Argumentative Essay Thesis Formulation

When it comes to perfecting the dark art of thesis statements, there’s good news and bad news:

The bad news: Your thesis statement may well be the single, most important sentence in your essay, so you can’t mess it up.

The good news: It’s actually really, really easy to write a great thesis statement without wasting too many brain cells.

Luckily, despite what you may have been told, writing a thesis statement is actually incredibly easy. And we’re about to share a simple trick that will help you nail your statement every single time.

But before we get to the only thesis statement you’ll ever need, let’s take a look at the basics.

What is a Thesis Statement?

  • A single sentence that is located at the end of your introduction.
  • Tells the reader what your opinion is and what paper is going to prove.
  • Directs your reader to the main pieces of evidence you will explore.

If you want to learn more, check out Purdue’s guide to thesis statements. If you’re ready to get started on crafting the perfect statement, read on.

Thesis Statements That Suck

Announcing something

I’m going to describe Shakespeare’s love life.

This essay will examine the life of a politician.

What’s so wrong?

These statements provide the reader with an idea about what the essay, dissertation or thesis will discuss, but don’t actually put anything on the line. There’s nothing at stake, no specific issue to be resolved and absolutely nothing to make the reader want to learn more. Many of the essays we come across as part of our student proofreading services contain this basic mistake.

Stating the obvious

Shakespeare wrote a lot about love.

Politicians work long hours.

What’s so wrong?

If very few people are actually likely to disagree with the issues you discuss in your essay, what’s the point in wasting your time analyzing them? Your thesis statement needs to make a claim that someone may disagree with. You will then spend your essay arguing why your claim is true. Check out our guide to writing argumentative essays for more deets.

Asking a question

Did Shakespeare ever get married?

Why are politicians paid so much?

What’s so wrong?

Your thesis statement should be clearly stating your position and the purpose of the essay, not posing a question. These questions are weak and do not give your reader any idea about what you’re intending to prove in your paper.

So, now we know what a poor statement looks like, how do you write a fabulous one?

The Only Thesis Statement Formula You Will Ever Need

Simply fill in the blanks related to the topic of your essay and what you intend to prove and you’re done.

By examining <claim one>, <claim two> and <claim three> it is clear that <opinion>.

See it in action:

By examining politicians’ long working hours, depth of responsibility, and the important role they play in the social and economic wellbeing of the country, it is clear that they are not overpaid.

We’re done.

Seriously?

Yep. It really is that easy.

And to make your life even easier, we’ve crammed all this great info into a free printable PDF. Print the poster out and refer to it when you’re in the process of crafting your next thesis statement.

How to Write a Thesis Statement

 

You need a good thesis statement for your essay but are having trouble getting started. You may have heard that your thesis needs to be specific and arguable, but still wonder what this really means.

Let’s look at some examples. Imagine you’re writing about John Hughes’s film Sixteen Candles (1984).

You take a first pass at writing a thesis:

Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy about high school cliques.

Is this a strong thesis statement? Not yet, but it’s a good start. You’ve focused on a topic--high school cliques--which is a smart move because you’ve settled on one of many possible angles. But the claim is weak because it’s not yet arguable. Intelligent people would generally agree with this statement—so there’s no real “news” for your reader.  You want your thesis to say something surprising and debatable.   If your thesis doesn’t go beyond summarizing your source, it’s not arguable.

The key words in the thesis statement are “romantic comedy” and “high school cliques.” One way to sharpen the claim is to start asking questions.

For example, how does the film represent high school cliques in a surprising or complex way?  How does the film reinforce stereotypes about high school groups and how does it undermine them? Or why does the film challenge our expectations about romantic comedies by focusing on high school cliques? If you can answer one of those questions (or others of your own), you’ll have a strong thesis.

 

Tip : Asking “how” or “why” questions will help you refine your thesis, making it more arguable and interesting to your readers.

 

 

Take 2. You revise the thesis. Is it strong now?

Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy criticizing the divisiveness created by high school cliques.

You’re getting closer. You’re starting to take a stance by arguing that the film identifies “divisiveness” as a problem and criticizes it, but your readers will want to know how this plays out and why it’s important. Right now, the thesis still sounds bland – not risky enough to be genuinely contentious.

 

Tip: Keep raising questions that test your ideas. And ask yourself the “so what” question. Why is your thesis interesting or important?

 

Take 3. Let’s try again. How about this version?

Although the film Sixteen Candles appears to reinforce stereotypes about high school cliques, it undermines them in important ways, questioning its viewers’ assumptions about what’s normal.

Bingo! This thesis statement is pretty strong. It challenges an obvious interpretation of the movie (that it just reinforces stereotypes), offering a new and more complex reading in its place. We also have a sense of why this argument is important. The film’s larger goal, we learn, is to question what we think we understand about normalcy.

 

What’s a Strong Thesis?

As we’ve just seen, a strong thesis statement crystallizes your paper's argument and, most importantly, argues a debatable point.

This means two things. It goes beyond merely summarizing or describing to stake out an interpretation or position that’s not obvious, and others could challenge for good reasons. It’s also arguable in the literal sense that it can be argued, or supported through a thoughtful analysis of your sources. If your argument lacks evidence, readers will think your thesis statement is an opinion or belief as opposed to an argument.

Exercises for Drafting an Arguable Thesis

A good thesis will be focused

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