Writing a Thesis Statement for a Research Paper

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    Writing Tips: Thesis Statements

    • Defining the Thesis Statement
    • Questions to Ask When Formulating Your Thesis

    Defining the Thesis Statement

    What is a thesis statement?

    Every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message. The argument(s) you make in your paper should reflect this main idea. The sentence that captures your position on this main idea is what we call a thesis statement.

    How long does it need to be?

    A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.

    Questions to Ask When Formulating Your Thesis

    Where is your thesis statement?

    You should provide a thesis early in your essay — in the introduction, or in longer essays in the second paragraph — in order to establish your position and give your reader a sense of direction.

    Tip: In order to write a successful thesis statement:

    • Avoid burying a great thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph or late in the paper.
    • Be as clear and as specific as possible; avoid vague words.
    • Indicate the point of your paper but avoid sentence structures like, “The point of my paper is…”

    Is your thesis statement specific?

    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.

    Tip: Check your thesis:

    • Are there two large statements connected loosely by a coordinating conjunction (i.e. “and,” “but,” “or,” “for,” “nor,” “so,” “yet”)?
    • Would a subordinating conjunction help (i.e. “through,” “although,” “because,” “since”) to signal a relationship between the two sentences?
    • Or do the two statements imply a fuzzy unfocused thesis?
    • If so, settle on one single focus and then proceed with further development.

    Is your thesis statement too general?

    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.

    The opposite of a focused, narrow, crisp thesis is a broad, sprawling, superficial thesis. Compare this original thesis (too general) with three possible revisions (more focused, each presenting a different approach to the same topic):

    • Original thesis:
      • There are serious objections to today’s horror movies.
    • Revised theses:
      • Because modern cinematic techniques have allowed filmmakers to get more graphic, horror flicks have desensitized young American viewers to violence.
      • The pornographic violence in “bloodbath” slasher movies degrades both men and women.
      • Today’s slasher movies fail to deliver the emotional catharsis that 1930s horror films did.

    Is your thesis statement clear?

    Your thesis statement is no exception to your writing: it needs to be as clear as possible. By being as clear as possible in your thesis statement, you will make sure that your reader understands exactly what you mean.

    Tip: In order to be as clear as possible in your writing:

    • Unless you’re writing a technical report, avoid technical language. Always avoid jargon, unless you are confident your audience will be familiar with it.
    • Avoid vague words such as “interesting,” “negative,” “exciting,” “unusual,” and “difficult.”
    • Avoid abstract words such as “society,” “values,” or “culture.”

    These words tell the reader next to nothing if you do not carefully explain what you mean by them. Never assume that the meaning of a sentence is obvious. Check to see if you need to define your terms (”socialism,” “conventional,” “commercialism,” “society”), and then decide on the most appropriate place to do so. Do not assume, for example, that you have the same understanding of what “society” means as your reader. To avoid misunderstandings, be as specific as possible.

    Compare the original thesis (not specific and clear enough) with the revised version (much more specific and clear):

    • 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.

    Does your thesis include a comment about your position on the issue at hand?

    The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic, how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to a simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.

    Tips:

    • Avoid merely announcing the topic; your original and specific “angle” should be clear. In this way you will tell your reader why your take on the issue matters.
      • Original thesis: In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between fairy tales and early childhood.
      • Revised thesis: Not just empty stories for kids, fairy tales shed light on the psychology of young children.
    • Avoid making universal or pro/con judgments that oversimplify complex issues.
      • Original thesis: We must save the whales.
      • Revised thesis: Because our planet’s health may depend upon biological diversity, we should save the whales.
    • When you make a (subjective) judgment call, specify and justify your reasoning. “Just because” is not a good reason for an argument.
      • Original thesis: Socialism is the best form of government for Kenya.
      • Revised thesis: If the government takes over industry in Kenya, the industry will become more efficient.
    • Avoid merely reporting a fact. Say more than what is already proven fact. Go further with your ideas. Otherwise… why would your point matter?
      • Original thesis: Hoover’s administration was rocked by scandal.
      • Revised thesis: The many scandals of Hoover’s administration revealed basic problems with the Republican Party’s nominating process.

    Do not expect to come up with a fully formulated thesis statement before you have finished writing the paper. The thesis will inevitably change as you revise and develop your ideas—and that is ok! Start with a tentative thesis and revise as your paper develops.

    Is your thesis statement original?

    Avoid, avoid, avoid generic arguments and formula statements. They work well to get a rough draft started, but will easily bore a reader. Keep revising until the thesis reflects your real ideas.

    Tip: The point you make in the paper should matter:

    • Be prepared to answer “So what?” about your thesis statement.
    • Be prepared to explain why the point you are making is worthy of a paper. Why should the reader read it?

    Compare the following:

    • Original thesis:
      • There are advantages and disadvantages to using statistics. (a fill-in-the-blank formula)
    • Revised theses:
      • Careful manipulation of data allows a researcher to use statistics to support any claim she desires.
      • In order to ensure accurate reporting, journalists must understand the real significance of the statistics they report.
      • Because advertisers consciously and unconsciously manipulate data, every consumer should learn how to evaluate statistical claims.

    Avoid formula and generic words. Search for concrete subjects and active verbs, revising as many “to be” verbs as possible. A few suggestions below show how specific word choice sharpens and clarifies your meaning.

    • Original: “Society is…” [who is this “society” and what exactly is it doing?]
    • Revised: “Men and women will learn how to…,” “writers can generate…,” “television addicts may chip away at…,” “American educators must decide…,” “taxpayers and legislators alike can help fix…”
    • Original: “the media”
    • Revised: “the new breed of television reporters,” “advertisers,” “hard-hitting print journalists,” “horror flicks,” “TV movies of the week,” “sitcoms,” “national public radio,” “Top 40 bop-til-you-drop…”
    • Original: “is, are, was, to be” or “to do, to make”
    • Revised: any great action verb you can concoct: “to generate,” “to demolish,” “to batter,” “to revolt,” “to discover,” “to flip,” “to signify,” “to endure…”

    Use your own words in thesis statements; avoid quoting. Crafting an original, insightful, and memorable thesis makes a distinct impression on a reader. You will lose credibility as a writer if you become only a mouthpiece or a copyist; you will gain credibility by grabbing the reader with your own ideas and words.

    A well-crafted thesis statement reflects well-crafted ideas. It signals a writer who has intelligence, commitment, and enthusiasm.


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    tel: 217-333-3251 • fax: 217-333-4321 • email: [email protected]

    Copyright © 2013 University of Illinois Board of Trustees • College of Liberal Arts & Sciences • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign • Developed by ATLAS
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    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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      Student event advertisements hand-written on a chalkboard

      Navigation: Sections

      • Welcome
      • About the Workshop
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      • Online Tutoring
      • Appointments
      • Undergraduate Events
      • Graduate Events
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      • Contact
      • Writer Resources
      • Teacher Resources
      • Writing Personal Statements

      Writers Workshop: Writer Resources

      • Writing Tips
      • Grammar Handbook
      • Citation Styles
      • ESL Resources

      Writing Tips: Thesis Statements

      • Defining the Thesis Statement
      • Questions to Ask When Formulating Your Thesis

      Defining the Thesis Statement

      What is a thesis statement?

      Every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message. The argument(s) you make in your paper should reflect this main idea. The sentence that captures your position on this main idea is what we call a thesis statement.

      How long does it need to be?

      A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.

      Questions to Ask When Formulating Your Thesis

      Where is your thesis statement?

      You should provide a thesis early in your essay — in the introduction, or in longer essays in the second paragraph — in order to establish your position and give your reader a sense of direction.

      Tip: In order to write a successful thesis statement:

      • Avoid burying a great thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph or late in the paper.
      • Be as clear and as specific as possible; avoid vague words.
      • Indicate the point of your paper but avoid sentence structures like, “The point of my paper is…”

      Is your thesis statement specific?

      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.

      Tip: Check your thesis:

      • Are there two large statements connected loosely by a coordinating conjunction (i.e. “and,” “but,” “or,” “for,” “nor,” “so,” “yet”)?
      • Would a subordinating conjunction help (i.e. “through,” “although,” “because,” “since”) to signal a relationship between the two sentences?
      • Or do the two statements imply a fuzzy unfocused thesis?
      • If so, settle on one single focus and then proceed with further development.

      Is your thesis statement too general?

      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.

      The opposite of a focused, narrow, crisp thesis is a broad, sprawling, superficial thesis. Compare this original thesis (too general) with three possible revisions (more focused, each presenting a different approach to the same topic):

      • Original thesis:
        • There are serious objections to today’s horror movies.
      • Revised theses:
        • Because modern cinematic techniques have allowed filmmakers to get more graphic, horror flicks have desensitized young American viewers to violence.
        • The pornographic violence in “bloodbath” slasher movies degrades both men and women.
        • Today’s slasher movies fail to deliver the emotional catharsis that 1930s horror films did.

      Is your thesis statement clear?

      Your thesis statement is no exception to your writing: it needs to be as clear as possible. By being as clear as possible in your thesis statement, you will make sure that your reader understands exactly what you mean.

      Tip: In order to be as clear as possible in your writing:

      • Unless you’re writing a technical report, avoid technical language. Always avoid jargon, unless you are confident your audience will be familiar with it.
      • Avoid vague words such as “interesting,” “negative,” “exciting,” “unusual,” and “difficult.”
      • Avoid abstract words such as “society,” “values,” or “culture.”

      These words tell the reader next to nothing if you do not carefully explain what you mean by them. Never assume that the meaning of a sentence is obvious. Check to see if you need to define your terms (”socialism,” “conventional,” “commercialism,” “society”), and then decide on the most appropriate place to do so. Do not assume, for example, that you have the same understanding of what “society” means as your reader. To avoid misunderstandings, be as specific as possible.

      Compare the original thesis (not specific and clear enough) with the revised version (much more specific and clear):

      • 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.

      Does your thesis include a comment about your position on the issue at hand?

      The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic, how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to a simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.

      Tips:

      • Avoid merely announcing the topic; your original and specific “angle” should be clear. In this way you will tell your reader why your take on the issue matters.
        • Original thesis: In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between fairy tales and early childhood.
        • Revised thesis: Not just empty stories for kids, fairy tales shed light on the psychology of young children.
      • Avoid making universal or pro/con judgments that oversimplify complex issues.
        • Original thesis: We must save the whales.
        • Revised thesis: Because our planet’s health may depend upon biological diversity, we should save the whales.
      • When you make a (subjective) judgment call, specify and justify your reasoning. “Just because” is not a good reason for an argument.
        • Original thesis: Socialism is the best form of government for Kenya.
        • Revised thesis: If the government takes over industry in Kenya, the industry will become more efficient.
      • Avoid merely reporting a fact. Say more than what is already proven fact. Go further with your ideas. Otherwise… why would your point matter?
        • Original thesis: Hoover’s administration was rocked by scandal.
        • Revised thesis: The many scandals of Hoover’s administration revealed basic problems with the Republican Party’s nominating process.

      Do not expect to come up with a fully formulated thesis statement before you have finished writing the paper. The thesis will inevitably change as you revise and develop your ideas—and that is ok! Start with a tentative thesis and revise as your paper develops.

      Is your thesis statement original?

      Avoid, avoid, avoid generic arguments and formula statements. They work well to get a rough draft started, but will easily bore a reader. Keep revising until the thesis reflects your real ideas.

      Tip: The point you make in the paper should matter:

      • Be prepared to answer “So what?” about your thesis statement.
      • Be prepared to explain why the point you are making is worthy of a paper. Why should the reader read it?

      Compare the following:

      • Original thesis:
        • There are advantages and disadvantages to using statistics. (a fill-in-the-blank formula)
      • Revised theses:
        • Careful manipulation of data allows a researcher to use statistics to support any claim she desires.
        • In order to ensure accurate reporting, journalists must understand the real significance of the statistics they report.
        • Because advertisers consciously and unconsciously manipulate data, every consumer should learn how to evaluate statistical claims.

      Avoid formula and generic words. Search for concrete subjects and active verbs, revising as many “to be” verbs as possible. A few suggestions below show how specific word choice sharpens and clarifies your meaning.

      • Original: “Society is…” [who is this “society” and what exactly is it doing?]
      • Revised: “Men and women will learn how to…,” “writers can generate…,” “television addicts may chip away at…,” “American educators must decide…,” “taxpayers and legislators alike can help fix…”
      • Original: “the media”
      • Revised: “the new breed of television reporters,” “advertisers,” “hard-hitting print journalists,” “horror flicks,” “TV movies of the week,” “sitcoms,” “national public radio,” “Top 40 bop-til-you-drop…”
      • Original: “is, are, was, to be” or “to do, to make”
      • Revised: any great action verb you can concoct: “to generate,” “to demolish,” “to batter,” “to revolt,” “to discover,” “to flip,” “to signify,” “to endure…”

      Use your own words in thesis statements; avoid quoting. Crafting an original, insightful, and memorable thesis makes a distinct impression on a reader. You will lose credibility as a writer if you become only a mouthpiece or a copyist; you will gain credibility by grabbing the reader with your own ideas and words.

      A well-crafted thesis statement reflects well-crafted ideas. It signals a writer who has intelligence, commitment, and enthusiasm.


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      • Search
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      tel: 217-333-3251 • fax: 217-333-4321 • email: [email protected]

      Copyright © 2013 University of Illinois Board of Trustees • College of Liberal Arts & Sciences • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign • Developed by ATLAS
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      Read through our list of great thesis statement examples and find out what aspects make good thesis statement examples for essays, research papers, and other academic assignments

      One of the essential parts of any academic paper is a valid thesis statement. Having one is not enough as you need to support it with strong arguments. Sometimes, a professor will not explicitly require of you to write a thesis statement, but it is always implied so it should never be left out. Before you can write a comprehensive thesis statement, you must know what defines a thesis statement, what makes a thesis statement valid and what is the precise reason for including a thesis statement in your paper. We will tell you the answers to all those questions, and the answers will be supported by clear thesis statement examples. Next, you will learn how to avoid most common mistakes associated with writing a thesis statement as well as get all other relevant information.

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      Defining a thesis statement

      A thesis statement is not a very long, commonly no longer than one sentence, claim that you need to present after the introduction of your paper’s topic. It serves as a starting point of your paper as well as a sort of blueprint for it. It is meant to clearly define your stance regarding the matter at hand with the prompt of concise arguments you will be making further and convey a general idea of your paper to its reader.

      This sometimes seems like an impossible task as one sentence can hardly summarize your whole paper. This is because you are most likely looking at it backward. A thesis statement does not need to be written first, and furthermore, you can always change it. You should change it if your paper has evolved to the point that the previously written thesis statement does not do it justice. Remember, it is easier to make your thesis statement correspond with your paper than to make your paper correspond with your thesis statement.

      Phrasing a thesis statement examples

      One of the main characteristics of a thesis statement is that it always provides an answer to a specific question and does so transparently and succinctly. In the following text, you will see examples of a thesis statement, as well as explanations of why these statements were formed that way. If you wish to answer the question:” Is swimming healthy or not and why?” you can formulate your thesis statement like this:

      “Swimming in the evening is valuable for strengthening the heart rate of healthy adults”

      This is one of the good thesis statement examples because it makes your stance very clear. You are absolutely in favor of swimming. But, that is not enough for a powerful thesis statement, though. You cannot just write: “Swimming is healthy” because it would be overly general. Be as precise as possible; that is why you need to define when it is healthy to swim, for whom and for what reason. Stating the obvious is a mistake when writing a thesis statement as you need to provide the reader with additional information. You need to do this because you want the reader to stay interested in your paper and to keep on reading it. If you merely state something they already know they will agree with you, but they will not keep on reading. When writing a thesis statement, your goal is not to make everyone agree with you, and it is not to present indisputable truths. Your point of view and your thesis statement should be debatable and challengeable.

      One more thing that you must always bear in mind is that a good thesis statement is highly specific. You need to try and be as precise as you can when writing a thesis statement. Avoid unspecific and cryptic terms such as “wrong,” “good,” “nice.” Always define the terms you are using as that will make your thesis statement so much stronger.

      “Exercising is important.”

      This is a weak thesis statement example as it is not specific and does not define the terms used. Everybody knows that exercising is important, so why should they bother to continue reading? What are you trying to say? What is exercising precisely? You need to be precise and define the terms more closely.

      “Engaging in stretching and cardio exercises every day will lower the chances of a heart attack in people over the age of 40.”

      This is one of a strong thesis statement examples for research papers as it says what kind of exercises are good, why, and for whom. It has more information regarding your conclusion, and it makes the reader interested in learning more about the matter at hand.

      What makes good thesis statement examples for essays?

      Answering this question is tricky as thesis statement examples for essays will depend on the type of paper you are writing. For example, an informative essay will have a different thesis statement from an argumentative, persuasive or some other kind of essay.

      If you are writing a thesis statement for an informative essay, it should include a concise overview of the information and arguments which you will be presenting in your paper.

      “To make a paper airplane you need to buy paper, find the instructions for making one, and follow them to the letter.”

      This is a good example of a strong thesis statement for an informative essay. Most thesis statements should follow the so-called “rule of three.” You should either provide three relevant pieces of information (for an informative essay) or give three good reasons why your opinion is valid (for an argumentative essay).

      “Pollution has a negative impact on the air quality, water quality, and soil quality.”

      This is another example of a good thesis statement for an informative essay. If you just said: “Pollution negatively impacts the quality of life” that would be not precise enough and would not give more information to the reader as to what they can expect of you to discuss further in the paper. Pollution has a very wide range of negative consequences, and you cannot possibly cover all of them. That is why you need to precisely define which ones you plan to cover.

      When writing a thesis statement for a persuasive essay, you need to decide on a stance and give arguments for why your opinion is a correct one. If you want to argue that “childhood vaccinations are mandatory” you cannot end your thesis statement with “because it can have a negative impact.” You need to include specific reasons and arguments for your stance, make it debatable and in doing so make the reader interested in learning more.

      “Childhood vaccinations need to be mandatory because they have a positive effect on the child’s immune system, they guarantee the Herd immunity, and are absolutely safe.”

      This is a good persuasive thesis statement as it defines your opinion clearly and provides arguments for it.

      A valid thesis statement should include:

      • A statement that “something is true”
      • The reason why something is true (because)

      The “rule of three” is something you need to remember as it is especially useful when writing a high school or middle school essay as it allows for each paragraph to focus on each of your arguments due to the five-paragraph form.

      University level papers are more complex and you cannot write them in five paragraphs, so the thesis statement must be modified to correspond with the length, form, and style of university level papers. That is why it is possible to focus on just one point and argue that one point thought your whole paper.

      If you are writing a research paper, you should not focus on more than three variables, you should keep your thesis statement highly precise and always provide data for each claim you make. Research papers leave no room for vagueness as scientific writing follows strict rules so that there can be no alternative interpretations of it.

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      “The US media promotes traditional family values. It showcases that a nuclear, mother-father-and-a-child pattern is the only acceptable one. Such a concept is outdated and has a negative effect on children whose families do not fall under this template.”

      This is a good research paper thesis statement, as it is precise, shows what the paper is about and what the stance of the researcher is. Another reason why this is an excellent research statement is because it provides the researcher with a structure for research and the groundwork for acquiring relevant data.

      Hints and examples for thesis statements

      • You should be interested in your topic of choice, but it also must be interesting to those who will be reading your paper. Always make an outline and do as much research as necessary.
      • Choose one point you wish to focus on and go into detail when debating it
      • Don’t use “can,” “should,” “may,” or “might” as it signals uncertainty and leaves room for the opposite to be true.
      • Don’t choose undebatable and undisputable claims. No point in writing a paper about something that everybody knows is true.
      • If you are unsure whether your thesis statement is strong, always check other statements as a point of reference.
      • Always stay precise, convey your stance clearly and leave room for debate.
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