Thesis Statement

    There's this diner over in Newport News, the Blue Star. They have all these neon signs, which are really cool. And they're open most all of the time. I like eggs. I think they might serve them there. The House of Eggs serves eggs 24 hours a day--breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But it doesn't have all the chrome like the diner. My sink has lots of chrome. But my sink is dirty. And it doesn't have eggs. A platypus is the only mammal that lays eggs. But this is a digression; rather, the Blue Star is in such a pretty part of town. The House of Eggs is on Military Highway. I'm really hungry. You? 

    What are we talking about? It's hard to tell. The reason? We have no thesis (or main idea). This opening paragraph, disjointed as it is, could lead into a discussion of values and aesthetics, such as what constitutes the ideal diner or how much chrome is pleasurable. It could also become an evaluation, or perhaps a comparison and contrast essay. It could even be an argument: an argument to go to the Blue Star Diner for a late-night snack. Without a thesis we'll never know. Hence, we can see that a thesis is of some valuable use, if not entirely necessary. 

    A thesis statement is a sentence, two sentences, or a number of sentences, which provides a focus for an essay. It will generally be found within the closing lines of the first paragraph of an essay, but it can also occur in the second paragraph or even on a later page. Its primary purpose is to convey the author's purpose and attitude. 

    Truly effective thesis statements are specific. For example, what does "Gun control is essential" do as a thesis? It's so broad that the reader has no idea what to expect in the rest of the paper. Also, it offers no sense of the author's angle; there are many reasons why gun control could be essential. The reader needs to know which one (s) the author espouses. Strive to be specific when developing your thesis statements. Also, a thesis statement should be NARROW enough to be proved within the confines of whatever length you intend to make your essay. For example, a thesis of a 3-page paper and a 20-page paper are going be different. The 3-pager will have to be much narrower. 

    Whatever you call it, a thesis statement may take any number of forms; it may, in fact, be carried over through an entire paragraph or developed over a number of pages, but you must consider the over-all length of your essay. If you are writing a fifty page paper you might have room to write a three page introduction that conveys a sense of your thesis; however, if you are only writing a three or four page essay it will be very important to keep your introduction concise and well within the first or second paragraph. 

    Further, it may not always be useful to think of "Thesis Statements" as the name for that controlling statement. It might imply an amount of weight that can make it more difficult to compose the essay. Perhaps a better way to consider your "thesis statement" would be as an "introductory statement" or a "topic sentence" (or sentences). In any case, there are certain things it must do and, generally, it is necessary for something approximating a thesis statement to occur. 

    But consider: all effective writing has some sort of controlling idea, but not all writing has an explicit thesis. For example, memoirs and reflection papers will have some sort of main point, but that main point may not necessarily be stated. Whether or not you state the thesis depends upon what type of writing you're doing. 

    The thesis serves three functions:

    • The thesis narrows the topic to a single idea that you want readers to gain from your paper.
    • The thesis names the topic and asserts something about it, conveying your purpose, your opinion, and your attitude. Make sure your thesis does more than simply state an opinion or generalization; it should introduce elements that offer an explanation of your beliefs.
    • The thesis often (but not always) provides a concise preview of how you will arrange your ideas in the essay. Thesis and organization can go hand-in-hand from the beginning. You can use your thesis to set up the entire paper.

    Also, a thesis statement shouldn't be a FACT. What are you proving, if it's already widely accepted? Further, your thesis statement should not say, "My paper is about. . .", as it is already abundantly clear that your paper is about a particular topic if, in fact, the paper is written. The writing says that it is itself—you do not need to tell us that your essay is about what it already tells us. 

    Some Questions For When You Consider Your Thesis

    • Does your thesis do more than just provide a fact?
    • Does your thesis say something new, innovative, or interesting?
    • Where have you located your thesis? Why?
    • Is your thesis appropriate to the length of your essay?
    • Could you be more explicit or specific?
    • Are you using broad generalizations to cover for a lack of knowledge?

Some of the ideas on this page were adapted from the Little, Brown Handbook, Sixth Edition