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Writing Tips and Tricks : Creating Your Thesis

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.

Make 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.

Identifies the relationships between the pieces of evidence that you are using to support your argument.

Content from this section originally by the University of Wisconsin - Madison's guide "Writing process and structure" by the Writing Center.

Characteristics Good Thesis Statements

Here are some characteristics of good thesis statements, with samples of good and poor ones. Note that the better examples substitute specific argumentative points for sweeping general statements; they indicate a theoretical basis and promise substantial support.

It makes a definite and limited assertion that needs to be explained and supported by further discussion

Non-specific example

Shakespeare was the world's greatest playwright.

Focused example

The success of the last scene in Midsummer Night's Dream comes from subtle linguistic and theatrical references to Elizabeth's position as queen.

It indicates the methodology of your argument

Emotional, vague example

This essay will show that the North American Free Trade Agreement was a disaster for the Canadian furniture industry

Worth attention example

Neither neo-protectionism nor post-industrial theory explains the steep reversal of fortune for the Canadian furniture industry in the period 1988-1994. Data of productivity, profits, and employment, however, can be closely correlated with provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement that took effect in the same period. 

It shows awareness of difficulties and disagreements

Sweeping, vague example

Having an official policy on euthanasia just causes problems, as the Dutch example shows.

Suitable complex example

Dutch laws on euthanasia have been rightly praised for their attention to the principles of self-determination. Recent cases, however, show that they have not been able to deal adequately with issues involving technological intervention of unconscious patients. Hamarckian strategies can solve at least the question of assignation of rights. 

Content from this section originally by the University of Toronto's "Using Thesis Statements" written by Margaret Procter, Writing Support. 

Developing a Thesis Statement

Developing a Thesis Statement

The process of developing a thesis statement can be broken down into four steps:

Step 1: Identify a topic

Step 2: Derive a main point from the topic

Step 3: Compose a draft thesis statement

Step 4: Refine and polish the thesis

Content from this section originally by the University of Wisconsin - Madison's guide "Writing process and structure" by the Writing Center.

Developing a Thesis Statement 2

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

Consider what your assignment asks you to do

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. 

Inform yourself about your topic

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. The more material or knowledge you have, the more possibilities will be available for a strong argument

Focus on one aspect of your topic

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 fulfill the assignment requirements

Ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts

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 adolescents and women") or that simply are not important (i.e. "why I like ice cream").

Note: 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

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 favour 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. 

Compose a purpose statement

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 along. 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

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. 

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 below may help you develop a temporary or "working" thesis statement.

Purpose statement

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



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.

Main idea

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

List ideas

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

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. 

As you write, you may discover evidence that does not fit your 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. You may have to revise your thesis to match the evidence and insights that you want to discuss. 

Refine and Polish the Thesis Statement

To get 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

The bottom line

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

  1. Context matters. Think about your course materials and lectures. Try to relate your thesis to the ideas your instructor is discussing.
  2. As you go through the process describe 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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 assignment.

Taking a Stance

Don't confuse your topic with your thesis. The assignment topic outlines the general scope of your project. Your thesis focuses your discussion of that topic. A thesis is a statement that takes a position or offers an interpretation of the subject. It is not simply a description or a statement of fact. 

Content from this section originally by Queen's University's "Developing a thesis statement."

Some Myths About Thesis Statements

Myth #1: Every paper requires one

  • Assignments that ask you to write a personal response or to explore a subject don't want you 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.

Myth #2: 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. Very commonly in applied health sciences your thesis statement should appear very early on in your paper / article. This is because you need to be specific when writing for the applied health science and helps to structure your paper.

Myth #3: 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.

Myth #4: 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. Some essay projects need to explore the question in depth without being locked in before they can provide even a tentative answer.

Myth #5: 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 order.

Content from this section originally by the University of Toronto's "Using Thesis Statements" written by Margaret Procter, Writing Support.

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Michener Institute of Education at UHN, 2018.