Writing Thesis Statements

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Thesis statements are the “backbone” of your writing. They tell the reader exactly what you will be writing about. They should be focused and concise. They should also be easy to identify. Here are some quick tips for effective thesis statements:

WHO
You are the “who” in your thesis statement. Your thesis statement should reveal what you are arguing for and detail your position on your topic. They do not merely present a fact or provide a universal statement; instead, they demonstrate the specific angle you are taking on an issue:

  • Good: This paper will discuss why dogs are good pets.

This example doesn’t provide the reader with any insight into why the writer is arguing what she is arguing, or why this topic matters.

  •  Better: Dogs make excellent pets because they are loyal and loving, and can also offer protection to their owners.

This revised version offers the reader some insight into what the writer is specifically arguing, and what her position is on the topic. Instead of giving a general fact, the reader now has an idea of the argument that the writer is making about why dogs are good pets.

WHAT

Thesis statements are generally one to two sentences. They shouldn’t be longer than two sentences because they are meant to be direct and concise. Thesis statements tell the reader exactly what the main idea of your paper is and demonstrate your position on this idea: 

  • Good: Although some people like to go on long car trips each time they travel, I am not one of them. I think long car trips are boring and a waste of time. Personally, I prefer to fly. Flying is a better way of traveling because you get to your destination quicker. When you spend less time getting to your destination and more time at your destination, you have more time to explore your destination.

This example includes the main point and author’s position on the topic; however, it also includes a lot of extra information. The reader might get confused or distracted by all of this unnecessary information. This thesis should be revised to be more direct and to the point.

  •  Better: Flying is superior to driving when traveling because you arrive at your destination quicker, allowing you more time to explore and enjoy.

This edited version still makes the same point, yet it eliminates a lot of the extra information. This way, readers can get a clear, simple snapshot of the main point and your argument about it.

WHERE

Thesis statements are found in the introduction of your paper. The rule of thumb is that they are the last sentence of your introduction. Generally, introductions are one paragraph long. However, as the amount of writing you do increases, your introduction might also increase in length. Nevertheless, your thesis statement is typically found at the end of your introduction.

  • Good: Do you like drinking tea? Many people enjoy drinking tea daily. Afternoon tea has become synonymous with Great Britain, and many people identify teatime as a British custom. Drinking tea has many health benefits, including detoxifying, restoring health, giving you a general energy boost, and even calming your nerves. Drinking tea is also an ancient Chinese art. There is an entire culture built around drinking tea in China. Millions of people all over the world enjoy drinking tea each day, but it is not just for fun. There are concrete reasons why people drink tea.

Can you find the thesis statement in this paragraph? It is muddled somewhere in the middle, and so the main point of the paper is lost, as well as the argument that the writer is trying to make.

  • Better: Do you like drinking tea? Many people enjoy drinking tea daily. Afternoon tea has become synonymous with Great Britain, and many people identify teatime as a British custom. Drinking tea is also an ancient Chinese art. There is an entire culture built around drinking tea in China. Millions of people all over the world enjoy drinking tea each day, but it is not just for fun. There are concrete reasons why people drink tea. Drinking tea has many health benefits, including detoxifying, restoring health, giving you a general energy boost, and even calming your nerves.

By moving the thesis statement from the middle of the paragraph to the end, the reader now has a clear idea of what to expect in the upcoming paper. The main point is highlighted, and the argument is presented in a concise manner.

WHY

Because writing is a form of communication, it is important that the message you are trying to make is effectively delivered to your audience. One way of ensuring that this occurs is by directly stating what it is you want them to know. Thesis statements do exactly that: they inform the reader of what your message is and why it is important in a very direct and apparent manner. In other words, they take the guesswork out of reading a paper and help the audience see very clearly what the paper is about.

  • Good: With so many options for attending college, it can be hard to decide which college to go to. Open enrollment has increased accessibility to universities across the United States. For example, New Mexico State University attracts students from all over the state of New Mexico, but also from other states and even other countries. Additionally, there are many people who start off in community colleges. Community colleges are a good option because they are cheaper than regular four-year universities. Finally, there are still many others who don’t go to college at all and make successful careers for themselves without a college education. With so many options it can be hard to know what to do.

If this was the introduction paragraph of a paper, what do you think this student is arguing for? Are they arguing for going to NMSU? To a community college? Or for not going to college at all?

  • Better: With so many options for attending college, it can be hard to decide which college to go to. Open enrollment has increased accessibility to universities across the United States. For example, New Mexico State University attracts students from all over the state of New Mexico, but also from other states and even other countries. Additionally, there are many people who start off in community colleges. Community colleges are a good option because they are cheaper than regular four-year universities. Finally, there are still many others who don’t go to college at all and make successful careers for themselves without a college education. With so many options it can be hard to know what to do. When deciding whether or not to go to college, it is important to research all of your options and consider accessibility, cost effectiveness, and even whether or not college is right for you.

This edited example includes a thesis statement that tells us the main point of the paper and how the writer will argue that point. This makes it much easier to know what to expect in the upcoming paper, and to follow along with the writer’s ideas.

HOW

“How” is the most important part of thesis writing, but also the hardest. The best thing to remember when thinking about writing a thesis statement is that revision is key. Hopefully the above examples give you an idea about how you can revise and improve your thesis statements. Additionally, it is important to remember that as you write, your ideas and opinions might change. Always go back to your thesis statement and make sure that your thesis statement matches your ideas, and revise if necessary. Remember, your thesis statement needs to include your main idea and what you will be telling the reader about your main idea. Here are some questions to help you with revising your thesis statements:

  • Is your claim too general?
    • Original: Horror films are the best kinds of movies.
    • Revised: Wes Craven’s horror films are exemplary of the genre, and demonstrate how horror films combine thrilling music, dark cinematography, and surprising plot elements.
  • Are there any ideas that need clarification?
    • Original: The fractional grading system is a joke.
    • Revised: Fractional grading hurts students rather than helps them because a student’s GPA might drop even if she earns an A, and there are financial aid consequences for lower grades.
  • Can you replace any vague words such as “interesting,” “difficult,” “exciting,” with more concrete language?
    • Original: It is interesting to see how many college students find their first year on campus an exciting and wonderful time.
    • Revised: By exploring the habits of first year New Mexico State University students, it becomes apparent that the university experience is a time of growth and change when many new memories are made.
  • Can you replace any nonspecific words such as, “people,” “things,” “everybody,” “society,” “culture,” with more specific language?
    • Original: Today’s society values each individual’s culture, so everybody should be appreciated and respected.
    • Revised: New Mexico is a state where U.S., Hispanic, and Native American cultures all come in to contact, so it is imperative that tolerance is taught and promoted in the educational system.
  • Can you replace any linking verbs with action verbs?
    • Original: New Mexico State University students are given many on-campus opportunities.
    • Revised: New Mexico State University is home to a number of clubs, fraternities, sororities, and cultural events, resulting in many opportunities for students to network and socialize.

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