Dr. Karen Palmer and Dr. Sandi Van Lieu

Ah, the dreaded essay thesis statement.

Students often complain that thesis statements are difficult to write, but know that many professors also find they are difficult to write. We hope to help you through the process.

Importance of the Thesis

No matter what type of paper you write—evaluation, research, argumentation—the center of your paper will be your thesis statement. From now through the rest of your education, most instructors will want you to have a well-developed thesis statement in your essays. This is why it is important that you learn to do it correctly.

Most academic writing includes a thesis, which is the main stance you decide to take toward your topic. Your thesis tells readers what your paper will be about. It also serves as a target you must ultimately hit as you write, though that target may move around quite a bit as you go through the drafting process. You might have an idea about your thesis early on, or you might only decide upon it once you have worked with your topic and plan for a while. You might continually tweak your thesis as you learn more and develop your opinions about your topic.

While writing your paper, you will have a tentative, or working, thesis. This means that your thesis will most likely change as you find support and write your paper. You may write and re-write your thesis several times while writing an essay. The important thing is that in the end you have a specific and focused thesis and that everything else in your paper supports or works to prove this thesis to be true.

Topics and Personal Stances

This table shows how topics and personal stances relate:

Topic Personal Stance
College students’ schedules College students’ schedules should be set by the students, not by their parents.
Fallen logs in national parks Fallen logs in national parks should be harvested rather than left to decay and increase the likelihood of forest fires.

Developing your personal stance is critical for several reasons. It narrows your topic to a final manageable level, and it makes the written work uniquely yours. Taking a personal stance gives you a point of view to develop, support, and defend. When you present your stance, it ultimately awakens emotions in your readers as they determine for themselves whether they agree or disagree with your stance.

If you have trouble deciding on a thesis, keep in mind that your thesis ties directly to the main purpose and audience of your writing project. It is the main point you want to make to your audience. Ask yourself how you personally relate to the topic. Take the college students’ schedules topic, for example. Your response to how you are personally related to the topic could be one of the following:

  1. I am a person with knowledge to share since my mother always set my college schedules for me resulting in me having little understanding about designing a schedule that works.
  2. I am an angry student since my father insisted on setting up my schedule, and my classes are all spread out in a way that will make my year miserable.
  3. I am an interested observer since my roommate’s mother always set her schedules and almost always ruined our plans to have some common free blocks of time.
  4. I have an opinion that I would like to share about “helicopter parents,” and this is a particularly good example of the phenomenon.
  5. This semester, after talking with an advisor, I sketched out the rest of the coursework in my major, and I see for the first time how everything’s going to fit together.

Once you see how you personally relate to your topic, you can then more clearly see what stance you want to take. Once you take a stance, work on wording it effectively, and you will have a working thesis.

Characteristics of a Thesis Statement

A Thesis Statement Is:

  • A one sentence statement that makes an ASSERTION as to the purpose or point of your paper.
  • Located near the END of your introduction.
  • Always the center of your paper—everything else in your paper must support, be related to, or point back to your thesis statement.
  • What you want to prove in your essay.
  • Direct and straightforward
  • Some type of opinion that a reasonable person could disagree with or argue against.
  • Answers the questions “how?” or “why?”
  • NOT an announcement (I think…; This essay will talk about…)

A Thesis Statement is Not:

A fact or observation

  • Wrong: There are many classes to take in college.
  • Correct: College provides the opportunity for students to explore their gifts and talents and hopefully gain insight into what career they can focus on.

A generalization

  • Wrong: Men are insensitive to women.
  • Correct: In American businesses today, the salary for women is disproportionate to that of men; therefore, Congress should pass a bill that gives tax benefits to companies who equalize salaries of men and women.

An exaggeration

  • Wrong: Eating healthy is so terrible.
  • Correct: Eating only fruits and vegetables for long periods of time can be dangerous because there are other nutrients needed for a human body.

A question

  • Wrong: Is this war justified?
  • Correct: The current war with ISIS is justified because terrorism is being averted, the men in ISIS ruthlessly hurt and kill people, and their religion is not one of peace.

Too broad

  • Wrong: All animals are cool.
  • Correct: The Anteater is one of the most unique and interesting animals within the animal kingdom.

Too narrow

  • Wrong: The song “Killing Friends” is offensive.
  • Correct: Music with vulgar language and images can negatively influence young children and teenagers.

An announcement

  • Wrong: This essay talks about how the current electoral college needs to be revised.
  • Correct: The current presidential voting system and electoral college should be revised so that the popular vote wins the election.

Vague or general

  • Wrong: Charles Dickens was a good author.
  • Correct: Charles Dickens was one of the greatest authors of all time because of his unique use of characterization, his books that highlight significant social issues, and his use of description.

In first person

  • Wrong: I believe that vape smoking is bad for people.
  • Correct: Vape smoking should be avoided by people of all ages because it poses currently unknown health risks.

Student Thesis Examples:

Persuasive or Argumentative Essay:

  • Though maintaining a six-foot distance from one another and testing are useful in ways, face masks appear to be the most effective tool in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Proposal Essay:

  • Until a vaccine is available for all Americans, colleges in the state of Arizona should pass regulations that require the wearing of face masks while on college campuses and within their buildings.

Short Story Analysis Essay:

  • The use of setting in “Hills Like White Elephants” reflects an emotional and physical barrenness felt by the characters, individually and within their relationship, and acts as a symbol that their relationship coming to an end is unavoidable.

Novel Analysis Essay:

  • In, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the characters to represent the moral degradation in 1920s America—Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, and Nick Carraway each depict a lack of ethics as part of achieving the American dream in the roaring twenties.


Check the following rules against your statement:

◊ My thesis statement is only one or two sentences.

◊ My thesis statement is an opinion and not a fact or observation.

◊ A reasonable person could disagree with my thesis statement.

◊ My thesis statement passes the So What? Test

◊ My thesis statement is not a generalization or exaggeration.

◊ My thesis statement is not too broad or too narrow.

◊ My thesis statement is not a question.

◊ My thesis statement is no an announcement and it avoids first person.

◊ My thesis statement is not too vague or general.

Exercise 1

1. Everything in an essay circles around the ____________ statement.

2. A thesis is only how many sentences? ___________ or ___________.

3. A thesis is located near the ______ of the __________.

4. Every thing in your paper must ________, be _______ to, or _____ back to your thesis statement.

5. A thesis statement makes an ___________.

6. A thesis statement answers the questions ________ and ________.

Exercise 2

1. Pick a general topic for your next Essay:______________________________________

2. Ask a question about that topic:___________________________________________

3. What is YOUR answer to that question?_______________________________________

4. Put that answer in the form of an opinion:______________________________________

5. Rewrite it again in the form of a thesis statement:_________________________________

Here’s an example for you:

A general topic for a Proposal Essay: Health Care

A question about that topic: Can the government provide their own health care plan that is affordable for those who don’t have health care?

My answer to that question?: Yes, if they find a way to pay for it and make it affordable for the lower and middles classes.

That answer in the form of an opinion: The government should offer a health care plan that is affordable for every American regardless of income.

Rewritten again in the form of a thesis statement: The government should put time and money into offering a health care plan that is affordable for every American regardless of income, because currently the plans are not affordable for many Americans.

Exercise 3

For each of the following topics, think of a personal stance that might work for a thesis:

1. Student housing

2. Healthy food in restaurants

3. Online classes (and/or partially online or hybrid classes)

4. The future of hard-copy newspapers

5. Minimum age for college students

Additional Resources:





Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Thesis Writing Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Karen Palmer and Dr. Sandi Van Lieu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book