What Is A Thesis Statement?
In short, your thesis is your ‘point’–what you’re trying to argue.
To understand the definition of a thesis statement, you have to first understand its function. While there’s more to it that we will get to below, a thesis functions as a kind of summary of your argument–your (clear) position on a (relevant) topic.
What are some examples of thesis statements?
Note that some of these are ‘better’ than others (e.g., more precise, more compelling, etc.) The point is to demonstrate the kinds of statements that could be strengthened to create quality thesis statements.
Climate change isn’t a future possibility but a current reality and as a planet, we must urgently make adjustments.
Social media has done more harm than good.
The rich should pay more taxes than the poor.
Given the state of both our country and the world itself, Wendell Berry is America’s most important living essayist.
A thesis statement, then, is what you’re trying to prove to your audience—what you’re trying to get them to understand, and the point of the media you’re creating is to persuade your audience to accept that thesis as true, or valid.
Sometimes when you’re arguing with someone, you may be throwing out points and facts that are valid, but disorganized. If you and a friend are debating which movie to see, and you are pointing out all the reasons to see the movie you favor (it’s got great special effects, it has a certain actor or actress, the cinematography is amazing, etc.–these are all of your supporting details. But your thesis is a broader message—we should go see this particular movie.
How To Write A Thesis Statement
Step 1: Brainstorm topics
Let’s say that your class focuses on 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:
Step 2: Brainstorm topics with the given topic
This fragment isn’t a thesis statement. Instead, it simply indicates a general subject. Further, your reader doesn’t know what you want to say about sugar consumption.
Step 3: Research your topic
The goal of research is to identify relevant knowledge on your topic so that you can narrow your topic. This occurs by, in part, learning more about your topic. If you’re researching global warming, you may become more interested in the development of solar energy.
Sources of research: research journal articles, personal accounts/testimonies, books, social media posts
See also How To Cite A Tweet
Step 4: 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 approach to your thesis to ‘Reducing sugar consumption by elementary school children.’
This fragment–and budding thesis statement–not only announces your subject, but it focuses on one segment of the population: elementary school children.
It also 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.
Another effect of research could be that you change your topic. You may start researching pollution and learning how different governments approach this issue differently and become more interested in types of government. Whatever the case, at this point you need a a narrow topic that you begin to take a position on.
Or getting back to our topic of ‘reducing sugar,’ while doing research we may become more interested in Diabetes and your research takes you in that direction, assuming you have enough time to make this kind of adjustment (and flexibility within the assignment), this is the natural effect of research in the pre-writing process.
Step 5: 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. In our ‘sugar is bad’ topic, you might revise your thesis statement to ‘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.
As you clarify your argument, you can clarify your language/diction in pursuit. You might 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.
Step 6: Revise And Strengthen Thesis
So then, one step to writing a clear thesis might be to, then, make an assertion based on clearly stated support. Then, you can revise your thesis statement again:
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.
How To Make A Better Thesis Statement
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. That said, it’s wordy–lacks precision and any kind of real solution.
The thesis, ‘Sugar is harmful to the health of children, and has no place in schools‘ is less wordy and stronger in its position, but still may not appeal to the intended audience (i.e., parents, school leaders, etc.) This thesis is essentially suggesting a complete ban on sugar in schools. This is compelling but unlikely.
So then, a revised thesis statement might be, ‘Reducing sugar in schools could lead to long-term health benefits for students.’ This, however, is a bit obvious and thought important, and barely passes the, ‘So what?’ test?
It’s about now that the writer might realize that the topic (nutrition for children) is important, but without significant research, it may be difficult to write a quality thesis statement with these as topics. But what about the principle that schools should make important decisions about the nutrition of students, leading to the question, ‘What should schools ‘do’ for children? What are the limits? are the limitations based on school and teacher capacity, or are they more ethical and based on social norms and the limits therein? That could lead to a thesis statement like, ‘Parents and schools should work more closely together to support the complex needs of children.’
That may not be very debatable, but it sets the writer up to make a powerful argument about how this might occur.