- A thesis statement encapsulates what an essay is about and how it will defend its claim.
- In academic writing, the thesis most commonly appears in the first paragraph.
- A strong thesis statement makes a debatable claim others may disagree with.
- Your introduction should give readers a glimpse into how your essay is laid out.
A thesis statement, or thesis claim, is what answers the question, “What is this essay about and what will it prove?” If the essay fails to answer this question within the first paragraph — or within the first few paragraphs for a long paper or dissertation — the reader will have no reason to continue reading.
Professors are obligated to read your work, but even they would like to know what and why they are reading. Convention leads college instructors to expect a thesis statement at the beginning of a paper — though, as we’ll discuss, some essays may call for it in the conclusion instead.
Knowing when and how to include a thesis statement will not only help you get better grades on your papers, but will also train you to write for future situations in which readers are not paid to read your work.
Where Does the Thesis Statement Go?
College students have two options for where to put their thesis statement in an academic essay: the introduction (deductive essay) or the conclusion (inductive essay).
Academic writing prizes clarity and information offered in an ordered and incremental manner.
An inductive essay offers relevant facts and information before gradually narrowing them down to a specific claim, usually found in the conclusion; this is also called a “delayed thesis.” Unless an assignment explicitly calls for the inductive model, do not use it.
Academic writing generally prefers the deductive model, in which the essay begins with a claim and then devotes its remainder to proving that assertion. While some disciplines, like creative writing, may prefer subtlety, opacity, deliberate confusion, or other efforts to misguide the reader, academic writing prizes clarity and information offered in an ordered and incremental manner.
Weak vs. Strong Thesis Statements
For most college essays, your thesis must include an argument. A purely descriptive claim or a statement of opinion will make for a weak and unconvincing thesis statement. If you’re not sure whether your thesis is appropriate, consult your professor.
An argument is a claim that reasonable people can agree or disagree with. Sometimes this is a value claim, meaning it comes from your personal understanding or your opinion of the world or subject. Other times it may be an intellectual claim, offering scholarly evidence to change or add a level of understanding to a particular topic.
Here’s an example of a weak thesis statement that lacks a clear, debatable assertion:
Weak Thesis Statement:
“Many archaic civilizations had clearly defined social classes.”
This thesis highlights an empirical fact that the student can prove by listing examples, making it adequate for an expository paper or a report; however, it would be weak for an argumentative essay, since no reasonable person could theoretically disagree with it.
Strong Thesis Statement:
“Archaic civilizations with clearly defined social classes produced more successful warriors than those without.”
This narrower thesis claim attempts to affirm a connection between two facts — social classes and successful warriors — using several pieces of evidence. Even if the writer succeeds in proving this claim, reasonable people may disagree with it and propose other reasons the student didn’t consider. Similarly, the student may refute others’ counterarguments.
This intellectual debate is what it means to be involved in an academic conversation — and what it means to have a strong thesis statement.
Here are two more examples of argumentative thesis statements on the same subject. Note that I changed the focus from sociology to archeology and geography, respectively, to illustrate how one subject can be approached through a different lens. The underlined parts are the thesis statements.
It is a known fact that archaic civilizations with clearly defined social classes often survived longer than those without. One anomaly is seventh-century XXX. Close analysis of the cultural artifacts of the XXX region reveals that a social system that operates on exploitation, rather than sharing, will always fail. This lack of inclusion actually leads to a society’s downfall.
Modern-day sociology scholars have argued that class exploitation ensured the success of archaic civilizations. It is my contention, however, that access to food played an equally important role. Archaic civilizations that had food-growing opportunities and systems survived better than those that did not, regardless of the existence of class exploitation.
The above thesis statement examples are more in line with what you’d be expected to write for doctoral-level work, so don’t panic if you’re an undergraduate. Just know that no matter the degree you’re going for, you’ll be expected to forge arguments that go deeper than the obvious or literal level.
Using the First Person to Enhance Your Thesis Claim
Generally, formal writing does not use first- and second-person pronouns, such as “I” and “you.” One exception, however, is the essay’s introduction.
Even then students are usually advised to avoid “you” altogether unless it appears in the hook, and to limit the use of “I” or “my” to just once. This single use of the first person — inserted at a crucial moment in the introduction — can go a long way toward sharpening your argument and establishing the strength of your voice.
You’ll see that I didn’t use any second-person pronouns (i.e., “you,” “your,” “yours”) in any of the four thesis statement examples above; however, I did use one first-person pronoun in the last example (“It is my contention, however, that …”). In this sentence, using the word “my” followed by “however” highlights the fact that my idea is distinct from those of the sociologists mentioned in the first sentence.
This single use of the first person — inserted at a crucial moment in the introduction — can go a long way toward sharpening your argument.
The use of “my” also signals to the reader that the upcoming clause likely contains something important: the thesis claim. The final sentence in that paragraph further develops that claim.
Perhaps you’ve been taught that a thesis statement should only be one sentence long, but this doesn’t always work well for longer or more complicated research papers. Ultimately, you should use as many words as you need to for your thesis, as long as you avoid sounding repetitive or self-contradictory.
Remember that clarity is key. The more work you do in your introduction, the clearer your thesis will be to you and your reader — and the more focused the rest of your essay will be.