Constructing Effective Thesis Statements

Without a strong thesis, your essay will have a weak foundation. Here are some quick tips to get you started:

  1. Consider the thesis as the controlling idea of your essay.
  2. Realize that your first attempt at writing a thesis statement is just a working thesis statement. It works hard to guide your essay but will need to be “cleaned up” when the drafting is done.
  3. Include wording that conveys your topic, purpose and plan for developing the topic.
  4. Avoid articulating your thesis as an announcement.
  5. Keep in mind that the thesis is a statement, so it can be articulated in more than one sentence.

Please read on for more guidance!

The thesis statement is the controlling idea of your essay. It controls all the information that comes before and after it: the introduction, support paragraphs, and conclusion. This means that you should have a strong working thesis statement before you begin drafting your essay—before you try writing your introduction and certainly before you begin drafting your supporting paragraphs. It’s called a working thesis because it’s the statement you work from to write a focused and unified draft of your essay. Anything written before you’ve determined your working thesis is not a draft—it’s freewriting, a form of brainstorming. This is true because without a working thesis, your writing has no established focus or order and is, therefore, an exercise in generating ideas, not developing/drafting them.

So how do you construct a useful, focused working thesis statement?

It’s actually pretty simple. Turn your topic into a question and answer it. Voila! The answer is your working thesis. As this is your working thesis, you will need to refine it after you’ve completed the draft of your essay. Just like any other part of your essay, it will need to go through the revising and editing processes (no, these are not the same).

In your completed essay, a refined version of your thesis should be placed at the end of your introduction. Just because your thesis is the first sentence you write doesn’t mean that it is the first sentence of your essay. If you’ve read “Writing Introductions,” then you might spot a pattern here: writing an essay is not a linear process. In other words, the order in which you compose some parts of your essay is not the order in which they will appear in the final version. Although your thesis should close your introductory paragraph, you should construct it before you draft the introduction (and any other part of your essay) because the thesis is the foundation of your entire essay—the controlling idea.

So what does an effective thesis look like?

As a formula, the thesis looks like this:

Subject + Claim about the Subject + Plan of Development (listing of the main ideas) = Thesis Statement/Controlling Idea

Here’s an example:

The college experience can help a young person discover more about him- or herself because it allows the student to create new relationships, discover hidden talents, and uncover unknown interests
blue = subject of the essay
orange = claim about the subject
blue + orangetopic of the essay
green = plan of development (the order in which the writer will develop the                                      essay topic)

The wording of the thesis must convey the topic, purpose, and plan for developing the topic. The wording of the above example reveals a cause-effect purpose without explicitly stating, “I am going to explain some effects of the college experience.” The phrase can help and the word because implies this purpose by conveying results of the college experience.

In short, the thesis/controlling idea makes clear to your reader
what you’re writing about and why.

While the thesis can be worded in a variety of ways, you should always avoid presenting your thesis as an announcement, such as “This essay is about. . .”  or “In this essay, I will. . .”.

When determining how to articulate/construct your thesis, it’s better to think about the thesis as a statement rather than a sentence: thesis statement instead of thesis sentence. The word sentence implies that the thesis must be a single sentence. But this can make for a very awkward sentence if the controlling idea of the essay is complex, causing too much information to be crammed into a single sentence.

When you follow this method and advice for constructing effective thesis statements, you’ll find your thinking and writing about your topic focused and organized, which will lead to a less frustrating drafting experience.

Happy Writing!

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