Write a Better Thesis Statement in Three Steps

Whether you write it first or last, a strong thesis statement is a crucial piece of a top-quality paper. It clarifies exactly what you’re writing about and lays the foundation for your argument. Here’s how to improve your thesis statement in three steps.

When you’re done with your paper, take a moment to run it through an online grammar check like the one right here on Citation Machine.

Step 1: Identify Your Purpose

There are three main paper types: argumentative, expository, and analytical. There are also paper subtypes, such as the persuasive essay (which is a type of argumentative writing) or the reflective essay (which is an analytical paper). However, every essay can be sorted into one of these three categories.

The type of paper you’re writing will determine how you write your thesis statement. In an argumentative paper, the thesis statement is also called the claim, because it states a point that you’re trying to make. An analytical paper’s thesis statement is typically called just that: it’s an idea that you’re suggesting based on existing materials. Finally, an expository paper contains a topic sentence. This is because you are writing about a specific area or object, and not just an idea.

Claim:

  • Argumentative
  • Persuasive
  • Debatable point
  • Terminology may need to be defined to clarify the argument

Thesis Statement:

  • Proposes a new idea
  • Reflects on learning
  • “Digs deep” into a topic
  • Involves some theoretical thinking

Topic Sentence

  • Indicates a specific topic discussed
  • Is limited to a specific scope of study
  • Is rarely readily debatable

These three types of thesis statement and their varying names lead you to your next step: learning.

Step 2: Research

It can be tempting to latch onto an intriguing thesis statement and run with it, looking for evidence that supports your claim or topic sentence. However, it’s better to do some thorough research before hanging your hat on a thesis statement. Why?

  • You may find your opinion changes with research
  • There may not be much trustworthy information to support your ideas
  • The specific focus of your paper may change once you’ve gathered evidence from reliable sources

Once you have a general idea of what you’re going to write about, and what type of paper you’re writing, do your research. This may be based on a professor’s assignment (What social, political, or technological development most contributed to the rise of the European feudal system?), or it may be based on your own areas of interest (Choose an aspect of modern public policy to explain). Get as much information as you can, and start loosely organizing it by comparing and contrasting facts. This will also help you when it’s time to create your works cited page or annotated bibliography.

Once you have a strong body of information, see if your initial idea for a thesis statement still works.

Step 3: Be Specific

The golden rule of a thesis statement is be concise. The thesis statement is not the place to add evidence, reasoning, or specifics. It’s the simplest possible phrase you can think of to present your idea. The hook (beginning introduction) of your paper can be wild, but the thesis statement should be short and sharp. Leave no room for confusion.

  • A good example of a strong claim is: “Poaching damages local ecosystems.”
  • A weak example of a claim is: “Poaching damages ecosystems and is illegal, too.”

Illegality is a tangent. It shouldn’t be part of the thesis statement because it blurs the focus of the paper.

  • A strong analytical thesis statement for an English paper may read: “Keats’ poems represent the unrealistic ideology of the Romantic movement.”
  • A weaker analytic thesis statement might read: “Keats was a Romantic poem, and his poems showed impossible ideas, just like other Romantic era writers, like Brontë.”

Mentioning other poets and lengthening the thesis statement makes it unclear which poet is the focus of the paper, and why.

  • A strong topic sentence for a science paper could be: “True hibernation differs from partial hibernation in many ways.”
  • The weaker sentence could say: “Hibernation isn’t always sleeping a whole winter, because there are different ways different animals hibernate.”

The second sentence here makes it unclear whether the focus is on how different animals hibernate, or on hibernation itself.

Check Yourself

If you’ve done it right, your thesis statement will “pop” when you’re done with your paper. It will be short and sweet, clearly stating your main focus. Each paragraph of your paper will relate back to it clearly. And if a reader were asked what the paper was about, he or she should answer in a way that clearly reflects the thesis statement.

If you can check these off, you’re ready to sharpen your works cited page and make sure your evidence fulfills your awesome thesis statement!