how to create a thesis for an essay
Your thesis should be limited to what can be accomplished in the specified number of pages. Shape your topic so that you can get straight to the “meat” of it. Being specific in your paper will be much more successful than writing about general things that do not say much. Don’t settle for three pages of just skimming the surface.
- Original thesis: Although the timber wolf is a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated. [if it’s so timid and gentle — why is it being exterminated?]
- Revised thesis: Although the timber wolf is actually a timid and gentle animal, it is being systematically exterminated because people wrongfully believe it to be a fierce and cold-blooded killer.
A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational. An ineffective thesis would be, “Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil.” This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.
First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Does the author contradict himself or herself? Is a point made and later reversed? What are the deeper implications of the author’s argument? Figuring out the why to one or more of these questions, or to related questions, will put you on the path to developing a working thesis. (Without the why, you probably have only come up with an observation—that there are, for instance, many different metaphors in such-and-such a poem—which is not a thesis.)
The best thesis statements are concise, contentious and coherent.
In the example above, the final thesis statement doesn’t just state a position but summarizes the overall argument:
Bad: All retirees should relocate to Florida.
– Your research paper or essay will need to delve into numerous supporting claims. This broad thesis statement runs the risk of allowing you to go off on several tangents.
Good: Retirees should relocate to Florida, where 75% of Americans choose to settle, because you will afford yourself the opportunity to develop a wide array of friendships.
– From here, you can introduce a paragraph on the importance of friendship and then cite studies or testimonials describing how people can discover these important new relationships.
For example, saying “European travel is a good way to spend your summer,” is not specific enough. Why is European travel good? Further examine the heart of your topic and focus on very specific areas of European travel that you can realistically cover and support with solid evidence.
Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.