Note 1: Teachers may also refer to the thesis statement as a “claim,” “argument,” or “hypothesis.”
Note 2: All key advice is in bold text.
Thesis Statement Length
The best thesis statements in a short essay are a single sentence long. However, if necessary you can use two sentences.
Thesis Statement Placement
The best version of your thesis statement in formal writing should be in the intro paragraph. A differently worded version of your thesis statement also needs to be in the conclusion paragraph in order to remind your reader of what it is that you proved. When writing in-class timed essays, it is tolerable if the best version of your thesis is in the conclusion paragraph.
Your thesis statement should be the last sentence of the intro paragraph. Whatever you do, do not make the first sentence of your essay the thesis statement. Placing the thesis statement at the absolute beginning is too abrupt and confusing for your readers.
Usually you will improve your thinking about your thesis (or even realize what your thesis actually is) by the end of the first draft of your paper. When that happens your real thesis statement will end up in the conclusion paragraph and it might be different from the one you started with. Don’t leave it like that. Put that solid thesis statement in the intro paragraph.
What makes a good thesis statement?
Make sure your thesis statement answers the prompt/question. When you read the prompt/question out loud and then follow it immediately with your thesis, it should sound natural and make sense.
Your thesis should be specific. Vague or overly general thesis statements will make your essay hard to structure. If you have a general thesis statement, it will be hard to know when you are finished proving it.
Your thesis should have some “because” in it. For example, “QQQQ was important because…” If you have that “because” idea in your thesis, then your thesis will not be vague or too general. If you are stylish, you can avoid using the word “because,” but there is nothing wrong with using that word.
Be prepared to answer “So what?” about your thesis. If you can’t answer that, you don’t have a thesis statement and you didn’t really write an essay.
Make sure it doesn’t sound robotic. It sounds inhuman when one says, “My thesis is…” or “In this paper…”
Some teachers hate first-person thesis statements and some don’t. Personally, I prefer “The Ottoman Empire declined for non-religious reasons” to “I think religion had very little to do with the decline of the Ottoman Empire.” Both thesis statements say the same thing, but the third-person one (no “I”) sounds more professional. It’s your essay, so as your reader I already know that you think your thesis statement. The “I” is implied in your essay, so you don’t need to use “I” in your thesis. I don’t won’t grade you down on first-person writing, but some teachers will mind it enough to cause you problems.
Methods for Creating and/or Improving your Thesis Statement
First of all, actually do that. One-draft essays with tossed-off thesis statements are really obvious to readers (and graders). They are also hard to write well. Spending a few minutes at the beginning of your writing process to polish a good thesis statement will make the whole essay easier to write.
“World War II was bad” is entirely true, but it is also so obvious as to be meaningless in an essay. What about the war was bad? In what way was it bad? Why was it bad? Does everyone thing it was bad? Were there any exceptions? Ask yourself questions such as those in order to refine your thesis. Imagine a critical friendly voice picking your thesis apart.
Brainstorming also works. If you have a general idea, or no idea at all, then a big list or web of things you know can lead you to find a thesis statement. Just writing things out and looking at how they are related can be really helpful.
I’m terrible about either of those methods. I just skip my intro paragraph completely and start writing the basics of my body paragraphs. I like to start with key evidence that I’ve collected and then work backwards. Then I go back at some point and write my intro paragraph and thesis. This also means I have to rework my paragraph conclusion sentences at least. But I always write two-draft essays at least. This would never work on a one-draft or near-one-draft essay.
Whatever thesis creation and polishing method your choose, a thesis is the whole point of any essay. There has to be some point to why you wrote what you wrote other than “my teacher told me to write 500 words.” 500 unfocused words was wasted work, not an essay.
You never need to write “This essay will prove…” or “My thesis is that…”. Just write your thesis. It is your paper, I know you are writing it. This video sums up the idea:
Selected Outside Links for Thesis Statement Advice
The Center For Writing Studies – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Harvard College Writing Center
Ashford University – Thesis Generator – I don’t know that this is a good idea, but it is interesting.