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What Are Thesis Statements and Why Do I Need Them?

Holley Morgan is a graduate student at SNHU and currently works as a college essay tutor.

Writing a thesis statement can be difficult for students

Writing a thesis statement can be difficult for students

The Thesis Statement: What and Why

Thesis statements are central to academic essays. They include not only your topic but also the argument you are making about your topic. Thesis statements can take many forms, but this article primarily discusses interpretive theses (since I have the most personal experience with this kind). As a college essay tutor, I have looked at many thesis statements and, at a glance, can tell which are effective and which are not.

Thesis statements that are too broad or do not make a claim about the topic are frequent occurrences in students' rough drafts. Before submitting the final draft, it is important to understand what you are trying to prove about your topic, and why. This will result in a stronger thesis statement and relevant and specific counterarguments throughout your essay.

In academic papers, thesis statements keep your writing on track. If you know you are writing about why cats are better than dogs, you are less likely to go off on a tangent about hedgehogs and include irrelevant arguments. Your professor wants to see, among other things, that you can demonstrate coherence among your ideas and that you are capable of doing good research. You cannot do either if you do not have a purpose in mind as you are in the pre-writing and drafting stages.

Topic Selection And Pre-writing

Writing is not everyone's cup of tea, but even so, it is possible to be engaged with a topic regardless of your feelings on the medium. If the professor requires you to select a topic from a list, try to go for the one that piques your interest the most. Set aside some time to put thought into it. For instance, if you must pick from a selection of books you have never read for a literary analysis essay, look up a quick analysis of each book. Take book-length and subject matter into consideration. (You might consider whether the book will be one you need to purchase or whether you can find it at your local library.) It is also not a bad idea to go to your library's online databases and look up existing scholarly sources about the topic if you have the time. Before crafting your thesis, you may want to take into account what has already been done and what may potentially support your arguments.

Finally, make sure you ask yourself what you initially notice about the topic and whether that is something you can craft an argument around. If you are writing an essay about Oliver Twist, what catches your attention first? You might consider the time period, the subject matter, the setting, themes, and characters that you find compelling. However, it is important to avoid personal opinion in your thesis. What does your chosen interest reveal about literature for the time period, or does the novel cover any prescient political issues? These are just some suggestions for starting points; you can go many directions with a given topic.

If the teacher allows you to select a topic on your own without restricting you to a list, then you can really have fun with it. Still, you will want to put time and thought into what you choose to write about before you commit.

Thesis Statement Example

The following is my thesis statement from my final essay from a British Literature course:

Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” and John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger demonstrate that although the status of women changed between the Victorian era and the 1950s, the suppression of women – emotionally, spiritually, sexually, and mentally – remained the same.

As far as the components go, you will notice I have listed two works of literature. This was required in the prompt for the essay, as it was a compare and contrast assignment. The basic formula this statement follows is:

work of literature + claim

In terms of my grade, the professor gave me points for the arguable element of my thesis but not for originality. (If you are in a graduate program, originality is probably a bit more important. Otherwise, just try to focus on getting all the required elements of the thesis down before worrying too much about originality.)

A solid thesis does more than state the topic or give a general statement about it. If I had written, "Rossetti's 'Goblin Market' is about women who are trying to defy temptation," that would be an example of a general statement. With that as my thesis, I could summarize the novel but not really do much else. I would not be able to provide any insight and would not need sources to prove my points, because anyone who reads the poem can see that it is about women trying to defy temptation.

You always want to build your thesis around something you can prove with further research. For literary analysis, it is best to provide an interpretation that is not immediately obvious or that has not already been covered in a significant manner in existing scholarly material.

Another Thesis Statement Example

Following is a thesis statement from my Literary Theory final:

This contrast [summarized earlier in the paragraph], when viewed through Rubin’s sex/gender system and Althusser’s theories on ideology, illustrates the significance of Linda’s character arc to Huxley’s treatment of society, women, and beauty in his dystopia.

This statement follows a slightly different formula from the British Lit one because I had to select two schools of thought through which to view my topic and make a claim. The formula followed is:

element of novel that I found compelling + specific theorists plus theories used to examine the element + claim

This one also took more research than the British Lit one since I had to have a full understanding of the theories and existing scholarship before penning my thesis. Again, it is probably not considered highly original, but I did not see many existing scholarly articles on this specific subject, and my professor gave me a high A on this paper.

Dos And Don'ts

When forming a thesis statement, do:

  • try to select a topic or book that interests you
  • research beforehand
  • freewrite about the topic to see what jumps out at you as a potential claim or area for further research
  • be specific; name the specific authors, books, elements, or topics of study as well as an arguable claim
  • follow a standard formula for your thesis statement, unless your professor has instructed otherwise

Try to avoid:

  • being too general or merely summarizing the work you have studied
  • making a vague statement to get out of doing real research
  • forming your thesis around your personal opinion, for instance: "I like Christina Rossetti's poetry because she uses fairy tale elements in her writing"
  • statements like "In this paper, I will demonstrate..."

Thesis statements are typically the last sentence of your first paragraph, and there is no need to say what you "will" prove if the thesis is situated well and makes a specific claim.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Heidi Hendricks