The thesis is your answer to the critical question your essay poses; it is a central claim you intend to prove or demonstrate.
A Thesis Structures an Essay
The structure of a good college essay depends entirely on its thesis statement. A well-structured essay presents an explicit thesis early on, usually at the end of the Introduction. The thesis clearly states the essay’s main point and forecasts the essay’s structure. Every part of the essay helps support and develop the thesis.
|Engages the reader’s interest in the critical question the thesis will address.||Each paragraph develops and supports a single point that helps confirm the thesis.||Restates the essay’s thesis and summarizes its argument.|
In a well-structured essay, a reader could read just your thesis and the topic sentences of each body paragraph and have a perfectly comprehensible outline of your essay.
A Thesis Forecasts an Essay’s Argument
The thesis briefly and explicitly states your essay’s entire argument. It does not simply hint at the essay’s topic or subject matter.
|Bad Examples||Good Example|
| This essay concerns the price of tea in China.
The price of tea in China changes a lot.
|Although the fluctuations of tea prices in China might seem arbitrary, a close analysis will demonstrate that they arise from three tightly interrelated factors: the supply of tea, the demand for tea, and the rate of inflation.|
The thesis tells a reader what the essay’s conclusion will be and how many parts its argument will have. In the Good Example above, we know the essay will have three major sections: one on supply, one on demand, and one on inflation. The thesis is your whole argument in a nutshell.
A Thesis is Self-Explanatory
The thesis is a self-contained, self-sufficient unit. It should make complete sense to readers all on its own. Your thesis shows your reader the essay’s whole argument.
|Bad Example||Good Example|
|People who quit smoking get fat.||People who quit smoking get fat because the emotional comfort of food eases their withdrawal pains.|
The body of the essay will provide detailed evidence for your thesis, but readers must understand your thesis before you show them any evidence supporting it.
A Thesis is Neither Bizarre Nor Boring
A good thesis is neither so bizarre that you can’t support and defend it nor so boring that no one could possibly disagree with it.
|Bizarre Thesis||Boring Thesis|
|In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is actually Jim’s imaginary friend, a subconscious projection of the runaway slave’s mind.||The first-person point of view in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn helps readers understand what Huck is thinking.|
Threading the needle between bizarre and boring is one of the biggest challenge in crafting a good thesis.
A Thesis is Surprising and Debatable
A thesis should surprise its readers by presenting a new, unexpected, provocative insight. The essay should tell readers something they didn’t already know.
The thesis should also be contestable, people could disagree with it. If every potential reader already agrees with your thesis, why even bother writing the essay?
|Bad Example||Good Example|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” had good points and bad points.||Although many people think the “New Deal” was a success, it may have made the Great Depression worse.|
A good thesis requires argument or demonstration to convince readers of its soundness.
A Thesis Changes As You Revise
In its polished form, your essay’s thesis is the very last thing you write in your final, revised draft. While you might begin writing with only a general topic or question in mind, as your draft develops you must keep revising that topic idea into a genuine thesis statement. If the working thesis from your outline or first draft is identical to the thesis in your final draft, you probably didn’t put enough thought into your essay.
|Working Thesis||Final Thesis|
|Portable Legacies is a lousy anthology because it has too many second-rate readings, it’s hard to find things in it, and some of the pages are not even legible.||Although approved by the English faculty, Portable Legacies is inferior to other similar textbooks because its text selections are inadequate, its organization makes it hard to navigate, and its sample student papers are barely legible.|
You should continually fine tune (perhaps even radically alter) your thesis as you revise and rethink your essay.
NOTE: This account of the thesis statement borrows heavily from course materials written by Todd Berliner.