How to write a thesis statement

This post, How to Write a Thesis Statement, is the first post in our 5 part Essay Writing Series. In this series, we will break essay writing into a series of parts and solve some commonly asked questions to give you the tools to write consistent essays.

Some common questions about essay structure are:

  • What is a thesis statement?
  • What does a thesis statement do?
  • Is the thesis statement important?
  • How do I write a good thesis statement?

In this post, we’ll give you an overview of essay structure and explain why a thesis statement is important for your essay. We’ll then give you a step-by-step guide for writing a Band 6 thesis.

Table of Contents

1. Essay Structure2. What is a thesis statement3. How to write a thesis statement – a step-by-step guide

This series of posts will give you step-by-step advice for writing well structured Band 6 essays. In these posts, you will find some of the tip and practices that Matrix students are taught in the English courses.

If you want to jump ahead, you can read the other posts in this series:

Whether you are writing a short essay or a doctoral dissertation, your thesis statement will arguably be the most difficult sentence to formulate. An effective thesis statement states the purpose of the paper and, therefore, functions to control, assert and structure your entire argument. Without a sound thesis, your argument may sound weak, lacking in direction, and uninteresting to the reader.

Start with a question — then make the answer your thesis

Regardless of how complicated the subject is, almost any thesis can be constructed by answering a question.

  • Question mark drawn in yellow chalk on black pavementQuestion: “What are the benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade classroom?”
    • Thesis: “Computers allow fourth graders an early advantage in technological and scientific education.”
  • Question: “Why is the Mississippi River so important in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn?”
    • Thesis: “The river comes to symbolize both division and progress, as it separates our characters and country while still providing the best chance for Huck and Jim to get to know one another.”

  • Question: “Why do people seem to get angry at vegans, feminists, and other ‘morally righteous’ subgroups?”
    • Thesis: “Through careful sociological study, we’ve found that people naturally assume that “morally righteous” people look down on them as “inferior,” causing anger and conflict where there generally is none.”

Tailor your thesis to the type of paper you’re writing

Not all essays persuade, and not all essays teach. The goals of your paper will help you find the best thesis.

  • Analytical: Breaks down something to better examine and understand it.
    • Ex. “This dynamic between different generations sparks much of the play’s tension, as age becomes a motive for the violence and unrest that rocks King Lear.”

  • Expository: Teaches or illuminates a point.
    • Ex. “The explosion of 1800’s philosophies like Positivism, Marxism, and Darwinism undermined and refuted Christianity to instead focus on the real, tangible world.”

  • Argumentative: Makes a claim, or backs up an opinion, to change other peoples’ minds.
    • Ex. “Without the steady hand and specific decisions of Barack Obama, America would never have recovered from the hole it entered in the early 2000’s.”

Ensure your thesis is provable

Hand holding a camera lens in front of a blurry field of sunflowers; through the lens they are clearDo not come up with your thesis and then look it up later. The thesis is the end point of your research, not the beginning. You need to use a thesis you can actually back up with evidence.

Good Theses Examples:

  • “By owning up to the impossible contradictions, embracing them and questioning them, Blake forges his own faith, and is stronger for it. Ultimately, the only way for his poems to have faith is to temporarily lose it.”
  • “According to its well-documented beliefs and philosophies, an existential society with no notion of either past or future cannot help but become stagnant.”
  • “By reading “Ode to a Nightingale” through a modern deconstructionist lens, we can see how Keats viewed poetry as shifting and subjective, not some rigid form.”

Bad Theses Examples:

  • “The wrong people won the American Revolution.” While striking and unique, who is “right” and who is “wrong” is exceptionally hard to prove, and very subjective.
  • “The theory of genetic inheritance is the binding theory of every human interaction.” Too complicated and overzealous. The scope of “every human interaction” is just too big
  • “Paul Harding’s novel Tinkers is ultimately a cry for help from a clearly depressed author.” Unless you interviewed Harding extensively, or had a lot of real-life sources, you have no way of proving what is fact and what is fiction.”

Get the sound right

hand holding white megaphoneYou want your thesis statement to be identifiable as a thesis statement. You do this by taking a very particular tone and using specific kinds of phrasing and words. Use words like “because” and language which is firm and definitive.

Example thesis statements with good statement language include:

  • “Because of William the Conqueror’s campaign into England, that nation developed the strength and culture it would need to eventually build the British Empire.”
  • “Hemingway significantly changed literature by normalizing simplistic writing and frank tone.”

Essential essay structure: How to write a thesis | Essay writing Part 1

Many students are confronted and struggle with English. Often students think that English is an esoteric or abstract subject. This is not the case. Learning how to write a good essay is something developed through practice and logic, not innate skill or talent. Anybody can write a good essay with practice and instruction.

In this series of posts, we will show you some of the skills that Matrix students use as they learn to write Band 6 responses. First, we will learn about the structure of an essay, and then we will look at why the thesis is the solid foundation on which we build our argument.

What is Essay Structure?

Essay structure is the logical sequencing of information we use when composing a written argument. When you break it down, essay writing is actually a fairly straightforward process.

  1. Introduction – Introduce your main argument (thesis)
  2. Introduction – Explain the key 2 or 3 ideas (themes) that will support your main argument
  3. Introduction – Explain how these ideas fit together logically
  4. Body Paragraph – Introduce a specific idea
  5. Body Paragraph – Present evidence that supports your idea
  6. Body Paragraph – Connect this idea to your main argument
  7. Body Paragraph – Repeat steps 4,5,6  for the other ideas that support your main argument
  8. Conclusion – Restate your argument
  9. Conclusion – Make a concluding statement.

When you break essay writing down into a process, it becomes straightforward and systematic.

Take a moment to read back through that process and think about any patterns that you see.

Yes. That’s right, there is a lot of repetition in an essay!

This repetition isn’t a flaw, quite the opposite.

Repetition helps a reader retain ideas and see how they all slot together.

This is why the introduction has statements that are repeated in the body paragraph and then the conclusion. This means that you are reasserting your key ideas. Essay writing is a process of introducing an idea, supporting it with evidence, and then reasserting that idea again.

We can take the process of essay writing and look at it in a diagram:

Blog-English-How-To-Write-A-Thesis-Statement-Essay-Structure

Diagram: Essay Structure ©Matrix Education 2017

Clearly, essay writing isn’t that complex. No, it is just a process. Complexity comes from the ideas you present and the detail with which you support them.

In this post, we will look at the first step of this process. The thesis statement.

Let’s have a look at what it does.

What is a thesis statement?

The thesis is the foundation of your essay. It structures your argument. Having a good thesis is essential to getting a band six result, regardless of what module or level of English you are doing.

What happens to a building if its foundation isn’t sound? It won’t bear stress and will collapse. Similarly, if your thesis statement is weak or flawed your argument will have fundamental weaknesses. 

Writing a good thesis statement is not easy. There is a tendency to parrot the question back at markers or present a statement that is overly broad and doesn’t give your discussion a focus. Sometimes students forget to address the whole of the question. These errors will leave you with a flawed thesis.

Your thesis needs to be concise, but also answer the question. It must introduce an idea that you can readily repeat throughout your essay so that your reader is constantly aware of what you are arguing.

Now we know what a thesis is and how it functions within an essay, let’s look at a step-by-step process for writing one!

A successful essay has three key elements: A, B, and C.

This sets clear parameters for your reading and note-making. It also gives you a hook to hang your essay on; you will refine it as you read to gather research material on the characteristics of a successful essay. From your reading, you will identify three elements that you will make a case for as the most important. Although you won’t be developing a ‘for and against’ argument, you will have to convince your reader of your case. In this example, there’s no definitive ‘right’ answer – there are many important characteristics from which to choose – but you will have to justify your choice and convince your reader of its validity.

step-2-02

As we saw in the Directive Verbs section, ‘discuss’ means that you have to ‘examine, giving the details and the points for and against’ and that you must ‘develop a logical argument backed by sound evidence’. Usually the essay topic is complex and, therefore, cannot be addressed by a simple ‘for’ or ‘against’ argument; there will always be both points for and points against, and all these points need to be acknowledged.

However, to write an effective argumentative essay, you will need to begin by taking a definite position on your topic, and expressing your position in a clear, arguable thesis statement, which you then defend with evidence and logic. In Model Essay Two, you have to take a position either ‘for’ or ‘against’ the validity of essay writing as a component of student assessment. As you read and research, you may want to modify your thesis statement or even take the opposite position from the one you started with – this is why at this stage we call it the provisional thesis statement.

A provisional thesis statement for Model Essay Two might be:

  • Setting essay assignments as a component of student assessment at university is a valid practice.

Alternatively, it might be:

  • Setting essay assignments as a component of student assessment at university is not a valid practice.

In supporting either of these thesis statements, you need to build a reasoned argument in the middle paragraphs (rather than simply presenting an organised list of points as you would in a descriptive essay).

It is essential that you write down a provisional thesis statement before you begin reading and researching, because this will help focus and give purpose to your reading. Do remember, however, that it is a provisional statement only; be prepared to modify it as you gather information from your reading.

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