What is a thesis?
A thesis statement declares what you believe and what you intend to prove. A good thesis statement makes the difference between a thoughtful research project and a simple retelling of facts.
A good tentative thesis will help you focus your search for information. But don't rush! You must do a lot of background reading before you know enough about a subject to identify key or essential questions. You may not know how you stand on an issue until you have examined the evidence. You will likely begin your research with a working, preliminary or tentative thesis which you will continue to refine until you are certain of where the evidence leads.
The thesis statement is typically located at the end of your opening paragraph. (The opening paragraph serves to set the context for the thesis.)
Remember, your reader will be looking for your thesis. Make it clear, strong, and easy to find.
Attributes of a good thesis:
- It should be contestable, proposing an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree. A strong thesis is provocative; it takes a stand and justifies the discussion you will present.
- It tackles a subject that could be adequately covered in the format of the project assigned.
- It is specific and focused. A strong thesis proves a point without discussing “everything about …” Instead of music, think "American jazz in the 1930s" and your argument about it.
- It clearly asserts your own conclusion based on evidence. Note: Be flexible. The evidence may lead you to a conclusion you didn't think you'd reach. It is perfectly okay to change your thesis!
- It provides the reader with a map to guide him/her through your work.
- It anticipates and refutes the counter-arguments
- It avoids vague language (like "it seems").
- It avoids the first person. ("I believe," "In my opinion")
- It should pass the So what? or Who cares? test (Would your most honest friend ask why he should care or respond with "but everyone knows that"?) For instance, "people should avoid driving under the influence of alcohol," would be unlikely to evoke any opposition.
Simple equations for a thesis might look something like this:
Specific topic + Attitude/Angle/Argument = Thesis
How do you know if you've got a solid tentative thesis?
Try these five tests:
- Does the thesis inspire a reasonable reader to ask, "How?" or Why?"
- Would a reasonable reader NOT respond with "Duh!" or "So what?" or "Gee, no kidding!" or "Who cares?"
- Does the thesis avoid general phrasing and/or sweeping words such as "all" or "none" or "every"?
- Does the thesis lead the reader toward the topic sentences (the subtopics needed to prove the thesis)?
- Can the thesis be adequately developed in the required length of the paper or project?
If you cannot answer "YES" to these questions, what changes must you make in order for your thesis to pass these tests?
Visit our thesis generator for more advice.
Proficient vs. Advanced
Proficient. Inspires the reasonable reader to ask “How?” or “Why?”
Advanced. Inspires the reasonable reader to ask “How?” or “Why?” and to exclaim “Wow!” This thesis engages the student
in challenging or provocative research and displays a level of thought that breaks new ground.
Remember: Reading and coaching can significantly improve the tentative thesis.
As you read look for:
- Interesting contrasts or comparisons or patterns emerging in the information
- Is there something about the topic that surprises you?
- Do you encounter ideas that make you wonder why?
- Does something an "expert" says make you respond, "no way! That can be right!" or "Yes, absolutely. I agree!"
Example of brainstorming a thesis:
Select a topic: television violence and children
Ask an interesting question: What are the effects of television violence on children?
Revise the question into a thesis: Violence on television increases aggressive behavior in preschool children.
Remember this argument is your “preliminary” or “working” thesis. As you read you may discover evidence that may affect your stance. It is okay to revise your thesis!
For more ideas on brainstorming visit Purdue's Thought Starters
Create a list of sample questions to guide your research:
- How many hours of television does the average young child watch per week?
- How do we identify a "violent" program?
- Which types of programs are most violent?
- Are there scientific research studies that have observed children before and after watching violent programs?
- Are there experts you might contact?
- Which major groups are involved in investigating this question?
For basic advice on almost any writing issue as you work on this major project, visit the Purdue OWL Handouts and our own Research Project Guide and our MLA Stylesheet.
For advice on selecting your sources, visit Why Should I Take this Author Seriously?
Now, let's play: Is it a thesis?
I would like to become a chef when I finish school
Although both chefs and cooks can prepare fine meals, chefs differ from cooks in education, professional commitment, and artistry.
I enjoy white water rafting.
A first water rafting experience can challenge the body and spirit and transform an adolescent into an adult
Men are chauvinists.
Our American family structure encourages men to repress their true feelings, leaving them open to physical, psychological, and relationship difficulties.
Steroids, even those legally available, are addictive and should be banned from sports.
Hip hop is the best thing that has happened to music in twenty years
Though many people dismiss hip hop as offensive, hip hop music offers urban youth an important opportunity for artistic expression, and allows them to articulate the poetry of the street.
Many people object to today's violent horror movies.
Despite their high-tech special effects, today's graphically violent horror movies do not convey the creative use of cinematography or the emotional impact that we saw in the classic horror films of the 1940s and 50s.
Your turn: Now let’s work together to develop thesis statements around areas in which we already have some background knowledge.
Here’s a few ideas: high school sports, school uniforms, high stakes testing, steroid abuse, divorce, school dances, music censorship
Let's start by brainstorming keywords and concepts.
Thesis Resources on the Web
For more information on developing a thesis, visit: