What Is a Thesis Statement?
Every paper you write—expository, analytical, argumentative—should have a main point or central message. Your thesis statement states that main point. (If you are writing an argumentative paper, check out my blog on claims.)
Components of a Good Thesis Statement
- Does not use language such as “I am going to show you,” “This paper is about,” “In this paper”…etc.
- Avoids vague language
- Gives clear direction for the paper
Let’s break each of those components down.
If you would rather learn how to write the career summary through watching a video tutorial, check out my YouTube tutorial on this topic.
1. Does not use inappropriate phrases
Do not use:
x I am going to show you
x This paper is about
x In this paper
Writing your thesis statement with one of these phrases is a tell-tale sign for weak writing.
Plus, it is a bit offensive. Yes, offensive.
- I will show/tell you. Oh, you are going to show me? I thought your mom was. If you didn’t tell me, I would have no idea you were the author. And this paper is actually going to show/tell me something? Cool, I thought you had written it without a point.
- In this paper. Oh, in this actual paper? I thought you were telling me the main idea for a different paper.
See offensive. You have insulted your readers’ intelligence when you write like that.
If I had a dollar every time a student began with “I will show you” or “In this paper, I will tell you” and all such similar phrases, I would not need to write this blog and run Beacon Point.
Just kidding . . . I only had about 1,500 students throughout my teaching career, but hey, I would take a free $900 anytime.
Yes, you did the math correctly: only about 600 students (40%) wrote a thesis statement without those tiresome, boring phrases before I taught them not to.
2. Avoids vague language
Yes, you do not want to insult your readers’ intelligence.
However, you don’t want to assume they know your intended meaning. Just think how sometimes poetry can annoy you because you have no idea what the author actually intended.
Hint: “The Road Less Traveled” is NOT about choosing the unbeaten path in life and not conforming.
And lest I have offended you poetry lovers, I must state I can appreciate the beauty of poetry. It’s just not my favorite.
So leave technical jargon and flowery language out of your thesis statement. It works in poetry, but readers of your essay do not want to guess what you’re talking about.
3. Gives clear direction for the paper
Along with avoiding vague words, you must also express a clear, specific, narrowed idea. In other words, do not give a broad statement. This narrowed idea provides focus and direction for your paper.
Example of a vague, broad thesis: There are serious problems with education.
This thesis statement doesn’t have a narrowed, specific focus. What problems?
- Because students display learning differently, these one size fits all standardized tests aren’t accurate.
- Passing students on to the next grade when they aren’t ready causes effective teachers to struggle with teaching students who are below the rest of the class.
- When administrators cater to government restrictions or parents’ demands, teachers’ hands are often tied, making them less effective.
The 5 paragraph essay
For those of you required to follow the standard five paragraph essay, your teacher may expect you to outline the sub-topic for each of your body paragraphs. (I did when I taught this structure to beginning or junior high writers.)
Example #1: The Spanish Inquisition, which brought terror to the Iberian peninsula, began as a quest to convert the heathens, but it had more materialistic, racial, and political motives.
This thesis states the topic for each paragraph:
- the materialistic motives
- the racial motives
- the political motives
Example #2: The most serious problems with education today are the standardized tests, students being passed on despite readiness, and catering to government restrictions and parents demands.
This is a combination of the three thesis statements in the section on being specific.
A more advanced essay will just focus on one sub-point in depth. However, this works for a standard five paragraph essay written in junior high, and perhaps, even in high school.
Examples of Analytical Thesis Statements
O’Connor illustrates the duality of goodness and the hypocrisy in the saving grace through the use of characterization and plot development.
(Clear focus: analyze how the author conveys that message through characterization and plot)
“In a Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens shows the process by which a wasted life can be redeemed. Sidney Carton, through his love for Lucie Manette, is transformed from a hopeless, bitter man into a hero whose life and death have meaning” ( Writing with Style).
(Clear focus: analyze how the author showed that message through the love Sidney had for Lucie)
“An analysis of the college admission process reveals challenges facing counselors: accepting students with high test scores or students with strong extracurricular backgrounds” (Purdue OWL).
(Clear focus: analyze the college admission process and how this shows that particular challenge)
Mitt Romney criticized President Obama’s presidency and built up his own political experiences. His main purpose in this speech was to sway voters away from Obama through the usage of ethos, Ad Hominem attacks, and anaphora.
(Clear Focus: analyze how Mitt Romney used 3 specific rhetorical devices to meet his purpose)
Examples of Expository Thesis Statements
In an effort to ground my ethical criticism–so as to not make it too abstract and simplistic as to say whatever does not offend or grate my personal standards–I have created five criteria for ethical consideration: (1)contains a message intended to enrich societal values and life, (2) presents all actions with subsequent consequences, (3) demonstrates role-models or examples readers can follow and learn from, (4) advocates the beauty and wonder of life, and (5) portrays each individual passage as distinct and valuable parts of the whole.
(Clear Focus: inform reader of the writer’s five criteria when determining if a literary work is ethical or not)
“The life of the typical college student is characterized by time spent studying, attending class, and socializing with peers”(Purdue OWL).
(Clear Focus: explain how students spend time studying, attending class, and socializing)
Compare & contrast essay
“Although both chefs and cooks can prepare fine meals, chefs differ from cooks in education, commitment, and artistry” ( Kean University).
“A first white water rafting experience can challenge the body and spirit and transform an adolescent into an adult”(Kean University).
Now that you have a great thesis statement, you will want to ensure your entire introduction is strong. Check out my blog on how to write an effective introductory paragraph.