Choosing and Focusing a Topic

Many types of academic essays require a thesis statement: a statement that clearly outlines the topic and argument of your essay. In this learning module, you will learn what a thesis statement is and how to develop a strong thesis statement to anchor your argument.

Develop a thesis statement for your research

Thesis statements are one, or at the most, two sentences that indicate the focus of your research or clearly describe your project. They define the main idea of your project and are used as a tool for organizing your research.

You need to develop a working or preliminary thesis statement to guide your research.

A working thesis statement should be a complete, grammatically correct statement that:

  1. Identifies the topic
  2. Suggests the organization of the research

For example:

The early colonists's reason for emigrating varied from one colony to another.

(Topic: Organization)

This thesis statement implies that this presentation will compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the colonists from different countries.

Formulating a working thesis statement early in the research process can help to limit and direct your research and note-taking. However, you should remain flexible and open to change. Often information discovered during your research can lead to a change in emphasis or a different point of view; thus altering the initial thesis statement.


Steps for developing a thesis statement

Developing a working thesis statement is critically important to your research. Without it, you will not have a direction and focus for your project.

The following steps will help you to develop this working thesis statement.

  • Step 1: Write down a description of your research subject. Why is it important?
  • Step 2: Refine, narrow, and clarify this subject based on your overview
  • Step 3: List supporting evidence gathered from your overview.
  • Step 4: List opposing evidence (if any) gathered from your overview.
  • Step 5: Write a statement that clearly and concisely summarizes the information from the first 4 steps.


Strategies for identifying problem thesis statements

Now that you have a working thesis statement double-check it to make sure that it is a viable one by asking yourself the following questions:

Is my thesis a statement of fact that needs no support?

If your thesis statement is a statement of fact, it will not require additional support from research. Therefore, this would not be an appropriate thesis statement.

For example: "Large numbers of early settlers moved west".

Is my thesis based on emotion rather than reason?

If your thesis statement is based on emotion rather than reason, it will be difficult to research because the information to support your point of view may or may not exist.

For example: "The displacement of American Indians was a heinous crime committed by ethnocentric Europeans".

Is my thesis a self-evident statement of truth?

If your thesis statement is a self-evident statement of truth, it will not require additional research. This type of thesis statement can often be turned into a good thesis statement with some additional work.

For example: "Ocean passage to the new world was dangerous" would become "Despite the hardships of ocean passage, many settlers were willing to endure the journey for the promise of land and the opportunity for a better life in the colonies".

Source: Virginia Tech University

Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2021, 12:52 PM