B. Writing a Thesis


  • Your thesis needs to address your question directly, set the reader’s expectations for your paper, and provide a debatable claim.


Writing a thesis is one of the most difficult parts of writing a paper. The thesis, which is one or two sentences, belongs at the end of the introductory paragraph. It is important to draft a thesis at this point to bring all of your research together to answer the original writing prompt in a concise way. Writing a thesis is a tall order, but we’re here to help! A thesis needs to:

  1. Directly answer the question you were given by being specific.
  2. Set the reader’s expectations for what you’ll be covering.
  3. Provide a debatable claim and support it with evidence.

We’ll break each one down for you:

  1. Directly answer the question you were given by being specific

    Example prompt 1: Explain how the Greek ideal is represented and described in The Odyssey.

    Thesis before: Homer’s Odyssey is a well known Greek work–the cornerstone of classic Greek literature.

    That’s great, but what does it say about how ‘the Greek ideal is represented’ in the text? Try a thesis that answers the question squarely. You want to knock it out of the park:

    Thesis after: Homer’s Odyssey depicts the ideal Greek as a reverent, loyal, and confident person–as seen in Odysseus’ relationships with the gods, his wife, and his son Telemachus.

    Example prompt 2: Describe how symbols in Jane Eyre dramatize the tension in Jane and Rochester’s relationship.

    Thesis before: A pioneering author of her time, Charlotte Brontë uses a variety of different techniques in Jane Eyre that add to and heighten the escalating drama in the book’s eloquent and distinguished prose. Among these varied and delicate techniques is symbolism, a most exemplary and astonishing literary method.

    What? This thesis sounds impressive since it contains lots of words and fancy clauses, but most of it is unnecessary clutter. It dances around the core question without providing anything new or insightful. Instead, try a much stronger (and cleaner) thesis:

    Thesis after: Brontë uses the symbols of fire and ice to symbolize two different aspects of Jane’s relationship with Rochester–temperamental passion and cold desolation. These symbols emphasize the contrast between the two lovers which makes their relationship so dramatic and complex.

  2. Set the reader’s expectations for what you’ll be covering

    – The thesis should tee up the rest of your essay by providing a brief overview.

    Example thesis: In the 1940s there were a variety of pressures–political, cultural, and economic–that contributed to the US’s ultimate decision to join World War II.

    Think about how this thesis paints a road map. The reader is expecting to hear about political, cultural, and economic pressures that led the US to join the war.

    Example thesis: Shakespeare’s Hamlet explores the idea of a nation being diseased on the inside–in the way the royal family acts internally, in the way that the king interacts with other parties, and in the mind of the character Hamlet.

    This essay prepares the reader to hear three particular instances in the text that reinforce the idea of a nation “being diseased on the inside.”

  3. Provide a debatable claim and support with evidence

    – You don’t want your thesis to be a lame observation or something that is generally agreed upon. Good theses provide a claim that is debatable.

    Thesis before: Ownership of handguns is a divisive issue; there are people on both sides of the argument.

    That sentence doesn’t say much. Who could disagree? Also, the sentence hasn’t said anything about the opinions of the different sides. Instead, try this thesis, which is much punchier and more provocative:

    Thesis after: This issue of handgun ownership is the most pressing issue facing our local leaders, who should take action by increasing the police force, strengthening laws against violence, and adding security in schools.

    Thesis before: Harry Potter is an interesting book series.

    Oh. That’s nice. This thesis is weak since it is a short opinion with no evidence for support. The idea that the series is interesting is probably not debated. Instead, try:

    Thesis after: The Harry Potter series represents a turning point in English literature since it contains distinct character interactions, plot elements, and symbolic language that distinguish it from books in the past.

A note on grammar:

Theses can contain very long sentences. That’s OK. Just make sure that your grammar is airtight. Here are some grammar rules to keep in mind:

– Make sure that items in a list have parallel structures. If you are listing phrases that include verbs, make sure that the verbs are in the same tense.

Before: I like running, swimming, and to play golf.
After: I like running, swimming, and golfing.

Sentence structure
– Make sure that you don’t have run-on sentences. Each sentence should communicate only one idea. Consider rewording your sentence or using a semicolon or dash to separate your ideas.

Before: The president is an important US leader, his job brings him into contact with all sorts of different nations.
After: The president is an important US leader; his job brings him into contact with all sorts of different nations.

Before: Stephanie’s insanity drove her to utter madness so much so that she left her parents, she stomped off in a fit of anger.
After: Completely insane, Stephanie left her parents’ house in a fit of anger.



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