Thesis Development

In academic writing, establishing a clear focus and an interesting thesis is one of the most important tasks you can accomplish. A thesis is a statement of opinion; it is a main idea, argument, or theme that unifies a piece of writing.  It tells your reader what point you are going to make about your topic, or what stand you are going to take. If a topic is too broad, it will be difficult to generate a thesis with focused ideas and examples. If a topic is too narrow, it will be difficult to find enough material to support a thesis. 

A good thesis statement can be:

A strong, thought-provoking, or controversial statement (argument): 

Example: Bilingual education has not fulfilled its early promise.

A call to action: 

Example:  All inner-city schools should set up bilingual programs.

A question that will be answered in the essay: 

Example: What can bilingual education accomplish for a child?  It can lead to academic and personal   development.

A preview or reflection of the structure of the essay:

Example: Bilingual education suffers from two main problems: a shortage of trained teachers and a lack of   parental involvement.

Modifying your thesis: Don’t be afraid to modify your thesis as your essay develops. This is quite common, since our research can often lead to outcomes and opinions quite different from those we had anticipated.  Many writers begin with a tentative “working” thesis and then find that they come to a new conclusion at the end of the first draft. 

A good working thesis:

  • Narrows your topic to a single main idea that you want to communicate.
  • Asserts your position clearly and firmly in a sentence (or two) that makes a claim about your topic.
  • States not simply fact, but an opinion.
  • Makes a generalization that can be supported by details, facts, and examples within the assignment guidelines.
  • Stimulates curiosity and interest in readers, and prompts them to read on and find out more.

The key is to be flexible with your working thesis: it is easier to change your thesis statement to fit the evidence than to find new evidence to fit a thesis that isn’t working, or isn’t supported by evidence.  No matter what, when your essay is complete, your thesis should clearly articulate the main idea of your essay and should be supported with relevant facts, details, research, etc.  Everything within your essay should be “covered” by your thesis—nothing should be off-topic.

Location of your thesis: In a composition class (and other similar classes in the humanities), your thesis should be near the beginning of your essay—preferably at or near the end of your introduction paragraph.  View your thesis as a sort of signpost—both for you as you write your draft and, later, for your readers.  A clearly stated thesis prepares your readers well for the rest of your essay.

Do we always need a thesis? Not always—at least, perhaps not in the traditional sense.  In descriptive, narrative, or informative writing, the thesis may be implied, and not explicitly stated.  But in general, a thesis statement is part of what is required in academic writing.  You should always ask if in doubt.  And, it’s a good idea—before you get too far into your essay—to discuss your thesis with your instructor.  He or she may be able to help guide the development of your thesis so that your essay comes together as smoothly as possible.