The Thesis Statement



GO TO "The Thesis Statement"




Many students make the mistake of thinking that having a subject is thesame as having a thesis for an essay or research paper. However, the thesis of your writing is much more definite than the general subject. A thesis statement is a specific declaration that summarizes the point of view you will express in your paper. It is the basic stand you take, the opinion you express and the point you make about your narrowed subject. Its your controlling idea, tying together and giving direction to all otherelements in your paper. Your primary purpose is to persuade the readerthat your thesis is a valid one.

A thesis statement is one of the greatest unifying aspects of a paper. It should act as mortar, holding together the various bricks of a paper, summarizing the main point of the paper "in a nutshell," and pointing toward the paper's development. The thesis statement can help "map" a paper as it suggests an order or direction for the paper's development. A thesis statement, for example, might read:

Judy Syfer's essay, "I Want a Wife," exaggerates the marital expectations facing women in our society today.

The following sentence could continue:

Those expectations include managing a household, maintaining a career, and having a good relationship with a spouse.

In this example, the thesis statement suggests an obvious path for development in "marital expectations." The writer develops the paragraph by exploring the term "marital expectations." Three following paragraphs, for example, would logically discuss 1) household responsibilities, 2) careers, and 3) marital relationships.

A good thesis statement often answers the questions "How?" and/or "Why?". You may encounter a thesis statement that reads:

The lifestyle of a teenager in the Middle Ages was very different from the lifestyle of most modern American teenagers.

How? In what ways are the lifestyles of the youngsters different? Better versions of this statement might be:

Because of the relative freedom enjoyed by youngsters today, the lifestyle of modern American teenagers is very different from the lifestyle of teens in the Middle Ages.


Teenagers in the Middle Ages, who were considered young but responsible adults by the age of sixteen, had very different lifestyles compared to modern American teenagers.

Both of the thesis statements above are improvements because they do not simply state the obvious; they give a reason why or how we can accept the thesis statement.

Now answer these questions:

  • What question is my assignment asking?
  • How can I answer that question AND focus on a small area of investigation?
  • Can I sum up the main idea of my paper in a nutshell? Try this: state or write down, in a sentence or two, the paper's main idea. If you can do that, you're close to having a workable thesis.
  • What "code words" (such as "relative freedom" or "lifestyles" above) does the draft of my thesis statement contain? Are these words adequately explained?
  • As I read my paper, have I supported the thesis, or digressed?


  • Ask, "Is it obvious?" "Having read my thesis, do I feel like reading more?"
  • Ask, "Is it trivial?"  Think of an anti-thesis to your planned thesis statement.  Is your anti-thesis ridiculous?  If so your thesis has a good chance of being trivial. Choose worthy opponents when constructing a thesis.
  • Ask, "Does my thesis oversimplify a good argument?"

Weak thesis statements answer only "what?"  A stronger thesis answers the question "how?" and "why?"


That is, such thesis statement suggest why resolving the problem you present is crucial in understanding some issue.


The beginning of an essay (which will direct the rest of your essay whether or not you have a thesis sentence) is particularly important.  It determines how your audience will respond to what follows.  Get us excited and we'll give your essay a chance; bore us and you've lost us; confuse and we'll never really follow you, for how well we understand you is largely determined by how well you prepare us

  • Begin by setting up a problem (and then solve it)
  • Begin with an unusual or surprising observation
  • Begin with a paradox (and then untangle it)
  • Begin by describing the genesis of your idea
  • Begin by setting forth an idea you will later refute
  • Begin with a pertinent quote, or juxtapose two quotes whose points you will then discuss.
  • Begin with a question
  • Begin by opening up various possibilities for interpretation, and end by choosing one from among them
  • begin with an anecdote -- a brief, engaging story

How to Handle Evidence

After you have constructed a thesis statement, you will need to present evidence in support of that thesis.  In fact, while your thesis is the heart of your paper, most of your essay will be devoted to supporting that thesis with evidence.  Supporting evidence for an argument generally involves four elements.

1. The Claim -- What you want your readers to believe

2. The Evidence -- What you will use to support the claim

3. The Warrant -- A general principle that explains why you think your evidence is relevant to your claim

4. Qualifications -- Those acknowledgements which make your claim and evidence more precise

How do these elements fit together?  Let's look at the relationship of the individual elements before proceeding to join them altogether.

You must always state both your claim and your supporting evidence explicitly; one without the other is either pointless evidence or an ungrounded opinion.  Taking a fairly straightforward example:

"I know it rained last night (claim) because the streets are wet (evidence)."

It rained last night  


the streets are wet


It would be difficult to take issue with this claim-evidence relationship.

But most evidence-claim relationships are not so simple. They require two further elements: a warrant and qualifications. A warrant is a general principal that serves as a bridge between your claim and your evidence -- it explains how your evidence is both accurate and relevant to your claim.  If one claims, say, "The emancipation of Russian peasants was merely symbolic (claim) because it didn't improve the material conditions of their daily lives (evidence)," the reader might ask:

"Even if I grant that your evidence regarding the quality of life for Russian peasants did not improve, why should that lead me to believe your claim that their emancipation was merely symbolic?"

This questions underscores that even if both your claim and your evidence are entirely accurate, it is possible to make a weak argument. You must explain why the evidence you are presenting supports the claim you are making; you must establish a warrant between your claim and your evidence

In this example, the warrant might be:

"Whenever a political action fails to improve the lives of those it is alleged to help, we judge that reform to have been only symbolic."

Qualifications limit the certainty of your conclusions, address your readers' potential objections, and project the impression of a careful writer.  By recognizing objections through the use of qualifications, your writing confronts issues that might interrupt the movement between your evidence and your claim.

Qualifications to the claim used above regarding Russian peasants might include limited aspects of peasants' material lives that did  improve, but were perhaps not related to their emancipation.  

One good way (but certainly not the ONLY way) to develop your paragraphs that present evidence is to adopt this three part system:

  • claim
  • evidence
  • warrant

CLAIM  State clearly the point you are making and its relation to your thesis.  DO NOT LET YOUR EVIDENCE SPEAK FOR YOU.  You must make the point yourself and in your own language.

EVIDENCE  In the evidence portion of providing evidence, you give the reader the quotation, fact, statistic or the like that illustrates your point. You should always CITE your evidence.

WARRANT  You must interpret the evidence for the reader in such a way that you make explicit HOW the evidence you provided makes your point and supports your thesis.  Evidence can not stand on its own.  Do not leave quotations or evidence undigested by your analysis.

Here's an example of this particular way to organize a paragraph:

Ghandi sees modern civilization as a threat to the Indian people because it promotes an endless cycle of selfish want. (claim) He says, "The railways, machineries and the corresponding increase of indulgent habits are the true badges of slavery of the Indian people." (evidence) He sees such modern technologies as the railway and machines as enslaving because they require money and labor to build, solely so that such things might exist. In Ghandi's mind, such things are not only unnecessary, they are unhelpful to a people. Happiness, he asserts, is largely a mental condition. As such, it is unnecessary to acquire material goods. (warrant)

Notice that the warrant section in the paragraph above does NOT merely assert that the evidence proves the claim. ("This quotation proves my point..."); rather, the warrant carefully demonstrates HOW and WHY the quotation illustrates the claim.