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What is in a thesis statement?

I’ve noticed that by far, the most hits on this blog come from my post on thesis and outline generators, so I thought I’d take a minute and write about the formula for a good thesis statement.

A good thesis statement has 3 parts:

1. Presentation of the topic

2. Your opinion on the topic

3. Your roadmap for how you will prove your opinion

For example, if you were to write a thesis statement on the topic of kids watching TV, it might look something like this:

Topic presentation:

In the United States, the average child between the ages of 2 and 11 watches around 30 hours of television a week.

Opinion:

While there are some educational television shows out there, nothing can replace the learning that comes from loving human interaction; therefore, parents should spend more time with their kids and reduce the amount of television their children watch.

Roadmap (3 parts)

(1) More human interaction would benefit kids by helping them learn how to interact with and treat others in a real world context.  (2) Children who spend more time with their parents are proven to do better in school and have larger vocabularies.  (3) Also, many tasks must be learned hands-on, especially in early childhood, and a television can’t provide that type of learning experience.

(Notice that each part of the road map tied back to the opinion about learning, and didn’t just list general reasons why television watching is bad for kids.  Be specific in each part of your thesis statement!)

Put all three parts together, and there you have it – a comprehensive thesis statement, letting your reader know what your paper will be about, what your opinion on the topic is, and how you will convince him or her that you are right.

Q&A:

Q: I don’t even know what my opinion is on the topic.  How can I write my thesis statement before I know what research is out there?

A: You can’t.  Wait until you have researched and synthesized the information before writing your thesis statement.  Sometimes I wait until I have written the bulk of my paper before writing my thesis statement.  Then I go back and tie all of the paragraphs back to the thesis statement.

Q: What is the difference between a thesis statement and an introductory paragraph?

A: Good question.  An introductory paragraph can sometimes include only a thesis statement, but the better-written ones also have a grabber at the beginning, like a quote, a compelling question, or an interesting scenario.  Then there is a bridge connecting the grabber to the thesis statement, and finally, the thesis statement itself.

Q: What if my paper is much more complex, and I have far more than three parts to include in my roadmap?

A: First, group your subtopics together as much as possible.  Even if a section has multiple components and paragraphs, as long as all of those paragraphs relate to the same subtopic, you can mention only that main subtopic in your thesis statement roadmap.

Then, make sure that your wording is as concise as possible for your thesis statement roadmap.  You only want the main idea of the subtopic in your roadmap, not the details.

Q: Why do thesis statements matter so much?  Why do my professors seem to care about them?

A: A well-written thesis statement prepares your reader for the rest of your paper.  It tells her what you will be proving in your paper and how you will go about proving it.  Thesis statements also help you by providing you with a roadmap for your paper, as well as a central idea on which to focus.

Q: Once I’ve written my thesis statement, can I just forget about it and write the rest of the paper?

A: No.  You must tie every paragraph or subtopic back to it in some way.

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