how to find the thesis of an article
Here are the first two paragraphs of George Orwell’s classic essay, “Politics and the English Language” (1946). Which of these sentences would you say is or are the thesis statement of the essay which is to follow? Everything that follows in this essay, then, would have to be something that fits under the “umbrella” of that thesis statement.
The thesis statement should remain flexible until the paper is actually finished. It ought to be one of the last things that we fuss with in the rewriting process. If we discover new information in the process of writing our paper that ought to be included in the thesis statement, then we’ll have to rewrite our thesis statement. On the other hand, if we discover that our paper has done adequate work but the thesis statement appears to include things that we haven’t actually addressed, then we need to limit that thesis statement. If the thesis statement is something that we needed prior approval for, changing it might require the permission of the instructor or thesis committee, but it is better to seek such permission than to write a paper that tries to do too much or that claims to do less than it actually accomplishes.
Compare the original thesis (not specific and clear enough) with the revised version (much more specific and clear):
Your thesis statement should be as clear and specific as possible. Normally you will continue to refine your thesis as you revise your argument(s), so your thesis will evolve and gain definition as you obtain a better sense of where your argument is taking you.
Works of literature, on the other hand, usually do not contain a specific sentence that sums up the core concept of the writing. However, readers should finish the piece with a good understanding of what the work was trying to convey. This is what’s called an implicit thesis statement: the primary point of the reading is conveyed indirectly, in multiple locations throughout the work. (In literature, this is also referred to as the theme of the work.)
A useful metaphor would be to think of the thesis statement of a text as a general: it controls all the major decisions of the writing. There is only one thesis statement in a text. Topic sentences, in this relationship, serve as captains: they organize and sub-divide the overall goals of a writing into individual components. Each paragraph will have a topic sentence.
The first thing to remember is that a thesis is the point the author is trying to prove. That means that a topic, which can be expressed in a phrase, like alcoholism or effect of corruption on poverty, is not a thesis. A thesis can only be expressed by a complete, declarative sentence (not a question, either). So be sure to write out a complete sentence when identifying the sources thesis. (Review What is a Thesis for more details.)
However, an abstract is not always provided. In those cases, you may need to read the first few paragraphs to get the gist of the article. This is typically where the author will lay out the argument and, again, state the point that they are trying to prove. In more difficult cases it may be necessary to read the conclusion as well, since this is often where they sum up the argument one last time. Sometimes its clearer in the conclusion than in the introduction.
Think of yourself as a member of a jury, listening to a lawyer who is presenting an opening argument. You’ll want to know very soon whether the lawyer believes the accused to be guilty or not guilty, and how the lawyer plans to convince you. Readers of academic essays are like jury members: before they have read too far, they want to know what the essay argues as well as how the writer plans to make the argument. After reading your thesis statement, the reader should think, “This essay is going to try to convince me of something. I’m not convinced yet, but I’m interested to see how I might be.”
A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible. Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, “Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite’s inability to address the economic concerns of the people” is more powerful than “Communism collapsed due to societal discontent.”