How To Know a Good Thesis When You Write One

Challenging, Grounded, Focused:  Recognizing a Good Thesis When You Write One

So a good thesis statement requires an arguable point and good reasons.  But how do you know if your thesis will work for the assignment?  If it’s challenginggrounded, and properly narrow, it will have promise.


We make assertions all the time, but many would not do for a paper in college.  These kinds of assertions are either established facts or opinions held on entirely personal grounds.  Neither form creates a significant challenge for you nor serves the reader hungry for meaning.  Another way that writers avoid challenge is to ask a question instead of asserting a position on a meaningful issue. 

Statements that Lack ChallengeThe SolutionA Better Thesis
The average college graduate from 2017 carries $28,650 in student loan debt.Matters of established fact do not make good thesis statements. There’s no issue: any dispute is resolved by looking it up in a credible source. Discover an issue related to your topic and take a side you can support.While choosing a college beyond a family’s financial capacity is partly to blame for high levels of student debt, the more significant factors are rising college costs and the practices of the student loan industry.
Bruce Springsteen is my favorite artist.Opinions based on entirely personal grounds cannot be argued about. Can we really tell you that Springsteen is NOT your favorite artist if you say he is? Ask why your readers should share your opinion and supply good reasons for their doing so.Although some of Springsteen’s hits would lead one to dismiss him as a pop music star, an analysis of his lyrics places him in the American songwriting traditions of Woodie Guthrie, Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan.
Statements that Lack ChallengeThe SolutionA Better Thesis
What do stock market indexes tell us about the state of the economy?Though an important step in your inquiry, a question is never a thesis. Replace the question with an answer that you can substantiate with good reasons.The stock market’s record gains during a period of historic job loss says more about the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy than about the state of the U.S. economy.

A paper often runs into trouble when its thesis is too vague. The terms it uses are too vacuous to set up a specific, disciplined argument.

Too VagueThe SolutionA Better Thesis
Shakespeare is the greatest poet because of his style.How can one measure “greatest”? How is “style” to be defined—as a strict matter of sentence construction, or a general approach to subject matter? Ground your thesis in specific details and clearer terms.The duplicity and evil of Shakespeare’s Iago is expressed in a style of negation; Shakespeare has Iago state clearly what he is not, but rarely what he is.

An overly broad thesis statement might take a hundred pages to support decently, while an overly narrow one can be supported in a paragraph or two.

Too VagueThe SolutionA Better Thesis
Establishing a recycling program in Trashville brings up several issues.Underneath a phrase like “several issues” hides an unspecified number of good topics, any one of which could make a successful paper. So choose one of these topics and make it the focus of the paper.Because Trashville cannot find a market for discarded single-use plastics, the city should enact policies discouraging their use and focus instead on recycling paper and glass products.
Too NarrowThe SolutionA Better Thesis
Recycling may or may not be something that a person cares about.A narrow thesis often avoids an issue that promotes a variety of positions. Make your inquiry broader and more challenging by asking a question and staking your position on good reasons.We could motivate Trashville’s residents to recycle if we provided each household with recycling bins and established a collection program that follows our trash collection schedule.