Every good research paper needs a strong thesis statement. Typically, this is a line or two near the start where you set out the basic idea or argument that you will explore. But how do you write a perfect thesis statement? We have five top tips:
- Think about the type of paper you are writing.
- Come up with a question that your paper will answer.
- Answer your question to work out a point you can argue or defend.
- Summarize the key arguments or points you will make.
- Review your thesis statement after writing your paper.
For more advice on all the above, read our guide below.
1. Tailor Your Thesis Statement to Your Paper Type
Different papers may require different approaches to writing a thesis statement. Three common paper types are argumentative, expository, and analytical:
- Argumentative – An argumentative thesis statement sets out the position you will argue for and outlines the key point(s) from your paper.
- Expository – Expository essays explain something, so the thesis statement for a paper like this will summarize the key facts from your research.
- Analytical – Analytical essays focus on breaking down and exploring an issue in depth, so the thesis statement will summarize the issue and your analysis.
Thus, before writing anything, work out what kind of paper you’re writing. Once you’ve done this, you can tailor your thesis statement to match. We’ll give examples of argumentative, expository, and analytical thesis statements below.
2. Start with a Question
To work out a basic thesis, you need to start with an essay question. This is the issue your paper will address, and thus the main subject for your thesis statement.
If you were assigned a question for the paper, this will be simple! Otherwise, think about the topic of your paper and work out a simple question that you will answer.
You can see some examples of possible essay questions below:
- Argumentative – Should vaccination for measles be compulsory or voluntary?
- Expository – What effect did the Great Depression have on the US economy?
- Analytical – What is the role of the “play within a play” in Hamlet?
This question will provide a jumping off point for your full thesis statement.
3. Work Out a Position You Can Defend
When you have a question, sketch out a basic answer for it. Importantly, this has to be something someone could disagree with or take a differing position on.
For instance, simply saying “The Great Depression had a major effect on the economy” would not be enough. This is too obvious. Instead, try to think of as position that someone could rationally dispute or disagree with. For example:
- Argumentative – Vaccination for measles should be compulsory.
- Expository – The Great Depression significantly reduced GDP in the USA, triggering a shift to a mixed economy.
- Analytical – Shakespeare uses the “play within a play” in Hamlet to explore the relationship between performance and authenticity.
This will become the basic thesis you will expand on or defend in your paper.
4. Summarize Your Key Arguments
A strong thesis statement will be clear and concise (a sentence or two at most). But it should also be detailed enough to show how you will answer your essay question.
Thus, when you have your basic thesis, you will want to expand it to summarize the key points or arguments you will use to support it. For instance:
- Argumentative – Vaccination for measles should be compulsory because research shows it has saved millions of lives with few negative side effects.
- Expository – The Great Depression reduced GDP in the US by 50% within the first five years, triggering a shift to New Deal politics and a mixed economy.
- Analytical – Shakespeare uses the “play within a play” in Hamlet to explore themes of performance and authenticity, including the reliability of external appearances and how performance shapes our lives.
Your thesis statement should now give a strong sense of what you will say in the rest of your paper, setting up the reader to follow your arguments.
5. Review Your Thesis After Writing Your Paper
The thesis statement always goes at the start of a paper, so it may be one of the first things you write. But it is worth revisiting your thesis once you have a first draft.
This is because you need your thesis statement to reflect the content of the paper as a whole. And if the focus of your work shifts during writing – perhaps because you found a new piece of evidence or thought of a new argument at some point – you may find your conclusion and your initial thesis don’t quite match up any more.
When you have a first draft, though, you can tweak your thesis statement to reflect any changes made while drafting (or tweak your paper to match the statement).
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