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How to Write a Good Thesis Statement and Fix a Bad One

Jule Romans is a retired high school teacher with more than 25 years of experience helping students succeed in the classroom.

Write a strong thesis statement, and the rest of the paper is easy.

Write a strong thesis statement, and the rest of the paper is easy.

What Makes a Good Thesis Statement?

A good thesis statement is argumentative or informative, precisely worded and focused upon a single, manageable point.

The first thing you will need to do is decide whether you are writing an argumentative or informative paper.

How to Avoid Bad Thesis Statements for Informative Papers

It you are writing an informative paper, it means that your paper will elaborate on a topic in an organized and focused manner. Your paper will not necessarily have to take a position or create a clear argument. Thesis statements for these types of papers are a little easier to write.

To write a good informative thesis statement, you’ll need to avoid these pitfalls:

  • The thesis statement is general, imprecise, or confusing.
  • The thesis statement is unclear or incomplete.

How to Avoid Bad Thesis Statements for Argumentative Papers

If you are writing an argumentative paper, this means that your paper will take a clear stand on an issue and support that position with logical evidence. To write a good argumentative thesis statement, you’ll need to avoid these pitfalls:

  • While argumentative, it is not precisely worded or is either too broad or too narrow for an essay of this size.
  • Thesis takes a precise and manageable position, but would be difficult to argue against.
  • Thesis is a fact rather than an argument.

After you have decided your focus, you’ll need to start somewhere.

Start With the Main Idea

So start with a vague or incomplete idea, and build up from there. You may find yourself writing a question, a sentence fragment, a series of facts, or just a blurt of an idea. That is fine.

You just have to start. It doesn’t have to be good.

You can use your basic idea and fix it so that it becomes a good thesis statement.

Go Through a Process to Refine and Revise

You’ll go through the process of refining your statement into a clear informative thesis statement. If you are writing an informative paper, you can stop there. You can then evolve that into an argumentative thesis statement if that is necessary.

After that, you can then evolve it into an argumentative thesis statement if that is your assignment.

It all starts with developing the thesis statement.

Start With Short, Not-So-Great Wording

Take a minute and see if you can come up with some kind of statement of what your paper is going to be about. If you can’t make a clear wording right now, just write down the main question for your paper.

Write out what you are thinking, in a rough collection of words. It doesn't have to be a sentence yet. Try to keep it as short as possible. Less than 10 words is best for starting out. Write it down and look at it.

Don’t worry if it is terrible. It’s supposed to be unclear. This is how you go through the process. It’s not pretty at first.

Use Strategies to Refine Your Ideas

Now that you have a little something in writing, try a few strategies to help refine your words into something closer to a real thesis statement.

Then, use ONE (or more) of the examples below to help you refine your thoughts. You don't have to use all the examples. Just pick the ones that help.

After you refine your rough thoughts, you can develop them into a complete thesis statement that suits an argumentative or informative paper.

But first, choose a strategy below to get your thoughts refined and a little bit clearer.

The Process: Write, Refine, Revise

The first two parts of the process are a little challenging. The third and fourth parts of the process may take some revision. In the end, though, you will have a thesis statement that will help you write an excellent informative or argumentative paper.

This is the process:

  1. Write your thoughts out simply, but roughly.
  2. Refine your thoughts to include facts and/or a clear position.
  3. Revise into a clearly worded thesis statement.
  4. (Optional) Develop a position for an argumentative paper.

Now that you have your not-so-perfect ideas in words, look at the strategies below, and use the ones that fit. Don't try to use all the strategies. Just pick the ones that help you make a better statement.

Strategies for Refining Your Thoughts

There are several strategies that you can use to refine your thoughts and prepare to write a thesis statement.

First, of course, you just get your thoughts down on paper, then you use ONE (or more) of the following strategies to refine your wording.

Here are the strategies you can use:

  • Transform a question into a thesis statement.
  • Create a complete sentence.
  • Smooth a jumble of ideas into a sentence.
  • Add the "So What?" to give meaning.
  • Use the 5 Ws to add important facts.

Remember, you don't use ALL these strategies to refine your thoughts. Only use the ones that work for you to help you express yourself more clearly.

After you have your thoughts refined, THEN you can revise and smooth the wording into a proper thesis statement.

Transform a Question Into a Statement

Sometimes, you start with a main question to get your thinking started. For example, you might start by simply writing down the main question of your assignment, or the main question that you are exploring in your research. Here's an example:

What caused the Toledo War?

This is a good starting point, because it is a question that your paper can actually answer. It is not a thesis statement yet, because it is still in the form of a question. What you will want to do with something like this is see if you can write a simple clear answer to the question in one sentence.

How to Go From a Question to a Thesis Statement

For example, instead of staying with

What caused the Toledo War?

you can turn that around into an answering statement, that contains the same main ideas as the question. Write the question over as a statement, and then finish the statement. Write:

The Toledo war was caused by….

and try to list three things to finish the sentence. In this example, it might sound like:

The Toledo War was caused by incorrect maps, unfinished land surveys, and political disagreements.

This is still not a perfect thesis statement, but it is a good start. Remember, we are still in step one. All we are doing is refining our thoughts.

Create a Complete Sentence

A good thesis statement is always a complete sentence. Being able to create a clear sentence shows that your thinking is organized and you can express meaningful ideas. Often, you will find that you have some clear ideas that just need to have a verb added to create a complete sentence. For example, you might have written something like:

The Toledo War between Ohio and Michigan

This is not a complete sentence, but it is pretty good. If what you have on paper is something like this example, you are in good shape.

How to Create a Complete Sentence for a Thesis Statement

This is a good starting point, because it contains some information that you can build on to create a thesis statement. However, it is not a complete sentence.

A thesis statement must be a complete sentence. So, instead of saying

The Toledo War between Ohio and Michigan

you will need to add a subject and verb to make it a complete sentence. In this example, you can do that very easily by changing only a few words. Try adding and rearranging a little to come up with:

The Toledo War arose from a political conflict between Ohio and Michigan.

It seems like a tiny change, but it makes a big difference. When you add the verb, it offers a better focus and more detail to help you organize your paper.

A Thesis Statement Is Always a Complete Sentence

The first step to organizing your paper is to get a clear, single sentence to focus. That sentence can later be shaped into a good thesis statement. Just because it is a sentence does not mean it will make a good thesis statement, but it is an excellent start. If you have come to this point, you can skip to the next phase of the process down toward the end of this article. Scroll down to the section that demonstrates how to revise and create a final version of your thesis statement.

Smooth a Jumble of Ideas Into a Sentence

Sometimes you just begin with a small jumble of ideas. That’s fine, too. Just get them down on paper. You might have something like:

Michigan and Ohio in 1835 over the Toledo Strip War

These are good ideas, but they are not organized. They need to be smoothed and organized into something that makes sense.

Notice that this collection of words has a good number of the 5 Ws, and some decent facts. It just needs to be smoothed and organized. It is actually a really good start. So we take our example:

Michigan and Ohio in 1835 over the Toledo Strip War

And work on it a little to make it fit together. Again, it doesn’t take much. Here's how it might sound:

The Toledo Strip between Michigan and Ohio caused a war in 1835.

This does not contain enough facts, but it puts us much closer to a thesis statement. If you are at this point with your thesis statement, you can skip down to the bottom of the article to do the final revisions and have a final version that will be appropriate for your paper.

Add the "So What?" to Make a Good Thesis Statement

You will need to add enough specific information to give the paper focus. For example, you might have a complete sentence, but not be able to demonstrate the importance of the ideas. It might look like this:

The Toledo War of 1835 was fought by Ohio and Michigan.

This is a correct and factual sentence that does give a clear topic. However, it is vague and does not lend itself to helping organize a paper. More importantly, it also lacks interest. What was so important about the war between Ohio and Michigan? Why should anyone be interested in it?

Demonstrate the Importance of Your Topic With Your Thesis Statement

I know that when writing a research paper it can be hard to see the topic as interesting, but it really is important. Plus it makes writing a much more fun process.

So, we often use a funny question to help ourselves focus. That question is: “So what?”

Michigan and Ohio went to war over Toledo in 1835. So what?

Well, the Toledo War was actually quite amusing. There were several funny incidents. Also, in the process of resolving the issues, Michigan became a State and gained land in the Upper Peninsula.

We can start with:

The Toledo War of 1853 was fought by Ohio and Michigan

Then, we add words to sound better and show the importance of the topic by changing it to:

The Toledo War between Michigan and Ohio had a major influence on land holdings in 1853.

Or, we can choose to look at the humor and write:

The Toledo War was a series of funny incidents in Michigan and Ohio in 1835.

It’s still not perfect, but it is clearer and closer to a thesis statement. Now we have some ideas to show the importance or interest of our topic. How will we use them in a thesis statement? We don’t know yet, but we have made our sentence better so that we can adjust it more later during the final revision process.

Use the 5 Ws to Improve the Thesis Statement

The 5 Ws are a staple backbone structural support for good writing. In good writing, we try to answer Who? What? When? Where? Why? Use the 5 Ws to help you get more specific about your thesis statement.

Here is an example:

Michigan and Ohio went to war once.

In the statement above, we have who and what. We need when where and why.

How to Improve a Thesis Statement Using Who, What, Where, When, and Why

It’s really pretty easy to do this if we break it down and make a list

  • Who: Michigan and Ohio
  • What: went to war
  • Where: at the border of Toledo
  • When: 1835
  • Why: because they both wanted to have Toledo in their state.

Then we do our best to combine these ideas into a sentence. It might look like this:

In 1835, Ohio and Michigan went to war over the town of Toledo.

Or, another way to do this would be:

Ohio and Michigan had a boundary conflict that escalated into the Toledo War of 1835.

Again, these are still not perfect thesis statements, but they are much better and closer to helping us write our paper. We can move into the revision process and make an excellent thesis statement using these examples.

It all starts with just a few words—an imperfect expression of thought. Then you refine those thoughts into something clearer. After that, you revise to create a good thesis statement for an informative or argumentative paper.

Revise to Create a Good Thesis Statement

Now we need to shape that sentence into a clear thesis statement. We have our topic stated in one clear sentence, but we aren’t done yet.

Remember that a good thesis statement will show how the paper will elaborate on the topic in a clear and organized manner. That means it needs to have some facts and some direction.

It can usually be a great idea to use the idea of three main points incorporated in the thesis statement.

That is, the thesis statement should clearly signal what the three main points of the upcoming paper will be. That can be done simply, by adding the three main points at the end, or it can be done with more smoothness by incorporating the the three main points throughout the sentence.


How to Write An Informative Thesis Statement

If your paper is informative, it means that the paper will elaborate on a topic in an organized and focused manner. Some pitfalls to avoid include being general, imprecise, or confusing. You'll also want to make sure your thesis statement is not unclear or incomplete.

Revise to Create a Thesis Statement With Facts

The Toledo War was nothing more than a comic series of skirmishes between Michigan and Ohio in April, July, and September of 1835.

This sentence sets up the idea that the paper will focus on the humor of the situation, and lists the three main ideas toward the end of the sentence.

It doesn’t have to be that fancy, though. For an informative thesis statement, it can be as simple as:

The Toledo War took place in 1835, involving the State of Ohio, the Territory of Michigan, and the political issues of surveying the United States.

This sentence also shows the three main points of the paper, without limiting the focus to humor. It has plenty of facts to signal what will be coming up in the rest of the informative research paper.

Work with your own refined sentence to create the kind of thesis statement that you want. Don't lose sight of your original idea in the process, and try to be patient. It usually takes several revisions to come up with just what you want to use for a thesis statement. The great news is that once you have a good thesis statement, the paper becomes very easy to write.

How to Write an Argumentative Thesis Statement

In some cases, you may be writing an argumentative paper. In that case, you will want to revise your basic ideas to create an arguable thesis with facts

If your paper is argumentative, it means that your paper will take a clear stand on an issue and support that position with logical evidence. You'll want to make sure that your thesis statement is precisely worded and focused properly. You will want to avoid two major pitfalls: being too broad or too narrow.

Revise to Create a Thesis Statement That Takes a Clear Position

We can then also make a thesis statement that takes an arguable position, if we need to write an argumentative paper. All we need to do is make sure that position is, in fact, arguable. Take a look at these two examples:

  • The “battles” between Michigan and Ohio in April July and September of 1835 should be called The Toledo Comedy, instead of the Toledo War.
  • The Toledo War made the citizens of Michigan and Ohio into buffoons in April, July, and September of 1835.

The cases above the thesis statements are argumentative, precisely worded, and focused upon a single, manageable point. They each take a precise and manageable position that can be supported with evidence in order to prove the point.

Argumentative thesis statements are more difficult to write, but once the process is finished, the paper becomes much easier.

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 Jule Romans