Developing a Thesis Statement

Many papers you write require developing a thesis statement. In this section you’ll learn what a thesis statement is and how to write one.

Keep in mind that not all papers require thesis statements . If in doubt, please consult your instructor for assistance.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement . . .

  • Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic.
  • Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper.
  • Is focused and specific enough to be “proven” within the boundaries of your paper.
  • Is generally located near the end of the introduction ; sometimes, in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or in an entire paragraph.
  • Identifies the relationships between the pieces of evidence that you are using to support your argument.

Not all papers require thesis statements! Ask your instructor if you’re in doubt whether you need one.

Identify a topic

Your topic is the subject about which you will write. Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic; or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper.

Consider what your assignment asks you to do

Inform yourself about your topic, focus on one aspect of your topic, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts, generate a topic from an assignment.

Below are some possible topics based on sample assignments.

Sample assignment 1

Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II.

Identified topic

Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis

This topic avoids generalities such as “Spain” and “World War II,” addressing instead on Franco’s role (a specific aspect of “Spain”) and the diplomatic relations between the Allies and Axis (a specific aspect of World War II).

Sample assignment 2

Analyze one of Homer’s epic similes in the Iliad.

The relationship between the portrayal of warfare and the epic simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64.

This topic focuses on a single simile and relates it to a single aspect of the Iliad ( warfare being a major theme in that work).

Developing a Thesis Statement–Additional information

Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic, or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper. You’ll want to read your assignment carefully, looking for key terms that you can use to focus your topic.

Sample assignment: Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II Key terms: analyze, Spain’s neutrality, World War II

After you’ve identified the key words in your topic, the next step is to read about them in several sources, or generate as much information as possible through an analysis of your topic. Obviously, the more material or knowledge you have, the more possibilities will be available for a strong argument. For the sample assignment above, you’ll want to look at books and articles on World War II in general, and Spain’s neutrality in particular.

As you consider your options, you must decide to focus on one aspect of your topic. This means that you cannot include everything you’ve learned about your topic, nor should you go off in several directions. If you end up covering too many different aspects of a topic, your paper will sprawl and be unconvincing in its argument, and it most likely will not fulfull the assignment requirements.

For the sample assignment above, both Spain’s neutrality and World War II are topics far too broad to explore in a paper. You may instead decide to focus on Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis , which narrows down what aspects of Spain’s neutrality and World War II you want to discuss, as well as establishes a specific link between those two aspects.

Before you go too far, however, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts. Try to avoid topics that already have too much written about them (i.e., “eating disorders and body image among adolescent women”) or that simply are not important (i.e. “why I like ice cream”). These topics may lead to a thesis that is either dry fact or a weird claim that cannot be supported. A good thesis falls somewhere between the two extremes. To arrive at this point, ask yourself what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about your topic.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times . Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Derive a main point from topic

Once you have a topic, you will have to decide what the main point of your paper will be. This point, the “controlling idea,” becomes the core of your argument (thesis statement) and it is the unifying idea to which you will relate all your sub-theses. You can then turn this “controlling idea” into a purpose statement about what you intend to do in your paper.

Look for patterns in your evidence

Compose a purpose statement.

Consult the examples below for suggestions on how to look for patterns in your evidence and construct a purpose statement.

  • Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis
  • Franco turned to the Allies when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from the Axis

Possible conclusion:

Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: Franco’s desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power.

Purpose statement

This paper will analyze Franco’s diplomacy during World War II to see how it contributed to Spain’s neutrality.
  • The simile compares Simoisius to a tree, which is a peaceful, natural image.
  • The tree in the simile is chopped down to make wheels for a chariot, which is an object used in warfare.

At first, the simile seems to take the reader away from the world of warfare, but we end up back in that world by the end.

This paper will analyze the way the simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64 moves in and out of the world of warfare.

Derive purpose statement from topic

To find out what your “controlling idea” is, you have to examine and evaluate your evidence . As you consider your evidence, you may notice patterns emerging, data repeated in more than one source, or facts that favor one view more than another. These patterns or data may then lead you to some conclusions about your topic and suggest that you can successfully argue for one idea better than another.

For instance, you might find out that Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis, but when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from them, he turned to the Allies. As you read more about Franco’s decisions, you may conclude that Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: his desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power. Based on this conclusion, you can then write a trial thesis statement to help you decide what material belongs in your paper.

Sometimes you won’t be able to find a focus or identify your “spin” or specific argument immediately. Like some writers, you might begin with a purpose statement just to get yourself going. A purpose statement is one or more sentences that announce your topic and indicate the structure of the paper but do not state the conclusions you have drawn . Thus, you might begin with something like this:

  • This paper will look at modern language to see if it reflects male dominance or female oppression.
  • I plan to analyze anger and derision in offensive language to see if they represent a challenge of society’s authority.

At some point, you can turn a purpose statement into a thesis statement. As you think and write about your topic, you can restrict, clarify, and refine your argument, crafting your thesis statement to reflect your thinking.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Compose a draft thesis statement

If you are writing a paper that will have an argumentative thesis and are having trouble getting started, the techniques in the table below may help you develop a temporary or “working” thesis statement.

Begin with a purpose statement that you will later turn into a thesis statement.

Assignment: Discuss the history of the Reform Party and explain its influence on the 1990 presidential and Congressional election.

Purpose Statement: This paper briefly sketches the history of the grassroots, conservative, Perot-led Reform Party and analyzes how it influenced the economic and social ideologies of the two mainstream parties.

Question-to-Assertion

If your assignment asks a specific question(s), turn the question(s) into an assertion and give reasons why it is true or reasons for your opinion.

Assignment : What do Aylmer and Rappaccini have to be proud of? Why aren’t they satisfied with these things? How does pride, as demonstrated in “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” lead to unexpected problems?

Beginning thesis statement: Alymer and Rappaccinni are proud of their great knowledge; however, they are also very greedy and are driven to use their knowledge to alter some aspect of nature as a test of their ability. Evil results when they try to “play God.”

Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.

Main idea: The reason some toys succeed in the market is that they appeal to the consumers’ sense of the ridiculous and their basic desire to laugh at themselves.

Make a list of the ideas that you want to include; consider the ideas and try to group them.

  • nature = peaceful
  • war matériel = violent (competes with 1?)
  • need for time and space to mourn the dead
  • war is inescapable (competes with 3?)

Use a formula to arrive at a working thesis statement (you will revise this later).

  • although most readers of _______ have argued that _______, closer examination shows that _______.
  • _______ uses _______ and _____ to prove that ________.
  • phenomenon x is a result of the combination of __________, __________, and _________.

What to keep in mind as you draft an initial thesis statement

Beginning statements obtained through the methods illustrated above can serve as a framework for planning or drafting your paper, but remember they’re not yet the specific, argumentative thesis you want for the final version of your paper. In fact, in its first stages, a thesis statement usually is ill-formed or rough and serves only as a planning tool.

As you write, you may discover evidence that does not fit your temporary or “working” thesis. Or you may reach deeper insights about your topic as you do more research, and you will find that your thesis statement has to be more complicated to match the evidence that you want to use.

You must be willing to reject or omit some evidence in order to keep your paper cohesive and your reader focused. Or you may have to revise your thesis to match the evidence and insights that you want to discuss. Read your draft carefully, noting the conclusions you have drawn and the major ideas which support or prove those conclusions. These will be the elements of your final thesis statement.

Sometimes you will not be able to identify these elements in your early drafts, but as you consider how your argument is developing and how your evidence supports your main idea, ask yourself, “ What is the main point that I want to prove/discuss? ” and “ How will I convince the reader that this is true? ” When you can answer these questions, then you can begin to refine the thesis statement.

Refine and polish the thesis statement

To get to your final thesis, you’ll need to refine your draft thesis so that it’s specific and arguable.

  • Ask if your draft thesis addresses the assignment
  • Question each part of your draft thesis
  • Clarify vague phrases and assertions
  • Investigate alternatives to your draft thesis

Consult the example below for suggestions on how to refine your draft thesis statement.

Sample Assignment

Choose an activity and define it as a symbol of American culture. Your essay should cause the reader to think critically about the society which produces and enjoys that activity.

  • Ask The phenomenon of drive-in facilities is an interesting symbol of american culture, and these facilities demonstrate significant characteristics of our society.This statement does not fulfill the assignment because it does not require the reader to think critically about society.
Drive-ins are an interesting symbol of American culture because they represent Americans’ significant creativity and business ingenuity.
Among the types of drive-in facilities familiar during the twentieth century, drive-in movie theaters best represent American creativity, not merely because they were the forerunner of later drive-ins and drive-throughs, but because of their impact on our culture: they changed our relationship to the automobile, changed the way people experienced movies, and changed movie-going into a family activity.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast-food establishments, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize America’s economic ingenuity, they also have affected our personal standards.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast- food restaurants, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize (1) Americans’ business ingenuity, they also have contributed (2) to an increasing homogenization of our culture, (3) a willingness to depersonalize relationships with others, and (4) a tendency to sacrifice quality for convenience.

This statement is now specific and fulfills all parts of the assignment. This version, like any good thesis, is not self-evident; its points, 1-4, will have to be proven with evidence in the body of the paper. The numbers in this statement indicate the order in which the points will be presented. Depending on the length of the paper, there could be one paragraph for each numbered item or there could be blocks of paragraph for even pages for each one.

Complete the final thesis statement

The bottom line.

As you move through the process of crafting a thesis, you’ll need to remember four things:

  • Context matters! Think about your course materials and lectures. Try to relate your thesis to the ideas your instructor is discussing.
  • As you go through the process described in this section, always keep your assignment in mind . You will be more successful when your thesis (and paper) responds to the assignment than if it argues a semi-related idea.
  • Your thesis statement should be precise, focused, and contestable ; it should predict the sub-theses or blocks of information that you will use to prove your argument.
  • Make sure that you keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Change your thesis as your paper evolves, because you do not want your thesis to promise more than your paper actually delivers.

In the beginning, the thesis statement was a tool to help you sharpen your focus, limit material and establish the paper’s purpose. When your paper is finished, however, the thesis statement becomes a tool for your reader. It tells the reader what you have learned about your topic and what evidence led you to your conclusion. It keeps the reader on track–well able to understand and appreciate your argument.

to determine the thesis statement you should consider what kind of composition is it

Writing Process and Structure

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Getting Started with Your Paper

Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses

Generating Ideas for

Creating an Argument

Thesis vs. Purpose Statements

Architecture of Arguments

Working with Sources

Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources

Using Literary Quotations

Citing Sources in Your Paper

Drafting Your Paper

Generating Ideas for Your Paper

Introductions

Paragraphing

Developing Strategic Transitions

Conclusions

Revising Your Paper

Peer Reviews

Reverse Outlines

Revising an Argumentative Paper

Revision Strategies for Longer Projects

Finishing Your Paper

Twelve Common Errors: An Editing Checklist

How to Proofread your Paper

Writing Collaboratively

Collaborative and Group Writing

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.

Introduction

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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Dynamic PDF:   Thesis Statements

The  thesis statement  is perhaps the most crucial part of your essay because it presents the main idea or main argument of the piece of writing. In academic essays, your thesis statement is often located in the introductory paragraph; however, this is not always the case. Consider the rhetorical situation and assignment guidelines to determine where to best place your thesis.  

What does a thesis statement do?

  • Informs the reader how to interpret the paper’s significance
  • Serves as a sign post for the essay, showing where the rest of the paper is headed
  • Offers a unique perspective on the topic at hand
  • Makes a claim or argument about a topic or issue

Creating a Thesis Statement

Once you have brainstormed about a topic, collected evidence to support your claims, and thought about the significance of your ideas, you should decide what you are arguing about the topic at hand. After this consideration, you’ll likely find yourself with a working thesis statement that expresses your main idea. You may have to write your thesis multiple times before you feel it captures all you want to say about your argument.

Remember, your thesis statement is different from the topic itself. For example, the  topic  of your paper might be “Running” or even “Why People Should Run.” Your  thesis statement , however, will present an argument about running and explain the significance.

There are two types of thesis statements, blueprint and umbrella.

  • A  blueprint thesis  lists what will be discussed in your paper (EX: Running is important because A, B, and C.). While blueprint thesis statements are sometimes appropriate, you may find them limiting, especially for longer papers.
  • An  umbrella thesis  presents an overview of your argument without listing all of the individual components. An umbrella thesis allows you to express your argument in a condensed, concise way (EX: People who are interested in starting an exercise program should consider running because of the instant health benefits, both physical and mental.) While we know this paper will argue that running provides physical and mental health benefits, the writer does not have to list each one that will be discussed in the essay.

After you craft your thesis statement, ask yourself some questions about what your thesis statement accomplishes. This will help strengthen and clarify your main idea:

  • Do I answer the question asked of me by this assignment?
  • If this essay is argumentative, have I taken a clear position?
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough?
  • Does my thesis pass the “so what?” test? How is this idea related to a larger significance?

Remember,  as you continue to develop your paper, your thesis statement may evolve. While your original thesis can serve as a guide, you should feel free to change your thesis based on the research you conduct or the ideas you further develop.

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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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1.4: Writing Thesis Statements

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  • Kathryn Crowther et al.
  • Georgia Perimeter College via GALILEO Open Learning Materials

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To be effective, all support in an essay must work together to convey a central point; otherwise, an essay can fall into the trap of being out of order and confusing. Just as a topic sentence focuses and unifies a single paragraph, the thesis statement focuses and unifies an entire essay. This statement is like a signpost that signals the essay’s destination; it tells the reader the point you want to make in your essay, while the essay itself supports that point.

Because writing is not a linear process, you may find that the best thesis statement develops near the end of your first draft; however, creating a draft or working thesis early in the writing project helps give the drafting process clear direction. You should form your thesis before you begin to organize an essay, but you may find that it needs revision as the essay develops.

A thesis is not just a topic, but rather the writer’s comment or interpretation of the question or subject. For whatever topic you select (for example, school uniforms, social networking), you must ask yourself, “What do I want to say about it?” Asking and then answering this question is vital to forming a thesis that is precise, forceful, and confident.

In the majority of essays, a thesis is one sentence long and appears toward the end of the introduction. It is specific and focuses on one to three points of a single idea—points that are able to be demonstrated in the body. It forecasts the content of the essay and suggests how you will organize your information. Remember that a thesis statement does not summarize an issue but rather dissects it.

Working Thesis Statements

A strong thesis statement must have the following qualities:

  • It must be arguable : A thesis statement must state a point of view or judgment about a topic. An established fact is not considered arguable.
  • It must be supportable : The thesis statement must contain a point of view that can be supported with evidence (reasons, facts, examples).
  • It must be specific : A thesis statement must be precise enough to allow for a coherent argument and remain focused on the topic.

Example \(\PageIndex{1}\): Appropriate Thesis Statements

  • Closing all American borders for a period of five years is one solution that will tackle illegal immigration.
  • Compared to an absolute divorce, no-fault divorce is less expensive, promotes fairer settlements, and reflects a more realistic view of the causes for marital breakdown.
  • Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts.
  • In today’s crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not significant enough education to land a stable, lucrative job.
  • Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet spoils the outcome for the audience and weakens the plot.
  • J. D. Salinger’s character in Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is a confused rebel who voices his disgust with phonies, yet acts like a phony on many occasions.
  • The societal and personal struggles of Troy Maxson in the play Fences symbolize the challenge of black males who lived through segregation and integration in the United States.

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • Weak thesis statement : My paper will explain why imagination is more important than knowledge.
  • Weak thesis statement : Religious radicals across America are trying to legislate their Puritanical beliefs by banning required high school books.
  • Weak thesis statement : Advertising companies use sex to sell their products.
  • Weak thesis statement : The life of Abraham Lincoln was long and challenging.

Exercise 10

Read the following thesis statements. On a separate piece of paper, identify each as weak or strong. For those that are weak, list the reasons why. Then revise the weak statements so that they conform to the requirements of a strong thesis.

  • The subject of this paper is my experience with ferrets as pets.
  • The government must expand its funding for research on renewable energy resources in order to prepare for the impending end of oil.
  • Edgar Allan Poe was a poet who lived in Baltimore during the nineteenth century.
  • In this essay, I will give you lots of reasons why slot machines should not be legalized in Baltimore.
  • Despite his promises during his campaign, President Kennedy took few executive measures to support civil rights legislation.
  • Because many children’s toys have potential safety hazards that could lead to injury, it is clear that not all children’s toys are safe.
  • My experience with young children has taught me that I want to be a disciplinary parent because I believe that a child without discipline can be a parent’s worst nightmare.

Thesis Statement Revision

Your thesis statement begins as a working thesis statement, an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing. Working thesis statements often become stronger as you gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.

Ways to Revise Your Thesis:

You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:

  • Working thesis : Young people have to work hard to succeed in life.
  • Revised thesis : Recent college graduates must have discipline and persistence in order to find and maintain a stable job in which they can use and be appreciated for their talents.
  • Explanation : The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words like people and work hard , the writer can better focus his or her research and gain more direction in his or her writing. The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard.
  • Working thesis : The welfare system is a joke.
  • Revised thesis : The welfare system keeps a socioeconomic class from gaining employment by alluring members of that class with unearned income, instead of programs to improve their education and skill sets.
  • Explanation : A joke means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience. By asking questions, the writer can devise a more precise and appropriate explanation for joke and more accurately defines his or her stance, which will better guide the writing of the essay.
  • Working thesis : Kansas City schoolteachers are not paid enough.
  • Revised thesis : The Kansas City legislature cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers.
  • Who is not paying the teachers enough?
  • What is considered “enough”?
  • What is the problem?
  • What are the results?
  • Working thesis : Today’s teenage girls are too sexualized.
  • Revised thesis : Teenage girls who are captivated by the sexual images on MTV are conditioned to believe that a woman’s worth depends on her sensuality, a feeling that harms their self-esteem and behavior.
  • Which teenage girls?
  • What constitutes “too” sexualized?
  • Why are they behaving that way?
  • Where does this behavior show up?
  • What are the repercussions?

Exercise 11

On a separate sheet of paper, write a thesis statement for each of the following topics. Remember to make each statement specific, precise, demonstrable, forceful and confident. Then choose one of the topics and create a list of supporting points that could be developed into one or more paragraphs each.

  • Texting while driving
  • The legal drinking age in the United States
  • Steroid use among professional athletes

key takeaways

  • Proper essays require a thesis statement to provide a specific focus and suggest how the essay will be organized.
  • A thesis statement is your interpretation of the subject, not the topic itself.
  • A strong thesis is specific, precise, forceful, confident, and is able to be demonstrated.
  • A strong thesis challenges readers with a point of view that can be debated and can be supported with evidence.
  • A weak thesis is simply a declaration of your topic or contains an obvious fact that cannot be argued.
  • Depending on your topic, it may or may not be appropriate to use first person point of view.
  • Revise your thesis by ensuring all words are specific, all ideas are exact, and all verbs express action.
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to determine the thesis statement you should consider what kind of composition is it

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How to write a thesis statement, what is a thesis statement.

Almost all of us—even if we don’t do it consciously—look early in an essay for a one- or two-sentence condensation of the argument or analysis that is to follow. We refer to that condensation as a thesis statement.

Why Should Your Essay Contain a Thesis Statement?

  • to test your ideas by distilling them into a sentence or two
  • to better organize and develop your argument
  • to provide your reader with a “guide” to your argument

In general, your thesis statement will accomplish these goals if you think of the thesis as the answer to the question your paper explores.

How Can You Write a Good Thesis Statement?

Here are some helpful hints to get you started. You can either scroll down or select a link to a specific topic.

How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One

How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned

Almost all assignments, no matter how complicated, can be reduced to a single question. Your first step, then, is to distill the assignment into a specific question. For example, if your assignment is, “Write a report to the local school board explaining the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class,” turn the request into a question like, “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” After you’ve chosen the question your essay will answer, compose one or two complete sentences answering that question.

Q: “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” A: “The potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class are . . .”
A: “Using computers in a fourth-grade class promises to improve . . .”

The answer to the question is the thesis statement for the essay.

[ Back to top ]

How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned

Even if your assignment doesn’t ask a specific question, your thesis statement still needs to answer a question about the issue you’d like to explore. In this situation, your job is to figure out what question you’d like to write about.

A good thesis statement will usually include the following four attributes:

  • take on a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree
  • deal with a subject that can be adequately treated given the nature of the assignment
  • express one main idea
  • assert your conclusions about a subject

Let’s see how to generate a thesis statement for a social policy paper.

Brainstorm the topic . Let’s say that your class focuses upon the problems posed by changes in the dietary habits of Americans. You find that you are interested in the amount of sugar Americans consume.

You start out with a thesis statement like this:

Sugar consumption.

This fragment isn’t a thesis statement. Instead, it simply indicates a general subject. Furthermore, your reader doesn’t know what you want to say about sugar consumption.

Narrow the topic . Your readings about the topic, however, have led you to the conclusion that elementary school children are consuming far more sugar than is healthy.

You change your thesis to look like this:

Reducing sugar consumption by elementary school children.

This fragment not only announces your subject, but it focuses on one segment of the population: elementary school children. Furthermore, it raises a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree, because while most people might agree that children consume more sugar than they used to, not everyone would agree on what should be done or who should do it. You should note that this fragment is not a thesis statement because your reader doesn’t know your conclusions on the topic.

Take a position on the topic. After reflecting on the topic a little while longer, you decide that what you really want to say about this topic is that something should be done to reduce the amount of sugar these children consume.

You revise your thesis statement to look like this:

More attention should be paid to the food and beverage choices available to elementary school children.

This statement asserts your position, but the terms more attention and food and beverage choices are vague.

Use specific language . You decide to explain what you mean about food and beverage choices , so you write:

Experts estimate that half of elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar.

This statement is specific, but it isn’t a thesis. It merely reports a statistic instead of making an assertion.

Make an assertion based on clearly stated support. You finally revise your thesis statement one more time to look like this:

Because half of all American elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar, schools should be required to replace the beverages in soda machines with healthy alternatives.

Notice how the thesis answers the question, “What should be done to reduce sugar consumption by children, and who should do it?” When you started thinking about the paper, you may not have had a specific question in mind, but as you became more involved in the topic, your ideas became more specific. Your thesis changed to reflect your new insights.

How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One

1. a strong thesis statement takes some sort of stand..

Remember that your thesis needs to show your conclusions about a subject. For example, if you are writing a paper for a class on fitness, you might be asked to choose a popular weight-loss product to evaluate. Here are two thesis statements:

There are some negative and positive aspects to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.

This is a weak thesis statement. First, it fails to take a stand. Second, the phrase negative and positive aspects is vague.

Because Banana Herb Tea Supplement promotes rapid weight loss that results in the loss of muscle and lean body mass, it poses a potential danger to customers.

This is a strong thesis because it takes a stand, and because it's specific.

2. A strong thesis statement justifies discussion.

Your thesis should indicate the point of the discussion. If your assignment is to write a paper on kinship systems, using your own family as an example, you might come up with either of these two thesis statements:

My family is an extended family.

This is a weak thesis because it merely states an observation. Your reader won’t be able to tell the point of the statement, and will probably stop reading.

While most American families would view consanguineal marriage as a threat to the nuclear family structure, many Iranian families, like my own, believe that these marriages help reinforce kinship ties in an extended family.

This is a strong thesis because it shows how your experience contradicts a widely-accepted view. A good strategy for creating a strong thesis is to show that the topic is controversial. Readers will be interested in reading the rest of the essay to see how you support your point.

3. A strong thesis statement expresses one main idea.

Readers need to be able to see that your paper has one main point. If your thesis statement expresses more than one idea, then you might confuse your readers about the subject of your paper. For example:

Companies need to exploit the marketing potential of the Internet, and Web pages can provide both advertising and customer support.

This is a weak thesis statement because the reader can’t decide whether the paper is about marketing on the Internet or Web pages. To revise the thesis, the relationship between the two ideas needs to become more clear. One way to revise the thesis would be to write:

Because the Internet is filled with tremendous marketing potential, companies should exploit this potential by using Web pages that offer both advertising and customer support.

This is a strong thesis because it shows that the two ideas are related. Hint: a great many clear and engaging thesis statements contain words like because , since , so , although , unless , and however .

4. A strong thesis statement is specific.

A thesis statement should show exactly what your paper will be about, and will help you keep your paper to a manageable topic. For example, if you're writing a seven-to-ten page paper on hunger, you might say:

World hunger has many causes and effects.

This is a weak thesis statement for two major reasons. First, world hunger can’t be discussed thoroughly in seven to ten pages. Second, many causes and effects is vague. You should be able to identify specific causes and effects. A revised thesis might look like this:

Hunger persists in Glandelinia because jobs are scarce and farming in the infertile soil is rarely profitable.

This is a strong thesis statement because it narrows the subject to a more specific and manageable topic, and it also identifies the specific causes for the existence of hunger.

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II. Getting Started

2.5 Writing Thesis Statements

Kathryn Crowther; Lauren Curtright; Nancy Gilbert; Barbara Hall; Tracienne Ravita; and Kirk Swenson

To be effective, all support in an essay must work together to convey a central point; otherwise, an essay can fall into the trap of being out of order and confusing. Just as a topic sentence focuses and unifies a single paragraph, the thesis statement focuses and unifies an entire essay. This statement is like a signpost that signals the essay’s destination; it tells the reader the point you want to make in your essay, while the essay itself supports that point.

Because writing is not a linear process, you may find that the best thesis statement develops near the end of your first draft. However, creating a draft or working thesis early in the writing project helps give the drafting process clear direction. You should form your thesis before you begin to organize an essay, but you may find that it needs revision as the essay develops.

A thesis is not just a topic, but rather the writer’s comment or interpretation of the question or subject. For whatever topic you select (for example, school uniforms, social networking), you must ask yourself, “What do I want to say about it?” Asking and then answering this question is vital to forming a thesis that is precise, forceful, and confident.

In the majority of essays, a thesis is one sentence long and appears toward the end of the introductory paragraph. It is specific and focuses on one to three points of a single idea—points that are able to be demonstrated in the body paragraphs. It forecasts the content of the essay and suggests how you will organize your information. Remember that a thesis statement does not summarize an issue but rather dissects it.

Working Thesis Statements

A strong thesis statement must have the following qualities:

  • It must be arguable.  A thesis statement must state a point of view or judgment about a topic. An established fact is not considered arguable.
  • It must be supportable.  The thesis statement must contain a point of view that can be supported with evidence (reasons, facts, examples).
  • It must be specific. A thesis statement must be precise enough to allow for a coherent argument and remain focused on the topic.

Examples of Appropriate Thesis Statements

  • Closing all American borders for a period of five years is one solution that will tackle illegal immigration.
  • Compared to an absolute divorce, no-fault divorce is less expensive, promotes fairer settlements, and reflects a more realistic view of the causes for marital breakdown.
  • Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts.
  • In today’s crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not significant enough education to land a stable, lucrative job.
  • The societal and personal struggles of Troy Maxson in the play Fences symbolize the challenges of black males who lived through segregation and integration in the United States.

Pitfalls to Avoid

A thesis is weak when it is simply a declaration of your subject or a description of what you will discuss in your essay.

Weak Thesis Statement Example

My paper will explain why imagination is more important than knowledge.

A thesis is weak when it makes an unreasonable or outrageous claim or insults the opposing side.

Religious radicals across America are trying to legislate their Puritanical beliefs by banning required high school books.

A thesis is weak when it contains an obvious fact or something that no one can disagree with or provides a dead end.

Advertising companies use sex to sell their products.

A thesis is weak when the statement is too broad.

The life of Abraham Lincoln was long and challenging.

Ways to Revise Your Thesis

Your thesis statement begins as a working thesis statement, an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing. Working thesis statements often become stronger as you gather information and develop new ideas and reasons for those ideas. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.

You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:

  • Pinpoint and replace all non specific words, such as people, everything, society, or life, with more precise words in order to reduce any vagueness.

Pinpoint and Replace Example

Working thesis:  Young people have to work hard to succeed in life.

Revised thesis:  Recent college graduates must have discipline and persistence in order to find and maintain a stable job in which they can use, and be appreciated for, their talents.

Explanation:  The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words like people and work hard , the writer can better focus their research and gain more direction in their writing. The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard.

  • Clarify ideas that need explanation by asking yourself questions that narrow your thesis.

Clarify Example

Working thesis:  The welfare system is a joke.

Revised thesis:  The welfare system keeps a socioeconomic class from gaining employment by alluring members of that class with unearned income, instead of programs to improve their education and skill sets.

Explanation:  A joke means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience. By asking questions, the writer can devise a more precise and appropriate explanation for joke and more accurately defines their stance, which will better guide the writing of the essay.

  • Replace any linking verbs with action verbs. Linking verbs are forms of the verb to be , a verb that simply states that a situation exists.

Replace with Action Verbs Example

Working thesis:  Kansas City school teachers are not paid enough.

Revised thesis:  The Kansas City legislature cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers.

Explanation:  The linking verb in this working thesis statement is the word are . Linking verbs often make thesis statements weak because they do not express action. Rather, they connect words and phrases to the second half of the sentence. Readers might wonder, “Why are they not paid enough?” But this statement does not compel them to ask many more questions.

  • Who is not paying the teachers enough?
  • How much is considered “enough”?
  • What is the problem?
  • What are the results?
  • Omit any general claims that are hard to support.

Omit General Claims Example

Working thesis:  Today’s teenage girls are too sexualized.

Revised thesis: Teenage girls who are captivated by the sexual images on the internet and social media are conditioned to believe that a woman’s worth depends on her sensuality, a feeling that harms their self-esteem and behavior.

Explanation:  It is true that some young women in today’s society are more sexualized than in the past, but that is not true for all girls. Many girls have strict parents, dress appropriately, and do not engage in sexual activity while in middle school and high school. The writer of this thesis should ask the following questions:

  • Which teenage girls?
  • What constitutes “too” sexualized?
  • Why are they behaving that way?
  • Where does this behavior show up?
  • What are the repercussions?

This section contains material from:

Crowther, Kathryn, Lauren Curtright, Nancy Gilbert, Barbara Hall, Tracienne Ravita, and Kirk Swenson. Successful College Composition . 2nd ed. Book 8. Georgia: English Open Textbooks, 2016. http://oer.galileo.usg.edu/english-textbooks/8 . Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License .

Relating to lines; a way of explaining information logically and/or sequentially; can refer to the chronological relaying of information.

A brief and concise statement or series of statements that outlines the main point(s) of a longer work. To summarize is to create a brief and concise statement or series of statements that outlines the main point(s) of a longer work.

To analyze closely or minutely; to scrutinize every aspect. Unlike the fields of biology, anatomy, or medicine, in rhetoric and writing, dissect does not refer to the cutting apart of a physical body but to the taking apart the body of an argument or idea piece by piece to understand it better.

A logical, rational, lucid, or understandable expression of an idea, concept, or notion; consistent and harmonious explanation.

Assertion or announcement of belief, understanding, or knowledge; a formal statement or proclamation.

Without a defined number or limit; unlimited, infinite, or undetermined.

An altered version of  a written work. Revising means to rewrite in order to improve and make corrections. Unlike editing, which involves minor changes, revisions include major and noticeable changes to a written work.

Not relevant; unimportant; beside the point; not relating to the matter at hand.

Attractive, tempting, or seductive; to have an appealing and charismatic quality.

To influence or convince; to produce a certain or specific result through the use of force.

2.5 Writing Thesis Statements Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Crowther; Lauren Curtright; Nancy Gilbert; Barbara Hall; Tracienne Ravita; and Kirk Swenson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Identifying Thesis Statements, Claims, and Evidence

Thesis statements, claims, and evidence, introduction.

The three important parts of an argumentative essay are:

  • A thesis statement is a sentence, usually in the first paragraph of an article, that expresses the article’s main point. It is not a fact; it’s a statement that you could disagree with.  Therefore, the author has to convince you that the statement is correct.
  • Claims are statements that support the thesis statement, but like the thesis statement,  are not facts.  Because a claim is not a fact, it requires supporting evidence.
  • Evidence is factual information that shows a claim is true.  Usually, writers have to conduct their own research to find evidence that supports their ideas.  The evidence may include statistical (numerical) information, the opinions of experts, studies, personal experience, scholarly articles, or reports.

Each paragraph in the article is numbered at the beginning of the first sentence.

Paragraphs 1-7

Identifying the Thesis Statement. Paragraph 2 ends with this thesis statement:  “People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.”  It is a thesis statement for three reasons:

  • It is the article’s main argument.
  • It is not a fact. Someone could think that peoples’ prior convictions should affect their access to higher education.
  • It requires evidence to show that it is true.

Finding Claims.  A claim is statement that supports a thesis statement.  Like a thesis, it is not a fact so it needs to be supported by evidence.

You have already identified the article’s thesis statement: “People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.”

Like the thesis, a claim be an idea that the author believes to be true, but others may not agree.  For this reason, a claim needs support.

  • Question 1.  Can you find a claim in paragraph 3? Look for a statement that might be true, but needs to be supported by evidence.

Finding Evidence. 

Paragraphs 5-7 offer one type of evidence to support the claim you identified in the last question.  Reread paragraphs 5-7.

  • Question 2.  Which word best describes the kind of evidence included in those paragraphs:  A report, a study, personal experience of the author, statistics, or the opinion of an expert?

Paragraphs 8-10

Finding Claims

Paragraph 8 makes two claims:

  • “The United States needs to have more of this transformative power of education.”
  • “The country [the United States] incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other nation in the world.”

Finding Evidence

Paragraphs 8 and 9 include these statistics as evidence:

  • “The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population but nearly 25 percent of the incarcerated population around the globe.”
  • “Roughly 2.2 million people in the United States are essentially locked away in cages. About 1 in 5 of those people are locked up for drug offenses.”

Question 3. Does this evidence support claim 1 from paragraph 8 (about the transformative power of education) or claim 2 (about the U.S.’s high incarceration rate)?

Question 4. Which word best describes this kind of evidence:  A report, a study, personal experience of the author, statistics, or the opinion of an expert?

Paragraphs 11-13

Remember that in paragraph 2, Andrisse writes that:

  • “People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.” (Thesis statement)
  • “More must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.” (Claim)

Now, review paragraphs 11-13 (Early life of crime). In these paragraphs, Andrisse shares more of his personal story.

Question 5. Do you think his personal story is evidence for statement 1 above, statement 2, both, or neither one?

Question 6. Is yes, which one(s)?

Question 7. Do you think his personal story is good evidence?  Does it persuade you to agree with him?

Paragraphs 14-16

Listed below are some claims that Andrisse makes in paragraph 14.  Below each claim, please write the supporting evidence from paragraphs 15 and 16.  If you can’t find any evidence,  write “none.”

Claim:  The more education a person has, the higher their income.

Claim: Similarly, the more education a person has, the less likely they are to return to prison.

Paragraphs 17-19

Evaluating Evidence

In these paragraphs, Andrisse returns to his personal story. He explains how his father’s illness inspired him to become a doctor and shares that he was accepted to only one of six biomedical graduate programs.

Do you think that this part of Andrisse’s story serves as evidence (support) for any claims that you’ve identified so far?   Or does it support his general thesis that “people’s prior convictions should not be held against them in pursuit of higher learning?” Please explain your answer.

Paragraphs 20-23

Andrisse uses his personal experience to repeat a claim he makes in paragraph 3, that “more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.”

To support this statement, he has to show that barriers exist.  One barrier he identifies is the cost of college. He then explains the advantages of offering Pell grants to incarcerated people.

What evidence in paragraphs 21-23 support his claim about the success of Pell grants?

Paragraphs  24-28 (Remove questions about drug crimes from federal aid forms)

In this section, Andrisse argues that federal aid forms should not ask students about prior drug convictions.  To support that claim, he includes a statistic about students who had to answer a similar question on their college application.

What statistic does he include?

In paragraph 25, he assumes that if a question about drug convictions discourages students from applying to college, it will probably also discourage them from applying for federal aid.

What do you think about this assumption?   Do you think it’s reasonable or do you think Andrisse needs stronger evidence to show that federal aid forms should not ask students about prior drug convictions?

Supporting English Language Learners in First-Year College Composition Copyright © by Breana Bayraktar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Effective Thesis Statements

What is a Thesis Statement?

  • A thesis statement tells a reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion. Such a statement is also called an “argument,” a “main idea,” or a “controlling idea.”
  • A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should “telegraph” how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay
  • A standard place for your thesis is at the end of the introductory paragraph.
  • A thesis is an interpretation of a 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 that others might dispute.
  • A strong thesis not only grabs the interest of your reader, who now wants to see you support your unique interpretation, it also provides a focus for your argument, one to which every part of your paper refers in the development of your position.
  • A thesis keeps the writer centered on the matter at hand and reduces the risk of intellectual wandering. Likewise, a thesis provides the reader with a “road map,” clearly laying out the intellectual route ahead.
  • A thesis statement avoids the first person (“I believe,” “In my opinion”).

A simple equation for what a thesis might look like this:

What you plan to argue + How you plan to argue it = Thesis Specific Topic+ Attitude/Angle/Argument=Thesis

Steps To Write Effective Thesis Statement

  • Choose a prompt or, if appropriate, select a topic: television violence and children
  • What are the effects of television violence on children?
  • Violence on television increases aggressive behavior in children.
  • Avoid general phrasing and/or sweeping words such as “all” or “none” or “every”.
  • Lead the reader toward the topic sentences (the subtopics needed to prove the thesis).
  • While poor parenting and easy access to weapons may act as contributory factors, in fact when children are exposed to television violence they become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, are more fearful of the world around them, and are more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.

The Components of an Effective Thesis Statement

  • You can’t just pluck a thesis out of thin air. Even if you have a terrific insight concerning a topic, it won’t be worth much unless you can logically and persuasively support it in the body of your essay. A thesis is the evolutionary result of a thinking process, not a miraculous creation. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment .
  • Substantial – Your thesis should be a claim for which it is easy to answer every reader’s question: “So what?”
  • Supportable – A thesis must be a claim that you can prove with the evidence at hand (e.g., evidence from your texts or from your research). Your claim should not be outlandish, nor should it be mere personal opinion or preference (e.g., “Frederick Douglass is my favorite historical figure.”) It tackles a subject that could be adequately covered in the format of the project assigned.
  • Precise – It is focused and specific. A strong thesis proves a point without discussing everything. It clearly asserts your own conclusion based on evidence. Note: Be flexible. It is perfectly okay to change your thesis!
  • Arguable – It should be contestable, proposing an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree.
  • Relevant – If you are responding to an assignment, the thesis should answer the question your teacher has posed. In order to stay focused, pay attention to the task words in the assignment: summarize, argue, compare/contrast, etc.
  • Aware of Counters – It anticipates and refutes the counter-arguments.

The best thesis statement is a balance of specific details and concise language. Your goal is to articulate an argument in detail without burdening the reader with too much information.

Questions To Review Your Thesis

  • “Do I answer the question?” This might seem obvious, but it’s worth asking. No matter how intriguing or dazzling, a thesis that doesn’t answer the question is not a good thesis!
  • “Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose?” If not, then you probably do not have a strong argument. Theses that are too vague often have this problem. If your thesis contains vague words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what makes something “successful”?
  • Would anyone possible care about this thesis? So What? Does your thesis present a position or an interpretation worth pursuing? If a reader’s first response is, “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?” Just as a thesis that doesn’t answer the question ultimately fails, so does a thesis that isn’t properly supported with evidence and reasoning.
  • Does my thesis statement adequately address the direction words of the prompt: summarize, argue, compare/contrast, analyze, discuss, etc.?

Myths about Thesis Statements

  • Every paper requires one . Assignments that ask you to write personal responses or to explore a subject don’t want you to seem to pre-judge the issues. Essays of literary interpretation often want you to be aware of many effects rather than seeming to box yourself into one view of the text.
  • A thesis statement must come at the end of the first paragraph . This is a natural position for a statement of focus, but it’s not the only one. Some theses can be stated in the opening sentences of an essay; others need a paragraph or two of introduction; others can’t be fully formulated until the end.
  • A thesis statement must be one sentence in length , no matter how many clauses it contains. Clear writing is more important than rules like these. Use two or three sentences if you need them. A complex argument may require a whole tightly-knit paragraph to make its initial statement of position.
  • You can’t start writing an essay until you have a perfect thesis statement . It may be advisable to draft a hypothesis or tentative thesis statement near the start of a big project, but changing and refining a thesis is a main task of thinking your way through your ideas as you write a paper. And some essay projects need to explore the question in depth without being locked in before they can provide even a tentative answer.
  • A thesis statement must give three points of support . It should indicate that the essay will explain and give evidence for its assertion, but points don’t need to come in any specific number.

Progressively Complex Thesis Statements

  • Effective Thesis Statements. Provided by : Writing Guide Wikispaces. Located at : https://writingguide.wikispaces.com/Effective+Thesis+Statements . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Table of Contents

Instructor Resources (Access Requires Login)

  • Overview of Instructor Resources

An Overview of the Writing Process

  • Introduction to the Writing Process
  • Introduction to Writing
  • Your Role as a Learner
  • What is an Essay?
  • Reading to Write
  • Defining the Writing Process
  • Videos: Prewriting Techniques
  • Thesis Statements
  • Organizing an Essay
  • Creating Paragraphs
  • Conclusions
  • Editing and Proofreading
  • Matters of Grammar, Mechanics, and Style
  • Peer Review Checklist
  • Comparative Chart of Writing Strategies

Using Sources

  • Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Formatting the Works Cited Page (MLA)
  • Citing Paraphrases and Summaries (APA)
  • APA Citation Style, 6th edition: General Style Guidelines

Definition Essay

  • Definitional Argument Essay
  • How to Write a Definition Essay
  • Critical Thinking
  • Video: Thesis Explained
  • Student Sample: Definition Essay

Narrative Essay

  • Introduction to Narrative Essay
  • Student Sample: Narrative Essay
  • "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell
  • "Sixty-nine Cents" by Gary Shteyngart
  • Video: The Danger of a Single Story
  • How to Write an Annotation
  • How to Write a Summary
  • Writing for Success: Narration

Illustration/Example Essay

  • Introduction to Illustration/Example Essay
  • "She's Your Basic L.O.L. in N.A.D" by Perri Klass
  • "April & Paris" by David Sedaris
  • Writing for Success: Illustration/Example
  • Student Sample: Illustration/Example Essay

Compare/Contrast Essay

  • Introduction to Compare/Contrast Essay
  • "Disability" by Nancy Mairs
  • "Friending, Ancient or Otherwise" by Alex Wright
  • "A South African Storm" by Allison Howard
  • Writing for Success: Compare/Contrast
  • Student Sample: Compare/Contrast Essay

Cause-and-Effect Essay

  • Introduction to Cause-and-Effect Essay
  • "Cultural Baggage" by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • "Women in Science" by K.C. Cole
  • Writing for Success: Cause and Effect
  • Student Sample: Cause-and-Effect Essay

Argument Essay

  • Introduction to Argument Essay
  • Rogerian Argument
  • "The Case Against Torture," by Alisa Soloman
  • "The Case for Torture" by Michael Levin
  • How to Write a Summary by Paraphrasing Source Material
  • Writing for Success: Argument
  • Student Sample: Argument Essay
  • Grammar/Mechanics Mini-lessons
  • Mini-lesson: Subjects and Verbs, Irregular Verbs, Subject Verb Agreement
  • Mini-lesson: Sentence Types
  • Mini-lesson: Fragments I
  • Mini-lesson: Run-ons and Comma Splices I
  • Mini-lesson: Comma Usage
  • Mini-lesson: Parallelism
  • Mini-lesson: The Apostrophe
  • Mini-lesson: Capital Letters
  • Grammar Practice - Interactive Quizzes
  • De Copia - Demonstration of the Variety of Language
  • Style Exercise: Voice

Think of yourself as a member of a jury, listening to a lawyer who is presenting an opening argument. You'll want to know very soon whether the lawyer believes the accused to be guilty or not guilty, and how the lawyer plans to convince you. Readers of academic essays are like jury members: before they have read too far, they want to know what the essay argues as well as how the writer plans to make the argument. After reading your thesis statement, the reader should think, "This essay is going to try to convince me of something. I'm not convinced yet, but I'm interested to see how I might be."

An effective thesis cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." A thesis is not a topic; nor is it a fact; nor is it an opinion. "Reasons for the fall of communism" is a topic. "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" is a fact known by educated people. "The fall of communism is the best thing that ever happened in Europe" is an opinion. (Superlatives like "the best" almost always lead to trouble. It's impossible to weigh every "thing" that ever happened in Europe. And what about the fall of Hitler? Couldn't that be "the best thing"?)

A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay.

Steps in Constructing a Thesis

First, analyze your primary sources.  Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Does the author contradict himself or herself? Is a point made and later reversed? What are the deeper implications of the author's argument? Figuring out the why to one or more of these questions, or to related questions, will put you on the path to developing a working thesis. (Without the why, you probably have only come up with an observation—that there are, for instance, many different metaphors in such-and-such a poem—which is not a thesis.)

Once you have a working thesis, write it down.  There is nothing as frustrating as hitting on a great idea for a thesis, then forgetting it when you lose concentration. And by writing down your thesis you will be forced to think of it clearly, logically, and concisely. You probably will not be able to write out a final-draft version of your thesis the first time you try, but you'll get yourself on the right track by writing down what you have.

Keep your thesis prominent in your introduction.  A good, standard place for your thesis statement is at the end of an introductory paragraph, especially in shorter (5-15 page) essays. Readers are used to finding theses there, so they automatically pay more attention when they read the last sentence of your introduction. Although this is not required in all academic essays, it is a good rule of thumb.

Anticipate the counterarguments.  Once you have a working thesis, you should think about what might be said against it. This will help you to refine your thesis, and it will also make you think of the arguments that you'll need to refute later on in your essay. (Every argument has a counterargument. If yours doesn't, then it's not an argument—it may be a fact, or an opinion, but it is not an argument.)

This statement is on its way to being a thesis. However, it is too easy to imagine possible counterarguments. For example, a political observer might believe that Dukakis lost because he suffered from a "soft-on-crime" image. If you complicate your thesis by anticipating the counterargument, you'll strengthen your argument, as shown in the sentence below.

Some Caveats and Some Examples

A thesis is never a question.  Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question ("Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?") is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.

A thesis is never a list.  "For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" does a good job of "telegraphing" the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However, political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks tension and doesn't advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics, economics, and culture are important.

A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational.  An ineffective thesis would be, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil." This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.

An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim.  "While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline" is an effective thesis sentence that "telegraphs," so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, "Perhaps what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read further to see how the author argues this claim."

A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible.  Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite's inability to address the economic concerns of the people" is more powerful than "Communism collapsed due to societal discontent."

Copyright 1999, Maxine Rodburg and The Tutors of the Writing Center at Harvard University

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Book Title: Strategies for Conducting Literary Research, 2e

Authors: Barry Mauer and John Venecek

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Book Description: This textbook walks students through the process of conducting literary research while helping to refine their library skills.

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Book description.

This book, built in PressBooks with financial support from the UCF Digital Learning Course Redesign Initiative, contains 14 chapters, each of which contains two to six pages about the process of literary research. Pages contain learning objectives, infographics, videos, examples, key takeaways, and exercises. The course contains numerous discussion areas and quizzes. It also contains a “Foundational Materials” assignment that provides a platform for student success with whatever research project their instructor assigns. The book is highly flexible and instructors may use all or any part of the book within their own webcourse.

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This book is a cloned version of Strategies for Conducting Literary Research by Barry Mauer and John Venecek, published using Pressbooks under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) license. It may differ from the original.

Strategies for Conducting Literary Research, 2e Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer & John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Literary studies: general

Writing Process Basics: Thesis Statements

Constructing the thesis and argument—from the ground up, moving beyond the five-paragraph theme.

As an instructor, I’ve noted that a number of new (and sometimes not-so-new) students are skilled wordsmiths and generally clear thinkers but are nevertheless stuck in a high-school style of writing. They struggle to let go of certain assumptions about how an academic paper should be . Chapter 1 points to the essay portion of the SAT as a representative artifact of the writing skills that K-12 education imparts. Some students who have mastered that form, and enjoyed a lot of success from doing so, assume that college writing is simply more of the same. The skills that go into a very basic kind of essay—often called the five-paragraph theme —are indispensable. If you’re good at the five-paragraph theme, then you’re good at identifying a clear and consistent thesis, arranging cohesive paragraphs, organizing evidence for key points, and situating an argument within a broader context through the intro and conclusion.

In college you need to build on those essential skills. The five-paragraph theme, as such, is bland and formulaic; it doesn’t compel deep thinking. Your professors are looking for a more ambitious and arguable thesis, a nuanced and compelling argument, and real-life evidence for all key points, all in an organically 1 structured paper.

Figures 3.1 and 3.2 contrast the standard five-paragraph theme and the organic college paper. The five-paragraph theme, outlined in Figure 3.1 is probably what you’re used to: the introductory paragraph starts broad and gradually narrows to a thesis, which readers expect to find at the very end of that paragraph. In this idealized format, the thesis invokes the magic number of three: three reasons why a statement is true. Each of those reasons is explained and justified in the three body paragraphs, and then the final paragraph restates the thesis before gradually getting broader. This format is easy for readers to follow, and it helps writers organize their points and the evidence that goes with them. That’s why you learned this format.

Figure 3.2, in contrast, represents a paper on the same topic that has the more organic form expected in college. The first key difference is the thesis. Rather than simply positing a number of reasons to think that something is true, it puts forward an arguable statement: one with which a reasonable person might disagree. An arguable thesis gives the paper purpose. It surprises readers and draws them in. You hope your reader thinks, “Huh. Why would they come to that conclusion?” and then feels compelled to read on. The body paragraphs, then, build on one another to carry out this ambitious argument. In the classic five-paragraph theme (Figure 3.1) it hardly matters which of the three reasons you explain first or second. In the more organic structure (Figure 3.2) each paragraph specifically leads to the next.

image

Figure 3.1, The five-paragraph “theme”

The last key difference is seen in the conclusion. Because the organic essay is driven by an ambitious, non-obvious argument, the reader comes to the concluding section thinking “OK, I’m convinced by the argument. What do you, author, make of it? Why does it matter?” The conclusion of an organically structured paper has a real job to do. It doesn’t just reiterate the thesis; it explains why the thesis matters.

image

Figure 3.2, The organic college paper

The substantial time you spent mastering the five-paragraph form in Figure 3.1 was time well spent; it’s hard to imagine anyone succeeding with the more organic form without the organizational skills and habits of mind inherent in the simpler form. But if you assume that you must adhere rigidly to the simpler form, you’re blunting your intellectual ambition. Your professors will not be impressed by obvious theses, loosely related body paragraphs, and repetitive conclusions. They want you to undertake an ambitious independent analysis, one that will yield a thesis that is somewhat surprising and challenging to explain.

The three-story thesis: from the ground up

You have no doubt been drilled on the need for a thesis statement and its proper location at the end of the introduction. And you also know that all of the key points of the paper should clearly support the central driving thesis. Indeed, the whole model of the five-paragraph theme hinges on a clearly stated and consistent thesis. However, some students are surprised—and dismayed—when some of their early college papers are criticized for not having a good thesis. Their professor might even claim that the paper doesn’t have a thesis when, in the author’s view it clearly does. So, what makes a good thesis in college?

  • A good thesis is non-obvious . High school teachers needed to make sure that you and all your classmates mastered the basic form of the academic essay. Thus, they were mostly concerned that you had a clear and consistent thesis, even if it was something obvious like “sustainability is important.” A thesis statement like that has a wide-enough scope to incorporate several supporting points and concurring evidence, enabling the writer to demonstrate his or her mastery of the five-paragraph form. Good enough! When they can, high school teachers nudge students to develop arguments that are less obvious and more engaging. College instructors, though, fully expect you to produce something more developed.
  • A good thesis is arguable . In everyday life, “arguable” is often used as a synonym for “doubtful.” For a thesis, though, “arguable” means that it’s worth arguing: it’s something with which a reasonable person might disagree. This arguability criterion dovetails with the non-obvious one: it shows that the author has deeply explored a problem and arrived at an argument that legitimately needs 3, 5, 10, or 20 pages to explain and justify. In that way, a good thesis sets an ambitious agenda for a paper. A thesis like “sustainability is important” isn’t at all difficult to argue for, and the reader would have little intrinsic motivation to read the rest of the paper. However, an arguable thesis like “sustainability policies will inevitably fail if they do not incorporate social justice,” brings up some healthy skepticism. Thus, the arguable thesis makes the reader want to keep reading.
  • A good thesis is well specified . Some student writers fear that they’re giving away the game if they specify their thesis up front; they think that a purposefully vague thesis might be more intriguing to the reader. However, consider movie trailers: they always include the most exciting and poignant moments from the film to attract an audience. In academic papers, too, a well specified thesis indicates that the author has thought rigorously about an issue and done thorough research, which makes the reader want to keep reading. Don’t just say that a particular policy is effective or fair; say what makes it is so. If you want to argue that a particular claim is dubious or incomplete, say why in your thesis.
  • A good thesis includes implications . Suppose your assignment is to write a paper about some aspect of the history of linen production and trade, a topic that may seem exceedingly arcane. And suppose you have constructed a well supported and creative argument that linen was so widely traded in the ancient Mediterranean that it actually served as a kind of currency. 2 That’s a strong, insightful, arguable, well specified thesis. But which of these thesis statements do you find more engaging?
Linen served as a form of currency in the ancient Mediterranean world, connecting rival empires through circuits of trade.
Linen served as a form of currency in the ancient Mediterranean world, connecting rival empires through circuits of trade. The economic role of linen raises important questions about how shifting environmental conditions can influence economic relationships and, by extension, political conflicts.

Putting your claims in their broader context makes them more interesting to your reader and more impressive to your professors who, after all, assign topics that they think have enduring significance. Finding that significance for yourself makes the most of both your paper and your learning.

How do you produce a good, strong thesis? And how do you know when you’ve gotten there? Many instructors and writers find useful a metaphor based on this passage by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.: 3

There are one-story intellects, two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights. All fact collectors who have no aim beyond their facts are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize using the labor of fact collectors as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict—their best illumination comes from above the skylight.

One-story theses state inarguable facts. Two-story theses bring in an arguable (interpretive or analytical) point. Three-story theses nest that point within its larger, compelling implications. 4

The biggest benefit of the three-story metaphor is that it describes a process for building a thesis. To build the first story, you first have to get familiar with the complex, relevant facts surrounding the problem or question. You have to be able to describe the situation thoroughly and accurately. Then, with that first story built, you can layer on the second story by formulating the insightful, arguable point that animates the analysis. That’s often the most effortful part: brainstorming, elaborating and comparing alternative ideas, finalizing your point. With that specified, you can frame up the third story by articulating why the point you make matters beyond its particular topic or case.

Thesis: that’s the word that pops at me whenever I write an essay. Seeing this word in the prompt scared me and made me think to myself, “Oh great, what are they really looking for?” or “How am I going to make a thesis for a college paper?” When rehearing that I would be focusing on theses again in a class, I said to myself, “Here we go again!” But after learning about the three story thesis, I never had a problem with writing another thesis. In fact, I look forward to being asked on a paper to create a thesis.

Timothée Pizarro

For example, imagine you have been assigned a paper about the impact of online learning in higher education. You would first construct an account of the origins and multiple forms of online learning and assess research findings about its use and effectiveness. If you’ve done that well, you’ll probably come up with a well considered opinion that wouldn’t be obvious to readers who haven’t looked at the issue in depth. Maybe you’ll want to argue that online learning is a threat to the academic community. Or perhaps you’ll want to make the case that online learning opens up pathways to college degrees that traditional campus-based learning does not. In the course of developing your central, argumentative point, you’ll come to recognize its larger context; in this example, you may claim that online learning can serve to better integrate higher education with the rest of society, as online learners bring their educational and career experiences together. To outline this example:

  • First story : Online learning is becoming more prevalent and takes many different forms.
  • Second story : While most observers see it as a transformation of higher education, online learning is better thought of an extension of higher education in that it reaches learners who aren’t disposed to participate in traditional campus-based education.
  • Third story : Online learning appears to be a promising way to better integrate higher education with other institutions in society, as online learners integrate their educational experiences with the other realms of their life, promoting the freer flow of ideas between the academy and the rest of society.

Here’s another example of a three-story thesis: 5

  • First story : Edith Wharton did not consider herself a modernist writer, and she didn’t write like her modernist contemporaries.
  • Second story : However, in her work we can see her grappling with both the questions and literary forms that fascinated modernist writers of her era. While not an avowed modernist, she did engage with modernist themes and questions.
  • Third story : Thus, it is more revealing to think of modernism as a conversation rather than a category or practice.

Here’s one more example:

  • First story : Scientists disagree about the likely impact in the U.S. of the light brown apple moth (LBAM) , an agricultural pest native to Australia.
  • Second story : Research findings to date suggest that the decision to spray pheromones over the skies of several southern Californian counties to combat the LBAM was poorly thought out.
  • Third story : Together, the scientific ambiguities and the controversial response strengthen the claim that industrial-style approaches to pest management are inherently unsustainable.

A thesis statement that stops at the first story isn’t usually considered a thesis. A two-story thesis is usually considered competent, though some two-story theses are more intriguing and ambitious than others. A thoughtfully crafted and well informed three-story thesis puts the author on a smooth path toward an excellent paper.

The concept of a three-story thesis framework was the most helpful piece of information I gained from the writing component of DCC 100. The first time I utilized it in a college paper, my professor included “good thesis” and “excellent introduction” in her notes and graded it significantly higher than my previous papers. You can expect similar results if you dig deeper to form three-story theses. More importantly, doing so will make the actual writing of your paper more straightforward as well. Arguing something specific makes the structure of your paper much easier to design.

Peter Farrell

Three-story theses and the organically structured argument

The three-story thesis is a beautiful thing. For one, it gives a paper authentic momentum. The first paragraph doesn’t just start with some broad, vague statement; every sentence is crucial for setting up the thesis. The body paragraphs build on one another, moving through each step of the logical chain. Each paragraph leads inevitably to the next, making the transitions from paragraph to paragraph feel wholly natural. The conclusion, instead of being a mirror-image paraphrase of the introduction, builds out the third story by explaining the broader implications of the argument. It offers new insight without departing from the flow of the analysis.

I should note here that a paper with this kind of momentum often reads like it was knocked out in one inspired sitting. But in reality, just like accomplished athletes and artists, masterful writers make the difficult thing look easy. As writer Anne Lamott notes, reading a well written piece feels like its author sat down and typed it out, “bounding along like huskies across the snow.” However, she continues,

This is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. 6

Experienced writers don’t figure out what they want to say and then write it. They write in order to figure out what they want to say.

Experienced writers develop theses in dialog with the body of the essay. An initial characterization of the problem leads to a tentative thesis, and then drafting the body of the paper reveals thorny contradictions or critical areas of ambiguity, prompting the writer to revisit or expand the body of evidence and then refine the thesis based on that fresh look. The revised thesis may require that body paragraphs be reordered and reshaped to fit the emerging three-story thesis. Throughout the process, the thesis serves as an anchor point while the author wades through the morass of facts and ideas. The dialogue between thesis and body continues until the author is satisfied or the due date arrives, whatever comes first. It’s an effortful and sometimes tedious process. Novice writers, in contrast, usually oversimplify the writing process. They formulate some first-impression thesis, produce a reasonably organized outline, and then flesh it out with text, never taking the time to reflect or truly revise their work. They assume that revision is a step backward when, in reality, it is a major step forward.

Everyone has a different way that they like to write. For instance, I like to pop my earbuds in, blast dubstep music and write on a white board. I like using the white board because it is a lot easier to revise and edit while you write. After I finish writing a paragraph that I am completely satisfied with on the white board, I sit in front of it with my laptop and just type it up. Kaethe Leonard

Another benefit of the three-story thesis framework is that it demystifies what a “strong” argument is in academic culture. In an era of political polarization, many students may think that a strong argument is based on a simple, bold, combative statement that is promoted it in the most forceful way possible. “Gun control is a travesty!” “Shakespeare is the best writer who ever lived!” When students are encouraged to consider contrasting perspectives in their papers, they fear that doing so will make their own thesis seem mushy and weak. However, in academics a “strong” argument is comprehensive and nuanced, not simple and polemical. The purpose of the argument is to explain to readers why the author—through the course of his or her in-depth study—has arrived at a somewhat surprising point. On that basis, it has to consider plausible counter-arguments and contradictory information. Academic argumentation exemplifies the popular adage about all writing: show, don’t tell. In crafting and carrying out the three-story thesis, you are showing your reader the work you have done.

The model of the organically structured paper and the three-story thesis framework explained here is the very foundation of the paper itself and the process that produces it. The subsequent chapters, focusing on sources, paragraphs, and sentence-level wordsmithing, all follow from the notion that you are writing to think and writing to learn as much as you are writing to communicate. Your professors assume that you have the self-motivation and organizational skills to pursue your analysis with both rigor and flexibility; that is, they envision you developing, testing, refining and sometimes discarding your own ideas based on a clear-eyed and open-minded assessment of the evidence before you.

Other resources

  • The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers an excellent, readable run-down on the five-paragraph theme, why most college writing assignments want you to go beyond it, and those times when the simpler structure is actually a better choice.
  • There are many useful websites that describe good thesis statements and provide examples. Those from the writing centers at Hamilton College , Purdue University , and Clarkson University are especially helpful.
  • Find a scholarly article or book that is interesting to you. Focusing on the abstract and introduction, outline the first, second, and third stories of its thesis.
  • Here is a list of one-story theses. Come up with two-story and three-story versions of each one.A. Television programming includes content that some find objectionable.B. The percent of children and youth who are overweight or obese has risen in recent decades.C. First-year college students must learn how to independently manage their time.D. The things we surround ourselves with symbolize who we are.
  • Find an example of a five-paragraph theme (online essay mills, your own high school work), produce an alternative three-story thesis, and outline an organically structured paper to carry that thesis out.
  • Go to the SAT website about the essay exam , choose one of the highly rated sample essays. In structure, how does it compare to the five-paragraph theme? How does it compare to the organic college essay? Use the SAT essay example you found to create alternative examples for Figures 3.1 and 3.2.

1 “Organic” here doesn’t mean “pesticide-free” or containing carbon; it means the paper grows and develops, sort of like a living thing.

2 For more see Fabio Lopez-Lazaro “Linen.” In Encyclopedia of World Trade from Ancient Times to the Present . Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2005 .

3 Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., The Poet at the Breakfast Table (New York: Houghton & Mifflin, 1892),

4 The metaphor is extraordinarily useful even though the passage is annoying. Beyond the sexist language of the time, I don’t appreciate the condescension toward “fact-collectors.” which reflects a general modernist tendency to elevate the abstract and denigrate the concrete. In reality, data-collection is a creative and demanding craft, arguably more important than theorizing.

5 Drawn from Jennifer Haytock, Edith Wharton and the Conversations of Literary Modernism (New York: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2008).

6 Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (New York: Pantheon, 1994) , 21.

  • Writing in College: From Competence to Excellence. Authored by : Amy Guptill. Provided by : The College of Brockport, SUNY. Located at : http://textbooks.opensuny.org/writing-in-college-from-competence-to-excellence/ . Project : Open SUNY Textbooks. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

5 Chapter 5: Selecting a Topic and Adapting to the Audience

Lauren Rome, College of the Canyons

Adapted by Jamie C. Votraw, Professor of Communication Studies, Florida SouthWestern State College

Audience engaged with speaker

Figure 5.1: Audience 1

Introduction

Think about the most exciting speech or presentation that you have ever heard. What made it so enjoyable? Was it the speaker’s charisma? Was the speaker funny? Were there excellent visual aids? Perhaps, a lively audience kept you engaged? Now, imagine that you did not care for the speech topic. Suppose you found the subject boring or confusing. Your experience would be markedly less enjoyable.

As you start thinking about your public speaking assignments, deciding what to speak about may not be your primary concern. In some speaking situations, the speech topic may be predetermined. For instance, if you are Captain of the Florida SouthWestern State College Women’s Volleyball team, and you are about to secure the Conference Championship again , the purpose and topic of your pre-game speech are likely pretty clear. In most cases, though, while the general purpose of your speech (e.g., to inform, to persuade, to inspire) may be predetermined, you will often be responsible for selecting the specific topic.

In this chapter, we will discuss how to select appropriate speech topics based on the speech goal and with consideration for the audience. Although novice speakers often express anxiety about speech delivery, the reality is that selecting the right topic largely impacts speech delivery and can significantly impact the success of a speech.

Selecting Your Topic

What makes a speech topic a good topic? Many people go to live concerts and love live music. Let’s consider what makes the show meaningful for the audience. Is it just musicians taking the stage and playing music, or is there more to it? The best concerts are the ones that consider what the audience really wants to hear. How would you feel if you went to a concert and the band didn’t play your favorite song? Most likely, the band crafted the environment with sets, sound, comfort, temperature, snacks, and drinks to make the concert worth the money. Just like a concert is nothing without the audience, a speech isn’t a speech without an audience.

Although we might think our speech would be easier without an audience, they are a crucial component and should be a primary focus as you plan and prepare each presentation. Effective public speakers consider the audience throughout the speech process from choosing a topic to identifying examples, and of course, during the speech delivery. Therefore, one characteristic of a good speech topic is that it meets the expectations of the audience and the speaking situation. What does the audience expect from the speech? What are their interests? What kind of response will the audience have to your topic?

In classroom speeches, the audience includes your classmates and your professor. But, before you go on assuming you know something about your audience, remember what we learned in chapter one: every person has their lens for viewing the world, which will be used when interpreting any messages you communicate. In that case, an important rule of thumb is to never assume . We must put aside assumptions or preconceptions to create the most effective and appropriate speech for a specific audience. Later in the chapter, we will discuss audience analysis and the methods you can use to gather accurate information about your audience.

John Legend, musician

Figure 5.2: John Legend 2

Another marker of a good speech topic is that you, the speaker, can identify with the subject matter. Your speech topic does not need to be wholly original or groundbreaking. Instead, it would be best to focus on a speech topic that is important to you. What interests you? What do you care about? What are your passions? Selecting a topic that matters to you will make the research and speech composition process more manageable and enhance your delivery. If you care about the topic, you will be more likely to speak passionately and with conviction. When speaking enthusiastically, speakers add dynamic to their vocal quality, engage the audience, and exude confidence.

A final consideration when selecting a topic is your pre-existing knowledge and ability to master the topic. When selecting a topic, you must consider the breadth and complexity of the topic, your background knowledge, and the speech assignment parameters. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know my topic well, or will it require substantial learning?
  • Is my topic too simple or too complex for the audience?
  • Is the topic too broad or too narrow and trivial?
  • Can I effectively accomplish my speech goal within the time limit?

A good topic is both important to you and exciting and appropriate for your audience. However, it also must be manageable for you. Consider the following example. A popular informative speech topic among public speaking students at FSW is climate change. Climate change is a fantastic issue to discuss in an informative speech. It’s a topic of significance. It is relevant, and it is interesting. It is also an appropriate topic for a college classroom setting. Yet, “climate change”, in general, is a complex, multifaceted topic. When a student proposes “To inform the class about climate change”, we wonder, will the speech focus on the causes of climate change? The consequences? Strategies for reducing climate change? Perhaps, the speech will focus on one specific issue related to climate change, such as increased wildfires or the impact of rising temperatures on food production and availability. A broad topic like climate change cannot be addressed adequately in a short 5-7 minute speech. Thus, a good topic is one that you can manage. As you brainstorm and research possible topics, give yourself time to explore your options. If you are interested in a complex issue like climate change, you should first investigate the broader subject matter and then refine your focus to a more narrow topic. Even if you know the general speech topic, exploring and refining your topic for your speech assignment can take time.

Refining Your Topic 

Once you have a good topic with a narrow focus, you should start thinking about how your chosen topic will help you accomplish your speech goal. To ensure your speech topic aligns with the expectations of the speaking event, consider the general purpose of the speech. A  general purpose  is the broad objective of the speech. Most speeches fall into one of the following categories: 1. to inform, 2. to persuade, or 3. to entertain. There are other general purposes, such as to introduce, to inspire, and to honor. We typically see these in special occasion speeches (discussed in Chapter 13).

To effectively craft your speech, you must determine the general purpose. In an informative speech, the general purpose is “to inform.” Note that a general purpose statement is a sentence fragment that indicates the broad speech objective. When the general purpose is to inform, the speaker acts as a teacher or educator. In an informative speech, the speaker’s goal is to share information with the audience objectively and unbiasedly. This means that the speaker should not be advocating or persuading. Instead, it is the speaker’s job to convey information accurately and clearly to help the audience understand and retain it. Although an informative speech may include competing perspectives, especially if the topic is controversial, an ethical informative speaker only teaches the audience about the varying viewpoints and refrains from taking a position or revealing personal opinions. Rather, an informative speaker shares information and lets the audience decide what to think or do.

To Persuade 

In a persuasive speech, the general purpose is “to persuade.” In this type of speech, the speaker acts as an advocate. The goal of a persuasive speech is to convince the audience to agree with the speaker’s point of view or take some action (e.g., sign a petition, stop smoking, etc.). Unlike informative speaking, a speaker is expected to take a position. Persuasive speaking is often more complex than informative speaking, as speakers must utilize persuasive speaking strategies to gain agreement from the audience. To win over an audience, persuasive speeches, in particular, demand credible evidence and sound logic that support the speaker’s claims. In Chapter 10, we will dive deeper into the various methods of persuasion a speaker can employ to persuade their audience.

To Entertain

When the general purpose is “to entertain,” the speaker is focused on amusing the audience. There is a variety of supporting materials that a speaker can incorporate to engage the audience. Entertaining speeches may consist of stories, anecdotes, quotes, and descriptions. To learn more about the types of supporting materials, turn to Chapter 7.

Determining the general purpose of your speech is a critical step in the speech composition process. A clearly defined speech goal helps the speaker understand their speaking role (i.e., a teacher, an advocate, an entertainer) and determines the information needed to craft and appropriately deliver the speech effectively.

Consider how changing the general purpose from “to inform” to “to persuade” could alter the focus of the speech in the example below.

Topic: Living in LightHouse Commons (FSW College Dorms)

In the examples above, the focus of each speech topic changes significantly when the general purpose of the speech shifts from informative to persuasive. Though there are certainly other potential topics that could be used for this example, you can see that informative speech topics focus on sharing information. In contrast, the persuasive speech topics seek to gain support for a particular point of view. Once you have determined your general purpose, you are ready to craft a specific purpose statement.

Crafting a Specific Purpose 

The specific purpose statement is a concise, declarative statement that identifies the general purpose of your speech, the audience, and the specific goal. Using the speech topic from the example above, “Living in Lighthouse Commons,” the respective specific purpose statements could be written as such:

  • To inform incoming freshmen about the pros and cons of living on campus.
  • To persuade incoming freshman students that they should live on campus for at least one year.
  • To inform prospective FSW applicants of the cost-benefit analysis of on-campus vs. off-campus housing in the Ft. Myers area.
  • To persuade the college administration to lower the price of on-campus housing.

In each specific purpose statement example, the speaker identifies the general purpose (e.g., to inform or to persuade), the audience (e.g., incoming freshman, prospective FSW applicants, college administration), and the specific goal of the speech. Notice that each specific purpose statement is crafted as a statement, not a question, and is written clearly and concisely.

Writing a Thesis Statement (central idea) 

Once you craft your specific purpose statement, you are ready to write a thesis statement . Building upon the general purpose and specific purpose statement, your thesis statement elaborates by adding the main points you plan to cover in your speech. Most speeches have 2-3 main points. In your thesis statement, you will clearly and concisely list your main points. Continuing with the examples above, a thesis statement might look like this:

  • To inform incoming freshman students about the pros and cons of on-campus living, including social opportunities, access to academic resources, and the costs of living expenses.
  • To persuade incoming freshman students that they should live on campus for at least one year for social, academic, and economic benefits.

In each thesis statement above, the general purpose, the audience, and the speech goal are identified, followed by the main points that the speaker will cover in their speech. Notice that the main points are listed precisely, but clearly indicate what topics will be addressed in the body of the speech.

Analyzing Your Audience

Since we cannot assume we know everything about our audience, we must analyze them. Audience Analysis is gathering information about your audience to help create and deliver your speech. Information collected can help you better understand your audience’s needs, values, beliefs, and demographics.

By engaging in audience analysis, you’re taking an audience-centered approach. To be audience-centered is to shift your focus from yourself (what do I want to say about this topic?) to your audience (what do they want or need to hear about this topic?). If you don’t consider your audience, you might deliver a speech that isn’t relevant, useful, or ethical. To make the shift to an audience-centered approach, here are some questions to consider:

  • Why are they here? Are they here because they have to be (e.g., a mandatory meeting or a class session) or because they want to attend? Is your presentation the “main event,” or is something else bringing this audience together? Knowing the answer to this question can be extremely important in planning your speech to engage the audience directly.
  • What do they know already? It would benefit you to understand what your audience knows or if they have any experience with your topic. Based on their knowledge, you can tailor the language and information of your speech to suit them. For example, giving a speech on global warming will sound very different if you are speaking to middle schoolers versus college-age students. A speech on the power of a dating app will be received differently by a room full of married people versus single people.
  • Where are they coming from? Does every person in your audience share the same experiences? Absolutely not, because of their unique lenses to view the world. My siblings and I were raised by the same parents, under the same roof, but we are different (in age, gender, friends, hobbies, etc.) and had different experiences. So, although we have similarities, we all have different frames of reference (think back to chapter 1). Your goal is to write to a general audience so that you connect with all of the unique experiences.

Types of Audience Analysis

To answer the questions posed above, there are three different types of information you might want to collect. Depending on the speaking situation and the preparation time available, some of the following strategies will be better suited than others.

Demographic Analysis

You’ve probably heard the term “demographics” used before. A demographic analysis refers to the gathering of data from your audience relating to the population and groups within it. The U.S. Census Bureau is one of the best examples of a group known for collecting demographic data. Every ten years, census takers gather information about the population of the United States. They typically want to know the composition of each household – the number of dependents (children or adults), average annual income, ethnic backgrounds, the gender and ages of those in the household, and other similar information. This data is then compiled to provide the government and other agencies with an overall view of the individuals, families, and other collective groups that compose the population of the United States. This information might be used to determine whether to fund a community necessity or to project the country’s needs in future years. As you might imagine, gathering and compiling this tremendous amount of data is mind-boggling. Luckily, the data you’ll gather to prepare for a presentation is on a much smaller scale. Here are some examples of information you might collect about your audience:

  • Gender identities
  • Ethnic backgrounds
  • Group memberships
  • Educational levels
  • Political affiliations
  • Religious affiliations
  • Socioeconomic statuses

How might information collected in these areas assist you in understanding your audience? After all, you won’t use this information to determine county funding or to analyze the needs of a city. You will, however, be able to use the information you collect to better understand your audience – who they are, and what they care about. For instance, your analysis might uncover a religious or political preference that might make it difficult for them to believe you or take your recommended course of action. Knowing these details about your audience will help you choose your language wisely and craft your speech.

Psychological Analysis

While demographic characteristics focus on the “facts” about the people in your audience, psychological analysis can help explain the inner qualities. Knowing their attitudes, beliefs, and values will help you better understand the psychology of the audience.

Being aware of your audience’s attitudes about certain topics can help you craft the best possible speech. An attitude embodies the likes and/or dislikes of an individual. We have attitudes about everything. For example, you might like Nike more than Adidas, or you think MAC has the best mascara. People have strong attitudes for or against one thing or another, which impacts their perceptions and interpretation of information.

Members of the audience may believe that certain things exist or certain ideas are true. Beliefs are convictions or ways of thinking about the world around us that are reflected in statements that we believe are true or false. Your conviction about something is typically based on your cultural upbringing. You believe what you believe because of what you learned and were taught. Beliefs evolve as your frame of reference develops through experience. Beliefs are another important consideration for audience analysis and speech development.

For example, most public speaking professors know that students are hesitant to take a speech class and often disagree that it should be a graduation requirement. Therefore, public speaking professors craft their messages for the first day of class in very particular ways to generate audience buy-in. In this example, public speaking professors have analyzed their audience to craft the message in a way that will be meaningful for them. How will you craft your speeches to align with your audience’s beliefs?

Values are the underlying principles or standards of ideal behavior that we use to justify our beliefs and attitudes. Values are the core principles driving our behavior and are the hardest to change. If you dig into someone’s attitudes and beliefs enough, you will find core values. We look at the world through our own lens of what we judge to be good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral, and ethical or unethical. Analyzing audience values will help you to connect your content to the audience.

All three of these psychological factors are important. Although they seem similar, they work in slightly different ways. Here is an example to showcase the nuance of attitudes, beliefs, and values. For example, consider these different notions:

  • You like college (this is an attitude).
  • You believe that college is a way out of poverty (there is a belief).
  • You think everyone has the right to an education, regardless of attitude or cultural background (this is a value).

Situational Analysis

The final type of audience analysis is situational because it focuses on the specific speaking situation. Here are some basic questions you can answer to help you conduct situational analysis:

  • How many people will be in the audience?
  • What is my purpose for speaking to this audience?
  • What will my audience get out of my presentation?
  • What is their interest level in my subject?
  • What else might this audience have on their mind?
  • What is the configuration of the room we are in?
  • Is your audience comfortable?
  • Is there anything that can interfere with how my audience hears me?

Justin Trudeau speaks to a group

Figure 5.3: Justin Trudeau s peaks at the University of Waterloo 3

Conducting Audience Analyses

We’ve just examined several variables of audience analysis, but how do you find the information you need? You conduct an audience analysis. Here are three options: data collection, inference, and direct observation.

Data Collection

You can collect data about your audience’s demographic, psychological, or situational makeup through quantifiable and deductive means. Surveys, questionnaires, and interviews would give you abundant qualitative and quantitative information you can use to develop your presentation. While data collection isn’t always required before a presentation, some situations would benefit from having specific information. Will your speech benefit from having specific data on the audience? If so, which method will you use?

This is a trickier method of collecting information about your audience. Inference means making tentative, reasoned conclusions about your audience. It requires that you use your critical thinking skills to make an educated guess about the audience. Beware that making educated guesses could backfire, if not grounded in evidence. For example, if we know that 46% of the U.S. population owns an iPhone, we can confidently infer that some students in our class own an iPhone. The only way to make a conclusive statement about how many students own an iPhone in our class, however, would be to comprehensively collect the data through a survey, questionnaire, or interview of every single audience member.

Direct Observation

One way to learn about people is to observe them. As we mentioned earlier, if you are speaking to a room full of classmates, you likely have already observed some demographic information about your audience ahead of time. The same can be true for other settings or environments where you find yourself.

What methods can you use to analyze your audience, especially in a classroom? Observation is as it sounds – you watch and listen to the individuals in your audience over the course of several days or weeks. If you think about it, you already do this without being completely conscious of it. As you chat during a break, you may find out that many of the students in your class are closely following an upcoming election. They have already formed opinions about the candidates and have their reasons for choosing one over the other. Or, perhaps several students in your small group share that they are single parents struggling to balance school, work, and children. While these tidbits of information are normally acknowledged and stored away in the recesses of your brain, you are, in fact, finding information that could help you prepare for an upcoming speech to these students. This is direct observation; all you had to do was actively listen to the chit-chat and conversations going on around you.

Audience Agreement

Whether you are doing an informative or persuasive speech, you can be sure that audience members may agree, disagree, be neutral, or be apathetic. Here is what these situations might look like:

Audiences that Agree

Students often pick topics based on their notion of a friendly audience. If I knew that 95% of my audience believed that we should only drive hybrid cars, it would be much easier to construct a speech knowing there wouldn’t be much opposition. So why even do a speech when you have an audience that already favors your position? Let’s look at a couple of examples. Some people in our society go to a place of religious worship, whether a church, temple, or mosque. If you already have a belief system, why do you need to go? Similarly, recovered alcoholics go to Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, meetings. If you haven’t had a drink in ten years, why go to meetings? Maybe it is for personal growth, gaining knowledge, or attitude reinforcement. In each case, when you know that an audience already agrees with you, you can use the opportunity to reinforce their views.

Audiences that Disagree

When you know that an audience does not agree with your point of view, it is essential to capture their interest early. Disagreement doesn’t mean that you should not present your speech, or that you picked a bad topic. It just means that you need credible research, sound reasoning, and consideration for the type of language the audience will be receptive to hearing. It might be helpful to put your strongest argument first when you know your audience disagrees with you. It is also important that you don’t avoid topics that might be controversial because your audience disagrees. Controversial topics may prove to be the most interesting speaking opportunities and give you the chance to make a greater impact. In fact, the audience may be more receptive to a speaker who is open to acknowledging when there is validity in an opposing position while still arguing for a different point of view.

Audiences that are Neutral

Having a neutral audience is ideal. Suppose an audience has not yet made up their mind or taken a position on the topic. In that case, you can give the audience a balanced view of the topic in an informative speech, while in a persuasive speech, it is your chance to convince them. Whether you are doing an informative speech on TikTok, or a persuasive speech on the harmful effects of social media, a neutral audience most likely has not spent time critically thinking about their position. Your speech may be so compelling that some members of the audience may upload a video, or others may be motivated to delete the app.

Audiences that are Apathetic

The most difficult, or frustrating audience to speak to is the audience that doesn’t care; this is an apathetic audience. Your task is to make them care! For example, why would any group of 18 to 22-year-olds want to listen to a speech on the Social Security system? In most cases, they wouldn’t until you convince them that without reform, the Social Security program will run out of money before they are of age to collect. All of the money that you contribute from your paychecks goes to fund this system. Do you care yet? Maybe not, because you aren’t retiring for another 50 years! However, your parents or family members will retire earlier. If the system runs out of money, is it possible that you would find yourself in a position to care for your family members? You can make them care about your topic by showing them how important it is and how it can impact them. It is important to connect your topic to the audience explicitly. Sometimes public speakers ask personal questions to help show the connection between the topic and the audience. This is a useful attention-grabbing strategy and can be very effective. With apathetic audiences, however, you should also explicitly explain how the topic relates to them.

Presenting in an online environment

Chapter 11 discusses ways to deliver to a virtual environment. Like a physical speech knowing how to present information online is a necessary skill for the modern world. There are nine guidelines for a successful presentation suggested by Mary Abbajay in Forbes (2020), they are: get the lighting right, choose the right background, know the technology, play to the camera, get close (but not too close), stand up, do a sound check, plug into your modem, be yourself and have fun!

This chapter discussed how to effectively select a speech topic, identify speech purposes, craft specific purpose and thesis statements, as well as the importance of conducting an audience analysis when preparing and presenting your speech. Like a pop star crafting their live show at the Hollywood Bowl , you must keep your audience at the forefront of your mind during each step. Although you might not sing a solo during your speech or play the guitar, you can use demographic, psychological, and situational analyses to make adjustments where needed. The more you think about the audience throughout the entire process, the more likely they will listen, learn, and linger backstage for your autograph.

Reflection Questions

  • Have you ever engaged in audience analysis in your personal life without realizing it? For example, in a conversation with a friend or parent or on social media? What strategies did you use to make sure you were understood?
  • How have your attitudes, beliefs, and values informed some of your thoughts about people you meet?
  • Which methods of audience analysis will you use in this class? How will you know which one works best?
  • In what ways do the different types of audiences impact how you approach your entire presentation?

Audience Analysis

Audience-Centered

General Purpose

Specific Purpose

Thesis Statement

Introduction to Public Speaking Copyright © by Jamie C. Votraw, M.A.; Katharine O'Connor, Ph.D.; and William F. Kelvin, Ph.D.. All Rights Reserved.

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  3. What is a thesis statement?

  4. "Different Approaches to Thesis Statements in 'To What Extent Do You Agree or Disagree' Essays"

  5. ESSAY

  6. Examples of 5 Types of Thesis Statement

COMMENTS

  1. PDF Thesis Statements Defining, Developing, and Evaluating

    the paper should refer back to, further explain, and elucidate your thesis statement. • Are the product of much drafting and much analysis: You will likely not write a good thesis statement in ...

  2. Developing a Thesis Statement

    A thesis statement . . . Makes an argumentative assertion about a topic; it states the conclusions that you have reached about your topic. Makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of your paper. Is focused and specific enough to be "proven" within the boundaries of your paper. Is generally located near the end ...

  3. Thesis Statements

    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 ...

  4. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    Step 2: Write your initial answer. After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the research process and writing process. The internet has had more of a positive than a negative effect on education.

  5. COM 5: Thesis Statements

    Dynamic PDF: Thesis Statements The thesis statement is perhaps the most crucial part of your essay because it presents the main idea or main argument of the piece of writing. In academic essays, your thesis statement is often located in the introductory paragraph; however, this is not always the case. Consider the rhetorical situation and assignment guidelines to […]

  6. Academic Guides: Writing a Paper: 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.

  7. 1.4: Writing Thesis Statements

    Working Thesis Statements. A strong thesis statement must have the following qualities: It must be arguable: A thesis statement must state a point of view or judgment about a topic. An established fact is not considered arguable. It must be supportable: The thesis statement must contain a point of view that can be supported with evidence ...

  8. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    Hint: a great many clear and engaging thesis statements contain words like because, since, so, although, unless, and however. 4. A strong thesis statement is specific. A thesis statement should show exactly what your paper will be about, and will help you keep your paper to a manageable topic.

  9. Thesis

    Thesis. Your thesis is the central claim in your essay—your main insight or idea about your source or topic. Your thesis should appear early in an academic essay, followed by a logically constructed argument that supports this central claim. A strong thesis is arguable, which means a thoughtful reader could disagree with it and therefore ...

  10. 2.5 Writing Thesis Statements

    Working Thesis Statements. A strong thesis statement must have the following qualities: It must be arguable. A thesis statement must state a point of view or judgment about a topic. An established fact is not considered arguable. It must be supportable. The thesis statement must contain a point of view that can be supported with evidence ...

  11. The Writing Center

    Keep in mind that thesis statements vary depending on the purpose of the assignment (or type of essay), and also by discipline. Here are a few notes on the thesis statements and the purpose of writing in a few different disciplines. 2. English: "A thesis is an interpretive argument about a text or an aspect of a text. An interpretive argument ...

  12. Identifying Thesis Statements, Claims, and Evidence

    Identifying the Thesis Statement. Paragraph 2 ends with this thesis statement: "People's prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning." It is a thesis statement for three reasons: It is the article's main argument. It is not a fact.

  13. Effective Thesis Statements

    What is a Thesis Statement? A thesis statement tells a reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion. Such a statement is also called an "argument," a "main idea," or a "controlling idea.". A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how ...

  14. Thesis Statements

    Beginning writers, however, should avoid the implied thesis unless certain of the audience. Almost every professor will expect to see a clearly discernible thesis sentence in the introduction. Thesis statements vary based on the rhetorical strategy of the essay. Thesis statements typically share the following characteristics: presents the main idea

  15. Developing A Thesis

    A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay. Steps in Constructing a Thesis. First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication.

  16. Positing a Thesis Statement and Composing a Title

    For more advice on How to Write a Thesis Statement, consider the following from The Purdue Online Writing Lab: [3] Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement. Determine what kind of paper you are writing. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.

  17. 7.1 Determine What Kind of Thesis You Need

    7.1 Determine What Kind of Thesis You Need. You must have heard how important a thesis statement is. If someone says writing an introduction is the most difficult part of writing, the person may very well feel that way because of the thesis statement. Making a good thesis is a strong indicator of the quality of an essay.

  18. Writing Body Paragraphs

    Key Takeaways. Your body paragraphs should closely follow the path set forth by your thesis statement. Strong body paragraphs contain evidence that supports your thesis. Primary support comprises the most important points you use to support your thesis. Strong primary support is specific, detailed, and relevant to the thesis.

  19. Constructing the Thesis and Argument—From the Ground Up

    A thesis statement that stops at the first story isn't usually considered a thesis. A two-story thesis is usually considered competent, though some two-story theses are more intriguing and ambitious than others. A thoughtfully crafted and well informed three-story thesis puts the author on a smooth path toward an excellent paper.

  20. College Composition Study Guide Flashcards

    the authors purpose or type of essay readers/students employ critical thinking to their academic reading which allows them to: question the writers assumptions, draw a conclusion, form opinions, test ideas, and weigh arguments.

  21. 5 Chapter 5: Selecting a Topic and Adapting to the Audience

    After reading this chapter, you should be able to: Select an appropriate and exciting speech topic. Revise and narrow your topic. Determine the general purpose. Develop specific purpose and thesis statements. Distinguish the goals of informative and persuasive speaking. Craft a clear, concise thesis statement. Define audience analysis.

  22. ENG 1403 Research and Composition

    The development of an essay is often referred to as the true _____ of writing. Focusing on the __________ of your essay will ensure your reader moves "naturally" through your essay and that all points are clearly connected to the thesis. When writing your conclusion, you should... end with a final thought that leaves the reader with a strong ...