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- How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples
How to Write a Thesis Statement | 4 Steps & Examples
Published on January 11, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on August 15, 2023 by Eoghan Ryan.
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . It usually comes near the end of your introduction .
Your thesis will look a bit different depending on the type of essay you’re writing. But the thesis statement should always clearly state the main idea you want to get across. Everything else in your essay should relate back to this idea.
You can write your thesis statement by following four simple steps:
- Start with a question
- Write your initial answer
- Develop your answer
- Refine your thesis statement
Table of contents
What is a thesis statement, placement of the thesis statement, step 1: start with a question, step 2: write your initial answer, step 3: develop your answer, step 4: refine your thesis statement, types of thesis statements, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about thesis statements.
A thesis statement summarizes the central points of your essay. It is a signpost telling the reader what the essay will argue and why.
The best thesis statements are:
- Concise: A good thesis statement is short and sweet—don’t use more words than necessary. State your point clearly and directly in one or two sentences.
- Contentious: Your thesis shouldn’t be a simple statement of fact that everyone already knows. A good thesis statement is a claim that requires further evidence or analysis to back it up.
- Coherent: Everything mentioned in your thesis statement must be supported and explained in the rest of your paper.
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The thesis statement generally appears at the end of your essay introduction or research paper introduction .
The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts and among young people more generally is hotly debated. For many who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education: the internet facilitates easier access to information, exposure to different perspectives, and a flexible learning environment for both students and teachers.
You should come up with an initial thesis, sometimes called a working thesis , early in the writing process . As soon as you’ve decided on your essay topic , you need to work out what you want to say about it—a clear thesis will give your essay direction and structure.
You might already have a question in your assignment, but if not, try to come up with your own. What would you like to find out or decide about your topic?
For example, you might ask:
After some initial research, you can formulate a tentative answer to this question. At this stage it can be simple, and it should guide the research process and writing process .
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Now you need to consider why this is your answer and how you will convince your reader to agree with you. As you read more about your topic and begin writing, your answer should get more detailed.
In your essay about the internet and education, the thesis states your position and sketches out the key arguments you’ll use to support it.
The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its many benefits for education because it facilitates easier access to information.
In your essay about braille, the thesis statement summarizes the key historical development that you’ll explain.
The invention of braille in the 19th century transformed the lives of blind people, allowing them to participate more actively in public life.
A strong thesis statement should tell the reader:
- Why you hold this position
- What they’ll learn from your essay
- The key points of your argument or narrative
The final thesis statement doesn’t just state your position, but summarizes your overall argument or the entire topic you’re going to explain. To strengthen a weak thesis statement, it can help to consider the broader context of your topic.
These examples are more specific and show that you’ll explore your topic in depth.
Your thesis statement should match the goals of your essay, which vary depending on the type of essay you’re writing:
- In an argumentative essay , your thesis statement should take a strong position. Your aim in the essay is to convince your reader of this thesis based on evidence and logical reasoning.
- In an expository essay , you’ll aim to explain the facts of a topic or process. Your thesis statement doesn’t have to include a strong opinion in this case, but it should clearly state the central point you want to make, and mention the key elements you’ll explain.
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
Follow these four steps to come up with a thesis statement :
- Ask a question about your topic .
- Write your initial answer.
- Develop your answer by including reasons.
- Refine your answer, adding more detail and nuance.
The thesis statement should be placed at the end of your essay introduction .
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Writing a thesis.
Introduction Choosing a topic and an advisor Reviewing relevant literature Collecting data Creating results Finishing the thesis Revisions
Approaching a senior thesis in any major can be an intimidating prospect. However, like most large tasks, the thesis is much more manageable if you take it one step at a time and rely on your advisors to lead you in productive directions. The Economics Department tries very hard to support thesis students in their research and writing. The mid-year mini-orals and the early deadlines for first chapter and first draft all encourage seniors to make steady progress through the thesis year.
In some ways, economics is a particularly intimidating field in which to contemplate a thesis because much of the research literature that you read as an undergraduate makes use of mathematical tools that you are probably barely familiar with and not comfortable using on your own. Most seniors feel as though they are not capable of undertaking research at this level. But writing a senior thesis is quite a different task than getting a research paper published. Although a few economics theses have used the kind of sophisticated mathematical or econometric tools that are common in the journals, most seniors rely entirely on techniques that are learned in Reed's theory and econometrics courses.
What is a senior thesis? You may want to look at some economics theses in the library to get an idea for the scope of projects that recent seniors have undertaken. There is a lot of variation in Reed senior theses, but successful ones are nearly always based on a central question that the author attempts to answer: the thesis of the thesis. Investigating this question may lead you to review the research of others, to synthesize others' work in new ways, or to conduct theoretical or empirical research on your own. Sometimes the outcome of a thesis can be a detailed proposal for further research that the author thinks would provide a better answer than is available at present. In its most basic form, your thesis should be an argument, using tools, research and reasoning appropriate to the field of economics, in response to the central question you have chosen to investigate.
Producing a thesis can be broken down into a series of stages, as outlined below. Each stage involves a substantial amount of work and, to some degree, must be completed before the following stages can proceed. Steady progress throughout the year is crucial to a successful thesis. Students who achieve the benchmarks for progress set by the department and their advisors are usually able to minimize the amount of stress arising at the second-semester deadlines.
Choosing a topic and a thesis advisor
Selecting a good thesis topic is the first step in a successful thesis project. You will be devoting much of your energy over a nine-month period to studying this topic, so it is important to choose an area in which your interest is likely to be sustained through this lengthy research process.
Once you have selected the general area of your research, the choice of the thesis advisor is often obvious. If there is a member of the faculty with expertise in that area, that person should normally advise your thesis. However, many theses are very general or are specialized in areas outside the interests of the faculty. In cases where there is no obvious choice of advisor based on the subject of the thesis, you should request an advisor with whom you are comfortable working and whose advice you respect. Economics majors are asked to express a preference for a thesis advisor. However, if the advising load is excessively unbalanced in a particular year, some students may be asked to work with an advisor other than their first choice. In such cases, the department's decisions about who should be asked to change advisors will be guided mainly by thesis topics and the ability of alternative faculty to provide good advice.
Within your area of interest, the most crucial issue is doability. A major cause of disappointment and frustration for seniors is choosing a thesis topic on which it is difficult to make progress, either because the question is so large that they cannot manage it or because the question/topic cannot be easily investigating using the tools that they command.
While you are the best authority on your own areas of interest, you will have to rely on the faculty, and especially on your advisor, to help you find a specific thesis topic that you can complete on time with the resources that are available at Reed. Specific, focused topics are almost always better than highly general or vague ones. Questions like "How can we reduce water pollution?" or "What determines the rate of technological progress?" are so broad that an adequate answer could not fit into a senior thesis. However, within those general areas the faculty can help guide you to one of many doable theses.
Reviewing relevant literature
All scholars in economics build on the shoulders of others. The first step of your thesis research is to search broadly and deeply to find out what others have discovered about your question and related questions. There are many resources available at Reed to help you with this search. The first is your thesis advisor and other members of the faculty, who may be able to point you to prominent pieces of research that bear on your thesis.
Each of these papers will contain citations to earlier work on related topics. Other references can be found be searching for appropriate keywords in EconLit, which indexes all economics books and journals, or one of the public-affairs or newspaper indexes. These indexes are available online through the Reed Library website. If you cast your net broadly at the beginning, you are less likely to be surprised at the end to find that someone else has done research that diminishes the impact or credibility of your own work.
As you begin reading for your thesis, you should also begin writing. A thesis is usually a much larger project than a course paper and the strategy that has worked well for you on course papers may not work as well for the thesis. Many students write course papers in two discrete stages: the research (input) stage and the writing (output) stage. In the input stage you cram everything that you learn from your reading and research into your brain, then in the output stage you spew it back out in the form of a paper. Since most course papers are written in a couple of weeks and encompass a relatively small body of input, this strategy is often satisfactory. However, the thesis is written over nine months and many students read hundreds of articles and books in the early stages of research. This is too much information and too long a time for your brain to be able to keep track of all the input and save it up until you get to the end and begin outputting.
A better strategy is to begin writing the thesis the same day you begin reading for it. Keep detailed notes on everything you read, including full bibliographic information in the appropriate format. Reed has software available to help you keep a database of references. (Be very sure that your notes distinguish between the author's words and your own. Plagiarism can arise inadvertently if a student uses in the thesis a passage from his or her notes without realizing that it was a near-exact quotation copied into the notes months earlier.) Photocopy all passages you think you might want to quote and any tables that contain useful data. The notes you make as you read can be the basis of your literature-review chapter, which is the first piece of your thesis.
Collecting data (if needed)
If you are doing a thesis that requires empirical data, one of your biggest obstacles is likely to be assembling your data base. Since you cannot proceed with your econometric work until your data are in place, the prompt completion of your data collection is of critical importance. It is important to recognize that data collection is subject to the "90/10 Rule. Ninety percent of the time you spend obtaining data will be devoted to ten percent of the data series. Much of what you need is likely to be easily available through standard published or electronic sources. But there will be other data series for which you will have to search extensively and some you may not ever find. Do not be fooled by the ease with which you obtain the first series; there are almost always snags.
The first step in data collection is to compile a wish list. You should consider the characteristics of the data that are most desirable for your study: the frequency of observation and whether you are looking for aggregate or disaggregated data. List all of the variables that you think you might need. If you have doubts about the availability of some variables up front, formulate strategies for doing without them in case you cannot obtain them.
Once you have your list, start collecting numbers and entering them into your computer data base. Your advisor and other faculty members can probably guide you to sources of data that are relevant to your topic. For other sources, you may need to rely on the data resources discussed earlier in this chapter. The economics librarian can also be a highly useful source of further information.
Once you have reviewed the relevant literature and collected the data you need for any empirical work you plan to do, you are ready to get down to the central task of research: generating results. The way that you achieve these results depends entirely on the research methodology you and your advisor have chosen. It may involve theoretical reasoning using economic models, combining and/or comparing the results of others, interpreting numerical data, estimating coefficients and testing hypotheses using econometric methods, or conducting experiments.
About all that can be said in general about the process of generating results is that some aspects of the results are very likely to surprise you. Solutions of theoretical models, regression results, and experimental outcomes usually do not end up exactly as you envisioned them at the beginning. If these results arrive just a few days before the draft of your thesis is due, you are unlikely to have time to develop a satisfactory explanation for them or to conduct the additional research that would resolve them. At a bare minimum, you should plan to have all of your results generated two weeks before the first draft of your thesis is due. This will give you at least a little time to reflect on and refine them in the completed thesis.
Finishing the thesis
The last stage of preparing your thesis draft is the formulation of your conclusions and the preparation of the thesis draft itself. In the euphoria and exhaustion of having completed their research, many students devote too little time to this important step. At this stage, you turn all the work you did during the year into a coherent argument, starting with your central question, explaining how your work builds of that of others toward an answer, describing and interpreting your results, then summing everything up with your conclusions.
Because much of your thesis will have been written months earlier, it is important to leave a week or so before the first draft is due to reread the entire thesis and make sure that the pieces fit together. The argument should flow naturally from a statement of the question to a discussion of the contribution of others to a description of your own research to your formulation of an answer. Each piece should advance the argument, following from the previous piece and leading to the next one. If a section does not relate to the overall argument of your thesis, it should not be in the thesis.
Finally, you need to deal with issues of formatting. The Reed Senior Handbook will give you the basic guidelines for format and spacing. Make sure that your references and citations are in an acceptable and consistent format. Sequence the numbers of your chapters, sections, figures, and tables appropriately. Then make two copies and turn them in to the faculty secretary in Vollum 112 before the first-draft deadline.
Regardless of how good the first draft of your thesis is, your advisor and first-draft reader will probably have extensive comments and suggestions for revision. Arguments that seem clear to you may not be as readable to someone else. Moreover, there may be flaws in empirical work or theoretical arguments that are not apparent until the entire thesis is read in proper sequence. It is not unusual for advisors to have extensive additional comments on the completed draft, even if they have already seen each chapter before.
At the revision stage, it is important to make sure that you understand exactly what your readers mean by each comment. As soon as your advisor and first-draft reader tell you that they have finished their reading, you should pick up your thesis and read through their comments. You should then meet with each of them (separately or together) to discuss the thesis and clarify what revisions they expect. Remember that these are the individuals who are responsible for assigning the thesis grade. It is to your benefit to understand and fulfill their expectations about revisions.