008), Smith (2009), and Xavier (2011).

In the revised thesis, you can see the student make a specific, debatable claim that has the potential to generate several pages' worth of discussion. When drafting a thesis statement, think about the questions your thesis statement will generate: What follow-up inquiries might a reader have? In the first example, there are almost no additional questions implied, but the revised example allows for a good deal more exploration.

Thesis Mad Libs

If you are having trouble getting started, try using the models below to generate a rough model of a thesis statement! These models are intended for drafting purposes only and should not appear in your final work.

  • In this essay, I argue ____, using ______ to assert _____.
  • While scholars have often argued ______, I argue______, because_______.
  • Through an analysis of ______, I argue ______, which is important because_______.

Words to Avoid and to Embrace

When drafting your thesis statement, avoid words like explore, investigate, learn, compile, summarize , and explain to describe the main purpose of your paper. These words imply a paper that summarizes or "reports," rather than synthesizing and analyzing.

Instead of the terms above, try words like argue, critique, question , and interrogate . These more analytical words may help you begin strongly, by articulating a specific, critical, scholarly position.

Read Kayla's blog post for tips on taking a stand in a well-crafted thesis statement.

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does every outline need a thesis statement

How to Write a Strong Thesis Statement: 4 Steps + Examples

does every outline need a thesis statement

What’s Covered:

What is the purpose of a thesis statement, writing a good thesis statement: 4 steps, common pitfalls to avoid, where to get your essay edited for free.

When you set out to write an essay, there has to be some kind of point to it, right? Otherwise, your essay would just be a big jumble of word salad that makes absolutely no sense. An essay needs a central point that ties into everything else. That main point is called a thesis statement, and it’s the core of any essay or research paper.

You may hear about Master degree candidates writing a thesis, and that is an entire paper–not to be confused with the thesis statement, which is typically one sentence that contains your paper’s focus. 

Read on to learn more about thesis statements and how to write them. We’ve also included some solid examples for you to reference.

Typically the last sentence of your introductory paragraph, the thesis statement serves as the roadmap for your essay. When your reader gets to the thesis statement, they should have a clear outline of your main point, as well as the information you’ll be presenting in order to either prove or support your point. 

The thesis statement should not be confused for a topic sentence , which is the first sentence of every paragraph in your essay. If you need help writing topic sentences, numerous resources are available. Topic sentences should go along with your thesis statement, though.

Since the thesis statement is the most important sentence of your entire essay or paper, it’s imperative that you get this part right. Otherwise, your paper will not have a good flow and will seem disjointed. That’s why it’s vital not to rush through developing one. It’s a methodical process with steps that you need to follow in order to create the best thesis statement possible.

Step 1: Decide what kind of paper you’re writing

When you’re assigned an essay, there are several different types you may get. Argumentative essays are designed to get the reader to agree with you on a topic. Informative or expository essays present information to the reader. Analytical essays offer up a point and then expand on it by analyzing relevant information. Thesis statements can look and sound different based on the type of paper you’re writing. For example:

  • Argumentative: The United States needs a viable third political party to decrease bipartisanship, increase options, and help reduce corruption in government.
  • Informative: The Libertarian party has thrown off elections before by gaining enough support in states to get on the ballot and by taking away crucial votes from candidates.
  • Analytical: An analysis of past presidential elections shows that while third party votes may have been the minority, they did affect the outcome of the elections in 2020, 2016, and beyond.

Step 2: Figure out what point you want to make

Once you know what type of paper you’re writing, you then need to figure out the point you want to make with your thesis statement, and subsequently, your paper. In other words, you need to decide to answer a question about something, such as:

  • What impact did reality TV have on American society?
  • How has the musical Hamilton affected perception of American history?
  • Why do I want to major in [chosen major here]?

If you have an argumentative essay, then you will be writing about an opinion. To make it easier, you may want to choose an opinion that you feel passionate about so that you’re writing about something that interests you. For example, if you have an interest in preserving the environment, you may want to choose a topic that relates to that. 

If you’re writing your college essay and they ask why you want to attend that school, you may want to have a main point and back it up with information, something along the lines of:

“Attending Harvard University would benefit me both academically and professionally, as it would give me a strong knowledge base upon which to build my career, develop my network, and hopefully give me an advantage in my chosen field.”

Step 3: Determine what information you’ll use to back up your point

Once you have the point you want to make, you need to figure out how you plan to back it up throughout the rest of your essay. Without this information, it will be hard to either prove or argue the main point of your thesis statement. If you decide to write about the Hamilton example, you may decide to address any falsehoods that the writer put into the musical, such as:

“The musical Hamilton, while accurate in many ways, leaves out key parts of American history, presents a nationalist view of founding fathers, and downplays the racism of the times.”

Once you’ve written your initial working thesis statement, you’ll then need to get information to back that up. For example, the musical completely leaves out Benjamin Franklin, portrays the founding fathers in a nationalist way that is too complimentary, and shows Hamilton as a staunch abolitionist despite the fact that his family likely did own slaves. 

Step 4: Revise and refine your thesis statement before you start writing

Read through your thesis statement several times before you begin to compose your full essay. You need to make sure the statement is ironclad, since it is the foundation of the entire paper. Edit it or have a peer review it for you to make sure everything makes sense and that you feel like you can truly write a paper on the topic. Once you’ve done that, you can then begin writing your paper.

When writing a thesis statement, there are some common pitfalls you should avoid so that your paper can be as solid as possible. Make sure you always edit the thesis statement before you do anything else. You also want to ensure that the thesis statement is clear and concise. Don’t make your reader hunt for your point. Finally, put your thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph and have your introduction flow toward that statement. Your reader will expect to find your statement in its traditional spot.

If you’re having trouble getting started, or need some guidance on your essay, there are tools available that can help you. CollegeVine offers a free peer essay review tool where one of your peers can read through your essay and provide you with valuable feedback. Getting essay feedback from a peer can help you wow your instructor or college admissions officer with an impactful essay that effectively illustrates your point.

does every outline need a thesis statement

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

does every outline need a thesis statement

While Sandel argues that pursuing perfection through genetic engineering would decrease our sense of humility, he claims that the sense of solidarity we would lose is also important.

This thesis summarizes several points in Sandel’s argument, but it does not make a claim about how we should understand his argument. A reader who read Sandel’s argument would not also need to read an essay based on this descriptive thesis.  

Broad thesis (arguable, but difficult to support with evidence) 

Michael Sandel’s arguments about genetic engineering do not take into consideration all the relevant issues.

This is an arguable claim because it would be possible to argue against it by saying that Michael Sandel’s arguments do take all of the relevant issues into consideration. But the claim is too broad. Because the thesis does not specify which “issues” it is focused on—or why it matters if they are considered—readers won’t know what the rest of the essay will argue, and the writer won’t know what to focus on. If there is a particular issue that Sandel does not address, then a more specific version of the thesis would include that issue—hand an explanation of why it is important.  

Arguable thesis with analytical claim 

While Sandel argues persuasively that our instinct to “remake” (54) ourselves into something ever more perfect is a problem, his belief that we can always draw a line between what is medically necessary and what makes us simply “better than well” (51) is less convincing.

This is an arguable analytical claim. To argue for this claim, the essay writer will need to show how evidence from the article itself points to this interpretation. It’s also a reasonable scope for a thesis because it can be supported with evidence available in the text and is neither too broad nor too narrow.  

Arguable thesis with normative claim 

Given Sandel’s argument against genetic enhancement, we should not allow parents to decide on using Human Growth Hormone for their children.

This thesis tells us what we should do about a particular issue discussed in Sandel’s article, but it does not tell us how we should understand Sandel’s argument.  

Questions to ask about your thesis 

  • Is the thesis truly arguable? Does it speak to a genuine dilemma in the source, or would most readers automatically agree with it?  
  • Is the thesis too obvious? Again, would most or all readers agree with it without needing to see your argument?  
  • Is the thesis complex enough to require a whole essay's worth of argument?  
  • Is the thesis supportable with evidence from the text rather than with generalizations or outside research?  
  • Would anyone want to read a paper in which this thesis was developed? That is, can you explain what this paper is adding to our understanding of a problem, question, or topic?
  • picture_as_pdf Thesis

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Research Paper Menu

  • 1. Overview
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3. Creating a Thesis Statement & Outline

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I.What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is usually a sentence that states your argument to the reader. It usually appears in the first paragraph of an essay.

II. Why do I need to write a thesis statement for a paper?

Your thesis statement states what you will discuss in your essay. Not only does it define the scope and focus of your essay, it also tells your reader what to expect from the essay.

A thesis statement can be very helpful in constructing the outline of your essay.

Also, your instructor may require a thesis statement for your paper.

III. How do I create a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is not a statement of fact. It is an assertive statement that states your claims and that you can prove with evidence. It should be the product of research and your own critical thinking. There are different ways and different approaches to write a thesis statement. Here are some steps you can try to create a thesis statement:

1. Start out with the main topic and focus of your essay.

Example: youth gangs + prevention and intervention programs

2. Make a claim or argument in one sentence.

Example: Prevention and intervention programs can stop youth gang activities.

3. Revise the sentence by using specific terms.

Example: Early prevention programs in schools are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement.

4. Further revise the sentence to cover the scope of your essay and make a strong statement.

Example: Among various prevention and intervention efforts that have been made to deal with the rapid growth of youth gangs, early school-based prevention programs are the most effective way to prevent youth gang involvement.

IV. Can I revise the thesis statement in the writing process?

Sure. In fact, you should keep the thesis statement flexible and revise it as needed. In the process of researching and writing, you may find new information that falls outside the scope of your original plan and want to incorporate it into your paper. Or you probably understand your thoughts more and shift the focus of your paper. Then you will need to revise your thesis statement while you are writing the paper.

V. Why do I need to make an outline when I already have a thesis statement?

An outline is the "road map" of your essay in which you list the arguments and subtopics in a logical order. A good outline is an important element in writing a good paper. An outline helps to target your research areas, keep you within the scope without going off-track, and it can also help to keep your argument in good order when writing the essay.

VI. How do I make an outline?

You list all the major topics and subtopics with key points that support them. Put similar topics and points together and arrange them in a logical order.

Include an Introduction , a Body , and a Conclusion in your outline. You can make an outline in a list format or a chart format .

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Mastering Research Paper Outlines: A Comprehensive Guide

David Costello

A research paper outline is a blueprint for your research paper . It serves as a road map, helping you organize your thoughts, ideas, and arguments coherently before diving into the writing process. Much like an architect uses a plan to construct a building, a researcher uses an outline to structure their research paper.

Creating an outline prior to writing your research paper has numerous benefits. It helps ensure that your ideas flow logically, prevents you from straying off-topic, and can save you time in the long run by preventing unnecessary revisions. Moreover, a well-structured outline aids in maintaining the focus and coherence of your arguments, making your paper more engaging and easier to follow for your readers.

In this blog post, we will delve into the details of how to write an effective research paper outline. We will cover everything from understanding the basics of a research paper outline, choosing the right type of outline for your paper, the step-by-step process of creating an outline, to providing practical examples. We'll also offer some best practices and common mistakes to avoid. Whether you're a seasoned researcher or a student embarking on your first research paper, this guide aims to make the outlining process smoother and more intuitive.

Understanding the basics of a research paper outline

Defining key terms related to outlining.

In the process of creating an outline for your research paper, you'll come across some key terms that form the core of any research outline.

  • Thesis Statement: This is the central claim or main argument of your research paper. It's generally a one- or two-sentence statement that succinctly expresses the main point you will argue or the key finding you aim to reveal in your paper. The thesis statement sets the direction of the entire paper.
  • Main Points: These are the primary arguments or findings that directly support your thesis statement. They're often treated as the section headers within your research paper. The main points form the backbone of your argument, each acting as a pillar supporting your thesis.
  • Sub-points: These are additional arguments or insights that support your main points. They further break down your main points into specific areas or aspects. The sub-points elaborate on each main point, providing depth and detail to your argument.
  • Supporting Details: These can be examples, evidence, or data that lend credence to your main points and sub-points. They may come in the form of statistics, quotes from credible sources , or empirical findings. The supporting details provide evidence for your points and sub-points, lending credibility to your arguments and making them compelling to the reader.

Main types of research paper outlines: sentence outlines and topic outlines

There are two main types of research paper outlines: sentence outlines and topic outlines.

  • Sentence Outlines: In a sentence outline, every level of the outline is developed by writing out complete sentences. This type of outline helps you flesh out your ideas and gives you a better idea of whether your arguments flow logically.
  • Topic Outlines: A topic outline, on the other hand, uses only short phrases or words at every level. It's quicker to put together and gives you a broad overview of your paper's structure at a glance.

APA and MLA styles for outlines

There are several standard styles for outlines, but the most commonly used in academic settings are the American Psychological Association (APA) and Modern Language Association (MLA) styles.

  • APA Style: Typically used in the social sciences, APA style involves labeling the headings with Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.), capital letters (A, B, C, etc.), and numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) for each level of the outline respectively.
  • MLA Style: Often used in humanities, the MLA style is similar to the APA style. However, it does not strictly require a specific format for the outline. It's always best to check your assignment instructions or ask your instructor if you are unsure about the formatting.

How to choose the right type of outline for your research paper

A closer look at sentence outlines versus topic outlines.

Understanding the differences between sentence outlines and topic outlines is crucial for effective planning of your research paper. Let's explore these two methods more closely:

  • Sentence outlines allow you to preview the content of your paper comprehensively.
  • They help assess the flow and coherence of your argument early in the writing process.
  • The main drawback is that they can be more time-consuming, as they require in-depth thinking about your arguments.
  • Topic outlines offer a fast and straightforward way to grasp your paper's structure.
  • They are efficient to create and ideal for getting an initial sense of your paper's layout.
  • Their main limitation is the lack of detail, which might not be suitable for complex topics.

Factors to ponder when selecting an outline type

Deciding whether to use a sentence outline or a topic outline depends on several factors. While personal preference plays a significant role, there are other aspects to consider:

  • Complexity of the Topic: If your research topic is intricate, a sentence outline might be the way to go. By allowing you to flesh out your ideas fully, it ensures a more coherent representation of complex arguments.
  • Length of the Paper: For more extensive research papers, a sentence outline can help manage the multitude of components and details in your argument. For brief papers, however, a topic outline should suffice.
  • Personal Preference: Ultimately, your comfort with the chosen method is crucial. Some researchers might prefer the detailed roadmap that a sentence outline provides, while others might lean towards the simplicity and flexibility of a topic outline.
  • Academic Requirements: Lastly, your professor or institution's guidelines may influence your choice. Make sure to clarify such requirements before beginning your outline.

Remember, the ultimate goal of an outline is to assist you in organizing your thoughts and facilitating the writing process. Choose the method that best helps you achieve this.

Steps to create a research paper outline

Choosing a topic for your research paper.

The first step in writing a research paper is choosing an engaging topic . It should ideally be a subject you're genuinely curious about since this will keep you motivated throughout the research and writing process. When choosing a topic:

  • Consider the requirements of the assignment: The topic should meet the criteria set by your professor or institution.
  • Reflect on your interests: Selecting a topic you're passionate about will make the research process more enjoyable.
  • Ensure there's enough research material: Before finalizing a topic, do some preliminary research to confirm that there's enough information available to support your research.

Writing a strong thesis statement

A thesis statement serves as the foundation of your research paper, succinctly expressing your central argument or claim. Here are some tips on writing a strong thesis statement:

  • It should be specific: Avoid vague language, and make sure it clearly states your main argument or finding.
  • Keep it concise: It should ideally be a single sentence, but a maximum of two sentences can be used for complex topics.
  • Place it correctly: Typically, your thesis statement should be placed at the end of your introduction .

Identifying and organizing main points and sub-points

The main points of your research paper directly support your thesis statement and form the backbone of your argument. Sub-points, on the other hand, support each main point by providing further details and depth.

  • Brainstorm main points: Start by identifying all possible points that support your thesis. From these, choose the strongest ones to be your main points.
  • Identify sub-points: For each main point, think about the different aspects or supporting details that could be included as sub-points.
  • Use a logical order: Arrange your main points and sub-points in a way that creates a logical progression for your argument.

Importance of providing supporting details for each point

Supporting details give substance to your main points and sub-points, making your argument compelling. They can include examples, evidence, data, or citations from credible sources. Including supporting details is crucial because they:

  • Provide evidence: This substantiates your claims and adds credibility to your argument.
  • Enhance understanding: They help your reader better understand your argument by providing further explanation or evidence.
  • Make your argument compelling: Well-chosen supporting details can make your argument more convincing to your readers.

The revision process of an outline: checking coherence, relevance, and logical flow

Revision is a crucial stage in creating your research paper outline. It allows you to refine your arguments and ensure a logical flow to your paper .

  • Check for coherence: Make sure that all your main points and sub-points are consistent with your thesis statement.
  • Assess relevance: Ensure that all included points and details directly contribute to your argument.
  • Evaluate logical flow: Make sure that your points follow a logical order, making your argument easy for your readers to follow.
  • Be open to changes: Don't be afraid to make substantial changes during this stage if they improve your paper. It's easier to adjust the outline than the full paper.

Examples of research paper outlines

Example of a sentence outline.

Let's imagine you're writing a research paper on the impacts of climate change on agriculture. A sentence outline for this topic might look like this:

  • Climate change significantly impacts agricultural systems worldwide.
  • Increased temperatures lead to accelerated crop maturation and reduced yields.
  • Heatwaves contribute to increased livestock mortality rates.
  • Unpredictable rainfall patterns can disrupt planting and harvesting schedules.
  • Drought conditions can lead to crop failure and decreased livestock productivity.
  • Extreme weather events can directly damage crops and infrastructure.
  • The increased frequency of these events adds an element of unpredictability to farming.
  • As climate change progresses, its effects on agriculture will become more pronounced and disruptive.

This sentence outline begins with an introduction and ends with a conclusion, with each main point forming a separate section in between. Each main point is developed with sub-points that further elaborate on the specific impacts of climate change on agriculture.

Example of a topic outline

A topic outline for the same research paper would look like this:

  • Impact of climate change on agriculture
  • Crop maturation and yield
  • Livestock mortality
  • Planting and harvesting disruptions
  • Crop failure and livestock productivity
  • Damage to crops and infrastructure
  • Unpredictability in farming
  • Future of agriculture under climate change

This topic outline follows the same overall structure as the sentence outline but uses brief phrases instead of complete sentences. The main points and sub-points still clearly communicate the structure of the paper but don't provide as much detail.

Adapting these examples to different research paper topics

Let's say your research paper is about the effects of remote work on employee productivity. Adapting the sentence outline would result in something like:

  • Remote work is becoming a dominant trend with profound effects on employee productivity.
  • Flexible schedules allow employees to work during their most productive hours.
  • However, lack of structure can also lead to procrastination and decreased productivity.
  • A well-designed home office can enhance productivity.
  • On the other hand, distractions at home can negatively impact work output.
  • Effective use of technology can increase productivity by facilitating communication and collaboration.
  • Technical issues, however, can cause work disruptions and reduce productivity.
  • As remote work continues to rise, understanding its impact on productivity becomes increasingly important.

Similarly, you can adapt the topic outline:

  • Trend of remote work and productivity
  • Productive hours
  • Procrastination
  • Home office design
  • Home distractions
  • Facilitation of work
  • Technical disruptions
  • Importance of understanding remote work productivity

These examples show how you can adapt the basic structure of your outline to suit any research paper topic. Your main points will be determined by the specific aspects of the topic you want to focus on.

Tips and best practices for creating a research paper outline

The importance of flexibility when creating an outline.

Creating an outline should not be seen as setting your research paper in stone. It's important to approach this process with flexibility, as your ideas and understanding of the topic may evolve as you delve deeper into your research. Keeping your outline fluid allows for necessary adjustments as new insights or connections between ideas emerge. Flexibility can lead to a more coherent, comprehensive, and compelling argument. It can also reduce stress, as you won't feel forced to stick to your original plan if it no longer serves your argument effectively.

Ways to make the outlining process more effective

  • Software Tools: Many digital tools can help streamline the outlining process. Programs like Microsoft Word or Google Docs have built-in outline formats. More specialized tools like Scrivener , Evernote , or MindNode offer more advanced features, such as easy reorganization of sections, tagging, and visualization of your outline.
  • Color Coding: Using different colors for different sections or types of information can make your outline easier to navigate. For instance, you can use one color for main points, another for sub-points, and another for supporting evidence.
  • Breaks and Time Management: Don't attempt to complete your outline in one sitting. Taking regular breaks can help keep your mind fresh. Also, setting specific time blocks for working on your outline can prevent the task from becoming overwhelming and improve focus.

Tips on how to use an outline to write the actual research paper

  • Use the outline as a roadmap: Your outline serves as the structure of your research paper. Each main point and sub-point in your outline should become a section or paragraph in your paper. Start by expanding on each point, adding in your analysis, interpretation, or discussion as needed.
  • Stay on track: The outline helps ensure that every part of your paper contributes to your overall argument or objective. If you find yourself straying from your outline, consider whether the new direction strengthens your argument. If not, steer back to your original plan.
  • Don't fear deviations: While your outline is a guide, it's not a rigid framework. If a new idea or direction fits better with your research findings, don't hesitate to revise your outline and adapt your paper accordingly.
  • Use the outline for your introduction and conclusion: Your introduction should cover all the main points in your outline, albeit briefly, to give an overview of what the paper will discuss. Your conclusion, on the other hand, should summarize all these points, tying them back to your thesis statement.

Remember, an outline is a tool to make the writing process easier and more organized. Use it in a way that works best for you.

Frequent pitfalls in creating an outline and how to avoid them

Creating an effective research paper outline requires balance, clarity, and logical thinking. However, it's easy to stumble into common pitfalls during the outlining process. Let's take a look at some of these issues and how to avoid them:

  • Being too vague: If your main points and sub-points are too general, it can lead to a lack of focus in your research paper. This often results in a paper that touches on too many topics superficially, rather than delving into one topic in depth. To avoid this, make sure that your points are specific and directly relate to your thesis statement.
  • Being overly detailed: On the other hand, packing your outline with too many details can make it overwhelming and defeat its purpose. The outline is supposed to provide a high-level view of your paper's structure, not encompass every minute detail. Strike a balance by ensuring that each point in your outline is necessary to support your thesis, but doesn't delve into excessive detail.
  • Lack of logical order: Your points and sub-points should follow a logical order to ensure a coherent argument. Disorganized points can confuse your reader and weaken your argument. Arrange your points in a way that makes sense for your topic. This could be chronological, order of importance, or any other structure that fits your topic and argument.
  • Skipping the revision process: It can be tempting to consider your outline final once you've written it down. However, revising your outline is crucial to catch any potential issues before you start writing your paper. During revision, check for coherence, relevance, logical flow, and ensure that all points directly support your thesis.
  • Not flexible enough: It's essential to allow your outline to evolve as you conduct your research. If new information comes to light that requires altering your initial outline, don't hesitate to make the necessary changes. An outline should guide you, not constrain you.

Remember, the goal of an outline is to help organize your thoughts, guide your research, and shape your writing process. Avoiding these pitfalls can help you create an outline that does just that.

Creating a comprehensive and effective outline is a crucial step in the process of writing a research paper. It not only serves as a roadmap to guide your writing but also helps ensure your arguments are organized and coherent. Understanding the key elements of an outline, such as the thesis statement, main points, sub-points, and supporting details, and how they work together is fundamental. Choosing between a sentence outline and a topic outline largely depends on the complexity of your topic, personal preference, and academic requirements.

Remember to maintain flexibility while outlining, as the evolution of your research might necessitate changes. Tools like software programs or color coding can make the outlining process more efficient and manageable. Once your outline is complete, it can greatly simplify the actual writing of the research paper.

However, creating an effective outline also involves avoiding common pitfalls such as being too vague or detailed, not maintaining a logical order, or not being flexible enough to accommodate new research findings. But with a clear understanding of these challenges and how to overcome them, you'll be well-equipped to create powerful outlines that lay the groundwork for compelling research papers.

Remember, an outline is much more than a mere framework for your research paper. It's a tool that, when utilized effectively, can profoundly enhance the quality and coherence of your writing. So take the time to master the art of outlining – your research papers will be all the better for it!

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Writing a Top Thesis Outline – Your Comprehensive Guide

thesis outline

A thesis paper outline is a simple way of ensuring that each of your paragraphs serves a specific purpose in your paper. All students need to master this writing tool as it helps you organize your work.

What is a Thesis Outline?

A thesis outline is an organizational tool that writers use in their academic and professional thesis papers. Like a blueprint for your essay, it forms the foundation of the entire writing process. It is used to structure the main ideas into a list of easy and quick to follow contents.

Creating a thesis outline is vital in the following ways:

It gives a precise organization of the ideas Identifies parts of the paper that need special attention It singles out sections that need to be reduced or omitted Helps create connections and transitions where necessary It enables a student to fit the ideas systematically

Having a clearly defined thesis statement is better than a thousand thesis writers being dispatched at your disposal.

Thesis Outline Template

Now, what will make or break your master’s thesis outline or senior thesis outline is understanding its structure. It is not enough to have what to write but how to register it as well. That is why you need this template when writing a thesis outline.

Thesis Outline Format

A conventional thesis paper will have the following sections:

  • Introduction (contains the background and thesis statement)
  • The body paragraphs
  • The conclusion

To attain this thesis structure’s best, you have to understand each part’s significance and how it contributes to the overall thesis paper. Let us look at how to write a thesis outline while delving deep into every section.

Thesis topic outline

A topic is described as the trigger button of your paper. It will determine whether your reader will have the interest to read your thesis or not. Therefore, when you are thinking about your thesis topic, consider the following:

  • It should be brief and to the point (Do not explain or illustrate, just state)
  • Use the keywords provided in the assignment for your topic
  • AVOID using punctuations at the end
  • It should be an eye-catcher and act as a bait

For you to have a good thesis topic, it should offer a solution. Nobody wants to spend his precious time on a paper that does not address a prevailing societal problem.

  • How to do a thesis statement outline

The thesis statement is written in the introductory paragraph. Since this is the main idea for your paper, there is no room for error. Start with an attention-grabber that will lead the reader to your thesis statement.

Example of an attention grabber : Did you know that the average person who stays at home every day consumes over 10 tons of calories in a week?

Sample thesis statement : Excess calorie is a contributing factor to the high obesity rates patients witnessed in hospitals.

When creating a thesis statement outline, ensure that it relates to your introductory paragraph’s first two or three statements. Let it come out clearly so that the reader is prepared for what is coming next in the paper’s body.

They are made up of arguments in support of the thesis statement. This section carries a lot of weight as it either persuades or turns off the reader. Here is an outline for thesis paper body paragraphs:

Identify the main points Look for supporting ideas or evidence Have a list of transitional words from one section to another

The body of a thesis consists of the Literature Review, Research Methods, Results, and Discussion. It is recommended to begin with the literature review first before proceeding to the other two sections.

Since the Discussion is the longest part of the thesis, ensure that you gather all the necessary information needed to furnish it. In this part, you will need to identify the following aspects of your research process:

  • Limitations of your study,
  • Explanations for unexpected results, and
  • Identify any questions that remain unanswered.

Every argument should be crystal clear to prevent any doubt or object on the part of the reader.

  • The Conclusion

Though it appears last, it is one of the most critical sections of your thesis. It is the chapter that shows whether you achieved your research objectives or not. In this part, you can point out the following:

Point out the challenges you encountered in your study Your lessons from the research Make recommendations for future research

The conclusion should be a point where you identify whether every hypothesis was met or objective was achieved. It is vital to note that this chapter should short and clear to the end. Now that you have argued your case make this as your final nail to the coffin.

How To Make a Thesis Outline – Step By Step Guide

A superb outline can ease your research process and make your thesis writing process quick and easy. When you are thinking of creating a thesis paper outline, consider the following steps:

Read and understand the question first. If your tutor has given you a topic or question for your thesis, ensure that you digest it well to understand what is required of you. It will help to align your thesis outline correctly. Check for similar thesis outlines on the same topic. You can Google for any reliable thesis outline example that is similar to your topic of research. By doing this, you will get a rough idea of what is expected of you. Consult with your professor on the thesis outline format for your institution. Different institutions have varying structures, and thus, you need to use one that matches your institution’s house style. Do not rush into creating the outline. Before you draft your strategy, ensure that you have all the essentials at your fingertips first. Since this will be your guiding principle, it should be devoid of any errors or bogus steps.

After setting your house in order, writing your thesis paper is now time for the real task.

If you did not know how to create a thesis outline, we hope that this writing guide has served that purpose for you. Nevertheless, we also have a thesis writing service that offers students with online assistance.

Get help with thesis outline at affordable rates today. You can also find a master thesis outline example from gurus who have been in this business for decades. What is holding you now?

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Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements

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Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement

1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing:

  • An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.
  • An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.
  • An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.

If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.

2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.

3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.

4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

Thesis Statement Examples

Example of an analytical thesis statement:

The paper that follows should:

  • Explain the analysis of the college admission process
  • Explain the challenge facing admissions counselors

Example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:

  • Explain how students spend their time studying, attending class, and socializing with peers

Example of an argumentative thesis statement:

  • Present an argument and give evidence to support the claim that students should pursue community projects before entering college


Introduction to Academic Reading and Writing: Thesis Statements

  • Concept Map
  • Select a Topic
  • Develop a Research Question
  • Identify Sources

Thesis Statements

  • Effective Paragraphs
  • Introductions and Conclusions
  • Quote, Paraphrase, Summarize
  • Synthesize Sources
  • MLA and APA
  • Transitions
  • Eliminate Wordiness
  • Grammar and Style
  • Resource Videos

Writing Tip Icon

Use your research question to create a thesis statement that is focused and contains a debatable claim.

After narrowing your topic with your research question, craft an answer that states a position regarding that question. 

Use words such as “should” or “ought to” indicating a claim is being made. 

Keep your thesis as concise as possible. 

Conduct further research to determine the best points of support to include in your thesis statement, if required. 

If you include points of support as part of your thesis statement, make sure that they maintain parallel grammatical structure. 

If a reader’s first response to your thesis statement could be “How?” or “Why?” your thesis statement may not be sufficiently narrow or specific. 

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The Writing Place

Resources – developing a thesis, what is a thesis.

A thesis is the main point of your paper. Everything else in your paper should contribute to explaining and proving the main point. Your thesis may be a single sentence, but it can be much longer. In a large paper, you might need a paragraph or more to state your thesis. A thesis is more specific than either a subject area or a topic. Here are some examples of subjects and topics, and a thesis statement that could be written about one of the topics.

A Sample Thesis

“Contrary to much public opinion, the growth of the homeless population has not been caused by mass deinstitutionalization of mental patients. Instead, the increase in homelessness has resulted from the combination of two circumstances: the decrease in traditional jobs in industry and destruction of low-income housing.”

Why is this a good example of a thesis?

It is specific:  The thesis focuses on two clearly-stated factors of a narrowly defined topic.

It makes an arguable point.  Unless you are writing a factual report, your thesis should make a point that needs to be further proved or explained.

It prepares the reader for more information.  The thesis helps the reader define his or her expectations. From this thesis, a reader could expect to learn more about why these two factors cause homelessness, how they combine, and why the deinstitutionalization of mental patients is not the primary cause.

Does every paper need a thesis?

Yes. Every paper needs a controlling idea that helps you select and organize the details. However, not every paper needs the same kind of thesis. Here is an example of a thesis that summarizes factual information rather than arguing a position:

Users may search the university library’s catalog by author, title, subject, or keyword. The keyword function is a new addition to the library catalog that allows the user to search for words or combinations of words appearing anywhere in the book’s title. Several specific commands enable users to combine keyword search terms.

This thesis prepares the reader for more information about searching the library catalog using the keyword function. Even though this thesis does not argue a position in the same manner as the previous one, it still organizes and controls the flow of information.

Where does the thesis belong in the paper?

In general, the thesis belongs at the beginning of the paper. If the thesis is at the beginning of a paper, it can set reader expectations and organize the information. Good places for a thesis: the first sentence, the end of the first paragraph, or the end of the opening section.

How do I develop a thesis?

You may find it very valuable to consult with your instructor during the process of formulating a thesis.

  • Choose your subject area (the professor may choose it for you).
  • Select a topic (the professor may ask you to write on a specific topic).
  • What questions in class have interested you the most?
  • What points has the professor made that you found intriguing?
  • Have you uncovered any controversies in the readings?
  • What have you found most surprising about the course material?
  • Find a question that you want to answer, or a problem you want to solve. Write down as specific an answer as possible and use that answer as a thesis to organize your details.
  • Are these questions and answers relevant to the course material?
  • Am I interested developing and supporting my answer to this question?
  • Will my readers be interested in my answer?
  • Can I find appropriate material to support my answer in the amount of time I have to work on this assignment?
  • Can I ask and answer my question in the number of pages asked for?

From Thesis to Paper

  • If that person understands what you are talking about and why, your thesis probably makes sense.
  • This may help you figure out how to support the claims or promises of information that you make in your thesis.
  • You may discover that your thesis needs to be changed or replaced.
  • If you write an early draft that doesn’t stick to the main point you have chosen, it may mean that you really want to write about something else. In that case, change your thesis.
  • When you are confident your thesis reflects the point you really want to make, review each paragraph of the paper to see how it relates to the thesis.
  • Make an outline of the paper’s points and compare it to the thesis. You may decide to add, omit, or rearrange material to make your paper more persuasive and informative

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English 101 (Holland)

  • Finding Articles
  • Outline & Thesis Statement
  • Avoiding Plagiarism
  • MLA Citation Guidelines

What's the Point?

This unit is intended to refresh your memory of how to work through the research process and begin work on your paper.

  • Start by clicking through the Prezi about how the research process works.
  • Watch the video on how to use brainstorming to bring focus to your topic .
  • An outline can be a useful tool in keeping your paper focused, and many instructors ask to see one before you begin writing. The tab explains how to set one up.
  • Finally, thesis statements can be a struggle for many students. The overview presented provides pointers on how to structure a thesis for your paper (It looks like a lot of text! But we promise it only takes a few minutes to read through).

Research and Writing

  • The Research and Writing Process
  • Focusing Your Topic
  • How to Create an Outline
  • Thesis Statements

Creating an Outline

An outline helps you plan out how the main body paragraphs of your paper will be used to support your thesis.

Microsoft Office Word has easy to use tools to create outlines. I like to start my outline with an introduction section. I can add lines ot my outline by hitting enter for additional numbered lines and hitting tab to create supporting points.

does every outline need a thesis statement

I'll use the numbered lines to outline my body paragraphs. Each body paragraph focuses on one main point which is presented and then supported. There are many ways to arrange the body paragraphs of your paper to best support your argument and it's worth checking out guides for ideas on how to best construct yours.

Once the main body paragraphs have been outlined, I'm going to start adding supporting evidence points. I like adding the direct quotes I've discovered during my research because they remind me of the exact point I was hoping to emphasize and speed up my writing process.

does every outline need a thesis statement

By keeping everything aligned this way, I can clearly see what parts of my outline are main body paragraphs and what points, or evidence, I will use to support them. If I mess something up, I can either hit the backspace button or I can use the decrease/increase indent buttons.

does every outline need a thesis statement

Outlines are only a guide -- they should be flexible . If you see holes in your research or argument, you should do additional work to address those issues. If the flow of your paper isn't right, feel free to move around paragraphs or sections until it sounds right and your argument is fully supported. Finally, if something simply doesn't fit, you shouldn't be afraid to delete it from your outline/paper entirely.

Thesis Statments

You need a good thesis statement for your essay but are having trouble getting started. You may have heard that your thesis needs to be specific and arguable, but still wonder what this really means.

Let's look at some examples. Imagine you're writing about John Hughes's film Sixteen Candles (1984).

You take a first pass at writing a thesis:

       Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy about high school cliques.

Is this a strong thesis statement? Not yet, but it's a good start. You've focused on a topic - high school cliques - which is a smart move because you've settled on one of many possible angles. But the claim is weak because it's not yet arguable. Intelligent people would generally agree with this statement - so there's no real "news" for your reader. You want your thesis to say something surprising and debatable. If your thesis doesn't go beyond summarizing your source, it's descriptive and not yet argumentative.

The key words in the thesis statement are "romantic comedy" and "high school cliques." One way to sharpen the claim is to start asking questions .

For example, how does the film represent high school cliques in a surprising or complex way? how does the film reinforce stereotypes about high school groups and how does it undermine them? Or why does teh flim challenge our expectations about romantic comedies by focusing on high school cliques? If you can answer one of those questions (or others of your own), you'll have a strong thesis.

Tip: Asking "how" or "why" questions will help you refine your thesis, making it more arguable and interesting to your readers.

Take 2. You revise the thesis. Is it strong now?

       Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy criticizing the divisiveness created by high school cliques.

You're getting closer. You're starting to take a stance by arguing that the film identifies "divisiveness" as a problem and criticizes it, but your readers will want to know how this plays out and why it's important. Right now, the thesis still sounds bland - not risky enough to be genuinely contentious.

Tip:  Keep raising questions that test your ideas. And ask yourself the "so what" question. Why is your thesis interesting or important?

Take 3. Let's try again. How about this version? 

       Although the film  Sixteen Candles  appears to reinforce stereotypes about high school cliques, it undermines them in important          ways, questioning its viewers' assumptions about what's normal. 

Bingo! This thesis statement is pretty strong. It challenges an obvious interpretation of the movie (that it just reinforces stereotypes), offering a new and more complex reading in its place. We also have a sense of why this argument is important. The film's larger goal, we learn, is to question what we think we understand about normalcy. 

What's a Strong Thesis?

As we've just seen, a strong thesis statement crystallizes your paper's argument and, most importantly, it's  arguable . 

This means two things. It goes beyond merely summarizing or describing to stake out an interpretation or position that's not obvious, and others could challenge for good reasons. It's also arguable in the literal sense that it can be argued , or supported through a thoughtful analysis of your sources. If your argument lacks evidence, readers will think your thesis statement is an opinion or belief as opposed to an argument. 

Exercises for Drafting an Arguable Thesis  

A good thesis will be  focused  on your object of study (as opposed to making a big claim about the world) and will introduce the key words  guiding your analysis. To get started, you might experiment with some of these "mad libs." They're thinking exercises that will help propel you toward an arguable thesis. 

By examining ___________________[topic/approach], we can see ____________________[thesis- the claim that's surprising, which is important because _____________________.[1]

" By examining   Sixteen Candles  through the lens of Georg Simmel's writing on fashion, we can see that the protagonist's interest in fashion as an expression of her conflicted desire to be seen as both unique and accepted by the group. This is important because  the film offers its viewers a glimpse into the ambivalent yearnings of middle class youth in the 1980s. 

Although readers might assume __________ [the commonplace idea you're challenging], I argue that _____________[your surprising claim]. 


Although viewers might assume the romantic comedy  Sixteen Candles  is merely entertaining, I believe its message is political. The film uses the romance between Samantha, a middle class sophomore and Jake, an affluent senior, to reinforce the fantasy that anyone can become wealthy and successful with enough cunning and persistence. 

Still Having Trouble? Let's Back Up... 

It helps to understand why readers value the arguable thesis. What larger purpose does it serve? Your readers will bring a set of expectations to your essay. The better you can anticipate the expectations of your readers, the better you'll be able to persuade them to entertain seeing things your way. 

Academic readers (and readers more generally) read to learn something new. They want to see the writer challenge commonplaces - either everyday assumptions about your object of study or truisms in the scholarly literature. In other words, academic readers want to be surprised so that their thinking shifts or at least becomes more complex by the time they finish reading your essay. Good essays problematize what we think we know and offer an alternative explanation in its place. They leave their reader with a fresh perspective on a problem. 

We all bring important past experiences and beliefs to our interpretations of texts, objects, and problems. You can harness these observational powers to engage critically with what you are studying. The key is to be alert to what strikes you as strange, problematic, paradoxical, or puzzling about your object of study. If you can articulate this and a claim in response, you're well on your way to formulating an arguable thesis in your introduction. 

How do I set up a "problem" and an arguable thesis in response? 

All good writing has a purpose or motive for existing. Your thesis is your surprising response to this problem or motive. This is why it seldom makes sense to start a writing project by articulating the thesis. The first step is to articulate the question or problem your paper addresses. 

Here are some possible ways to introduce a conceptual problem in your paper's introduction. 

1. Challenge a commonplace interpretation (or your own first impressions). 

How are readers likely to interpret this source or issue? What might intelligent readers think at first glance? (Or, if you've been given secondary sources or have been asked to conduct research to locate secondary sources, what do other writers or scholars assume is true or important about your primary source or issue?). 

What does this commonplace interpretation leave out, overlook, or under-emphasize? 

2. Help your reader see the complexity of your topic.

 Identify and describe for your reader a paradox, puzzle, or contradiction in your primary source(s). 

What larger questions does this paradox or contradiction raise for you and your readers? 

3. If your assignment asks you to do research, piggyback off another scholar's research. 

Summarize for your reader another scholar's argument about your topic, primary source, or case study and tell your reader why this claim is interesting. 

Now, explain how you will extend this scholar's argument to explore an issue or case study that the scholar doesn't address fully. 

4. If your assignment asks you to do research, identify a gap in another scholar's or a group of scholars' research. 

Summarize for your reader another scholar's argument about your topic, primary source, or case study and tell your reader why this claim is interesting. Or, summarize how scholars in the field tend to approach your topic. 

Next, explain what important aspect this scholarly representation misses or distorts. Introduce your particular approach to your topic and its value. 

5. If your assignment asks you to do research, bring in a new lens for investigating your case study or problem. 

Summarize for your reader how a scholar or group of scholars has approached your topic. 

Introduce a theoretical source (possibly from another discipline) and explain how it helps you address this issue from a new and productive angle. 

Testing Your Thesis 

You can test your thesis statement's arguability by asking the following questions:

          Does my thesis only or mostly summarize my source? 

                 If so, try some of the exercises above to articulate your paper's conceptual problem or question. 

          Is my thesis arguable - can it be supported by evidence in my source, and is it surprising and contentious? 

                If not, return to your sources and practice the exercises above. 

           Is my thesis about my primary source or case study, or is it about the world? 

                If it's about the world, revise it so that it focuses on your primary source or case study. Remember you need solid evidence to support your thesis. 

"Formulating a Thesis" was written by Andrea Scott, Princeton University . CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

[1] Adapted from Erik Simpson’s “Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis” at


Information Literacy Tutorial  by  Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System  is licensed under a   Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License . Based on a work at

does every outline need a thesis statement

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does every outline need a thesis statement

Frequently asked questions

When do i need to write an essay outline.

You will sometimes be asked to hand in an essay outline before you start writing your essay . Your supervisor wants to see that you have a clear idea of your structure so that writing will go smoothly.

Even when you do not have to hand it in, writing an essay outline is an important part of the writing process . It’s a good idea to write one (as informally as you like) to clarify your structure for yourself whenever you are working on an essay.

Frequently asked questions: Writing an essay

For a stronger conclusion paragraph, avoid including:

  • Important evidence or analysis that wasn’t mentioned in the main body
  • Generic concluding phrases (e.g. “In conclusion…”)
  • Weak statements that undermine your argument (e.g. “There are good points on both sides of this issue.”)

Your conclusion should leave the reader with a strong, decisive impression of your work.

Your essay’s conclusion should contain:

  • A rephrased version of your overall thesis
  • A brief review of the key points you made in the main body
  • An indication of why your argument matters

The conclusion may also reflect on the broader implications of your argument, showing how your ideas could applied to other contexts or debates.

The conclusion paragraph of an essay is usually shorter than the introduction . As a rule, it shouldn’t take up more than 10–15% of the text.

An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.

In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.

Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.

The “hook” is the first sentence of your essay introduction . It should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of why it’s interesting.

To write a good hook, avoid overly broad statements or long, dense sentences. Try to start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.

Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:

  • An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
  • Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
  • A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.

The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .

Let’s say you’re writing a five-paragraph  essay about the environmental impacts of dietary choices. Here are three examples of topic sentences you could use for each of the three body paragraphs :

  • Research has shown that the meat industry has severe environmental impacts.
  • However, many plant-based foods are also produced in environmentally damaging ways.
  • It’s important to consider not only what type of diet we eat, but where our food comes from and how it is produced.

Each of these sentences expresses one main idea – by listing them in order, we can see the overall structure of the essay at a glance. Each paragraph will expand on the topic sentence with relevant detail, evidence, and arguments.

The topic sentence usually comes at the very start of the paragraph .

However, sometimes you might start with a transition sentence to summarize what was discussed in previous paragraphs, followed by the topic sentence that expresses the focus of the current paragraph.

Topic sentences help keep your writing focused and guide the reader through your argument.

In an essay or paper , each paragraph should focus on a single idea. By stating the main idea in the topic sentence, you clarify what the paragraph is about for both yourself and your reader.

A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .

Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :

  • Ask a question about your topic .
  • Write your initial answer.
  • Develop your answer by including reasons.
  • Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

An essay isn’t just a loose collection of facts and ideas. Instead, it should be centered on an overarching argument (summarized in your thesis statement ) that every part of the essay relates to.

The way you structure your essay is crucial to presenting your argument coherently. A well-structured essay helps your reader follow the logic of your ideas and understand your overall point.

The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.

The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.

The vast majority of essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Almost all academic writing involves building up an argument, though other types of essay might be assigned in composition classes.

Essays can present arguments about all kinds of different topics. For example:

  • In a literary analysis essay, you might make an argument for a specific interpretation of a text
  • In a history essay, you might present an argument for the importance of a particular event
  • In a politics essay, you might argue for the validity of a certain political theory

At high school and in composition classes at university, you’ll often be told to write a specific type of essay , but you might also just be given prompts.

Look for keywords in these prompts that suggest a certain approach: The word “explain” suggests you should write an expository essay , while the word “describe” implies a descriptive essay . An argumentative essay might be prompted with the word “assess” or “argue.”

In rhetorical analysis , a claim is something the author wants the audience to believe. A support is the evidence or appeal they use to convince the reader to believe the claim. A warrant is the (often implicit) assumption that links the support with the claim.

Logos appeals to the audience’s reason, building up logical arguments . Ethos appeals to the speaker’s status or authority, making the audience more likely to trust them. Pathos appeals to the emotions, trying to make the audience feel angry or sympathetic, for example.

Collectively, these three appeals are sometimes called the rhetorical triangle . They are central to rhetorical analysis , though a piece of rhetoric might not necessarily use all of them.

The term “text” in a rhetorical analysis essay refers to whatever object you’re analyzing. It’s frequently a piece of writing or a speech, but it doesn’t have to be. For example, you could also treat an advertisement or political cartoon as a text.

The goal of a rhetorical analysis is to explain the effect a piece of writing or oratory has on its audience, how successful it is, and the devices and appeals it uses to achieve its goals.

Unlike a standard argumentative essay , it’s less about taking a position on the arguments presented, and more about exploring how they are constructed.

You should try to follow your outline as you write your essay . However, if your ideas change or it becomes clear that your structure could be better, it’s okay to depart from your essay outline . Just make sure you know why you’re doing so.

If you have to hand in your essay outline , you may be given specific guidelines stating whether you have to use full sentences. If you’re not sure, ask your supervisor.

When writing an essay outline for yourself, the choice is yours. Some students find it helpful to write out their ideas in full sentences, while others prefer to summarize them in short phrases.

Comparisons in essays are generally structured in one of two ways:

  • The alternating method, where you compare your subjects side by side according to one specific aspect at a time.
  • The block method, where you cover each subject separately in its entirety.

It’s also possible to combine both methods, for example by writing a full paragraph on each of your topics and then a final paragraph contrasting the two according to a specific metric.

Your subjects might be very different or quite similar, but it’s important that there be meaningful grounds for comparison . You can probably describe many differences between a cat and a bicycle, but there isn’t really any connection between them to justify the comparison.

You’ll have to write a thesis statement explaining the central point you want to make in your essay , so be sure to know in advance what connects your subjects and makes them worth comparing.

Some essay prompts include the keywords “compare” and/or “contrast.” In these cases, an essay structured around comparing and contrasting is the appropriate response.

Comparing and contrasting is also a useful approach in all kinds of academic writing : You might compare different studies in a literature review , weigh up different arguments in an argumentative essay , or consider different theoretical approaches in a theoretical framework .

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

If you’re not given a specific prompt for your descriptive essay , think about places and objects you know well, that you can think of interesting ways to describe, or that have strong personal significance for you.

The best kind of object for a descriptive essay is one specific enough that you can describe its particular features in detail—don’t choose something too vague or general.

If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?

The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.

Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.

When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

The majority of the essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Unless otherwise specified, you can assume that the goal of any essay you’re asked to write is argumentative: To convince the reader of your position using evidence and reasoning.

In composition classes you might be given assignments that specifically test your ability to write an argumentative essay. Look out for prompts including instructions like “argue,” “assess,” or “discuss” to see if this is the goal.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.

An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.

An expository essay is a common assignment in high-school and university composition classes. It might be assigned as coursework, in class, or as part of an exam.

Sometimes you might not be told explicitly to write an expository essay. Look out for prompts containing keywords like “explain” and “define.” An expository essay is usually the right response to these prompts.

An expository essay is a broad form that varies in length according to the scope of the assignment.

Expository essays are often assigned as a writing exercise or as part of an exam, in which case a five-paragraph essay of around 800 words may be appropriate.

You’ll usually be given guidelines regarding length; if you’re not sure, ask.

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