Learning Support Center

Thesis Evolution: Writing a Strong Thesis Statement

I. Why is the thesis so important and what is its function?

  • A thesis states the writer's clearly defined opinion about a particular subject or issue.
  • A thesis identifies the subject of the paper by defining the writer's opinion or stance.
  • A thesis stays focused on that one topic and does not wander off on other topics.
  • A thesis sets up a commitment on the part of the writer to make sure that everything in the thesis is covered somewhere in the paper through explanation and support.
  • A thesis does not contain specific details which should be used for support in the body paragraphs.
  • A thesis is usually one sentence and is the most important sentence in the paper.
  • A thesis is located somewhere in the introductory paragraph, usually at the end of the introduction.

II. What is the difference between a thesis statement and an essay map?

  • A thesis statement is an assertion of the writer's opinion or stance.
  • An essay map is a statement that gives the reasons for the opinion.

III. What is the purpose of an essay map?

  • An essay map outlines the reasons that the writer will use to support the thesis.
  • An essay map is often phrased as a "because" clause.
  • An essay map states what is going to be discussed in the essay.
  • An essay map is used to help organize support but doesn't have to be part of the thesis itself.
  • An essay map may or may not be part of the actual thesis statement in the introductory paragraph.
  • An essay map may or may not fit the formula of three parts with each part leading to one body paragraph.

IV. Characteristics of a successful thesis:

  • The thesis statement sets limits on the scope of what you will cover in the paper.
    • Unlimited: Barriers hinder the handicapped.
    • Limited: Architects are now aware that people with physical, hearing, and sight limitations need easy access to and within public buildings.
  • The thesis statement is specific. Anyone reading the thesis should be able to know what the paper is about. Do not use vague words.
    • Vague: Some TV programs are bad for children.
    • Specific: Violent television programs numb children's sensitivity to real-life acts of violence against people.
  • The thesis statement is a way to unify the ideas in the paper by stating the main idea of the entire essay. A good thesis holds together all the different ideas within the essay. It is a statement of the scope of what you want to include in the paper and the viewpoint or stand you take in relation to it.

V. What is the purpose of a "working" thesis?

  • A working thesis changes as the writer goes through different drafts of the essay.
  • A working thesis reflects changes the writer goes through as they develop and discover ideas.

The following process shows a student experimenting with different thesis statements and the student's comments about each possible thesis.

Attempts Comments
First Books should not be banned from school libraries. "Yes, that's what I mean. And it is persuasive, so it will fulfill the assignment. But that statement sounds too general for my paper. It doesn't tell anything about the content of the paper, either."
Second The First Amendment rights of students are violated when books are banned from school libraries. "That's more specific. But emphasizing constitutional rights this way in the thesis makes it seem that I'm arguing a case of law, and obviously I'm not qualified to do that. Also, it doesn't express the idea of intellectual freedom that interests me."
Third Removing books from school libraries limits students' intellectual freedom by blocking access to ideas and information. "That sounds better. I like the wording that emphasizes ideas and information because I think that's what students ought to get from schools. If you can't get to ideas, you can never learn to think for yourself, and you can't think clearly about issues that affect everybody. I'll go with this one!"

VI. What a Thesis Statement Is Not:

A.  A promise or a statement of intention cannot serve as a thesis statement. (Note: Some disciplines -- like philosophy -- may want a statement-of-intention thesis.)

  • If you propose to do something in your paper, go ahead and do it.
  • Phrase the thesis statement to show that you have fulfilled your expectation, not simply that you are going to do so.
Weak In this paper I am going to show how the ancient Egyptians were able to build so many huge temples and tombs.
Strong The ancient Egyptians were able to build so many tombs because their dependence on agriculture left seasons when farmers had time to do other kinds of work, their religion encouraged people to do work that glorified their gods and pharaohs, and busy masses were necessary for political and economic stability.

B. A question cannot serve as a thesis statement.

  • A question tells nothing about the content of the paper, and does not let the reader know what the essay will be proving.
Question What will Maya Angelou's place in literature be?
Weak Maya Angelou will have a secure place in several genres of literature.
Strong Maya Angelou is an accessible writer whose prose, poetry, and filmscripts will long be read because they deal with human conditions, not just with "black problems."


Roth, Audrey J. The Research Paper: Process, Form, and Content, 6th ed., 1989.
Maurius, Richard. A Writer's Companion, 2nd ed., 1991.
Wyrick, Jean. Steps to Writing Well, 2nd ed., 1993.

If you have any questions, please call 425.640.1750.