Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges: "Developing a Thesis"

Now that you have familiarized yourself with thesis statements, take a few minutes to review by brainstorming everything you know about thesis statements. Jot down some informal notes for yourself, using information you have learned in this unit and your prior knowledge. Consider questions like: 

  • How would you define the term "thesis statement" in your own words?
  • What is the purpose of a thesis statement?
  • Have you used thesis statements in your writing before? When?
  • What do you think makes a thesis statement effective?
  • What is something you don't know about writing thesis statements?

Once you have completed this brainstorming activity, read this article to continue learning about developing strong thesis statements.

A thesis statement is a sentence (or a few sentences) that states what an essay is about. A thesis statement should tell the reader what the essay's topic is, give a general outline of the essay, and take a position on the topic that can be debated.


Myths about thesis statements:

  • Thesis statements have to be one sentence
  • Thesis statements have to have a three-pronged structure that sets up the three main body paragraphs
  • Thesis statements should be the first part of the essay that you write
  • Thesis statements must be placed at the end of the first paragraph
  • The thesis statement should summarize your whole essay

A thesis statement can meet some of these criteria, but it does not have to.


Common problems with thesis statements:

The non-thesis thesis

A thesis needs to take a position on an issue. It is different from a topic sentence in that a thesis statement is not neutral.

Less: This paper will consider video game learning in the classroom.

More: Video games represent a promising teaching tool in the classroom.


The incontestable thesis

A thesis must be arguable. And in order for it to be arguable, it must present a view that someone might reasonably disagree with.

Less: Students should not cheat.

More: Cheating is not simply a problem in schools; it may affect people's future workplace behavior.


The overly broad thesis

It is not possible to write a good college-level paper about the history of America in a five-page paper. An essay topic should be specific enough for you to address the topic thoroughly in the essay.

Less: Teachers need to stop students from cheating.

More: New computer technology may be able to help teachers stop some formsof cheating.


The "list essay" thesis

A good argumentative thesis provides not only a position on an issue, but also suggests the structure of the paper. The thesis should allow the reader to anticipate how the arguments will follow one another. A "list essay" just states a series of facts without connecting them in a logical order. Without a strong structure for the essay, different facts and paragraphs appear arbitrary and unrelated to one another.

Less: There are many ways that video games could enhance education, including system thinking, collaborative tasks, and what James Paul Gee calls "situated meanings".

More: Among the many learning tools James Paul Gee cites in video games, the most significant ones – system thinking, collaborative tasks, and situated meanings – all share an emphasis on seeing information as a whole, rather than as disconnected facts typically presented in the classroom.[i]

[i] This section on the thesis statements was created by Mark Fullmer and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Last modified: Monday, October 21, 2019, 5:14 PM