A thesis statement is the one that states the main idea of an essay. It usually appears toward the end of the introduction. Some instructors use the term proposition instead of thesis, but the two terms are essentially similar – the main idea or point of the essay.

thesis statement

Working thesis

In order to guide your work, you should have a working thesis as you develop your essay. Later you will revise it into a finished thesis statement.

The working thesis has two parts: a topic part and a comment part. The topic part to the right of the slash mark states the topic of the paper. The comment part to the left of the slash mark makes an important point about the topic.

Recent studies of depression / suggest that it is much more closely related to physiology than scientists had previously thought.

A successful working thesis has three characteristics:

  • It should be potentially interesting to your intended audience.
  • In its language, it should be as specific as possible.
  • It must limit and focus a topic enough to make it manageable.

Inadequate working thesis:

The theory of “nuclear winter” is being debated around the globe.

Adequate working thesis:

Scientists from several countries have challenged the “nuclear winter” theory and claimed that it is more propaganda than science.

Developing an explicit thesis

An explicit proposition forces you to articulate all your major lines of argument and to see how those arguments carry out your purpose and appeal to your audience. In the drafting stage, your explicit proposition might take the following form:

In this essay, I plan to (explain, argue, demonstrate, analyze, and so on) that _______________________________________________________ because of (1)_______________________,(2)_____________________, and (3)________________________________.

Creating an argumentative thesis

In much of your college work, you will be asked to take a position and argue for that position – whether to analyze a trend or explain a historical event or prove a mathematical equation. Such work will usually require you to make an arguable statement, to make a claim based on the statement, and finally to present good reasons in support of the claim.

First make a statement about a topic and then check that the statement can, in fact, be argued. An arguable statement should have three characteristics:

  • It should attempt to convince readers of something, change their mind something, or urge them to do something.
  • It should address a problem for which no easy solution exists or ask a question to which no absolute answers exits.
  • It should present a position that readers could disagree with realistically.

Examples of argumentative propositions:

Van Gogh’s paintings are the work of a madman.
Fatal Attraction was the best movie of the 1980’s.

Examples of non-argumentative propositions:

Shakespeare died in 1616.
Water boils at 212 degree Fahrenheit.

Once you have an arguable statement, you need to make a claim about the statement, one you will then work to persuade readers to accept.

An arguable statement:

The use of pesticides endangers the lives of farm workers.
At this point, the statement claims what is. To develop a claim that can become the working thesis for an argument, you usually need to direct this kind of statement toward some action; that is, your claim needs to move from what is to what ought to be:
Claim about what ought to be:
Because pesticides endanger the lives of farm workers, the government should ban their use.

In essays for literature or history, however, you will usually be making a claim that urges readers not to take action, but to interpret something in a certain way. You still persuade.