Developing a Thesis Statement
Academic writing is driven by a thesis, or
main point, which usually originates in academic inquiry. As
we gather answers, perspectives, and facts from various
sources, we develop our own understanding and opinions about
the issues we are researching. From this new knowledge we
derive a thesis for the paper we are writing. Your thesis is
your contribution to the conversation, your take on the topic.
It is your analysis of a concept or relationship, your
argument for a point of view, your proposal for a solution, your
response to another writer's idea, etc.
A thesis statement is a
sentence (sometimes more than one sentence) that reveals your
essay's main point. Usually placed toward the beginning of
the essay, your thesis statement offers readers a preview of and
direction for the paper. However, if you first want to
build your reasoning in the reader's mind, or you want to narrate
your discovery process, you might choose to delay your thesis
statement until the final paragraphs of your essay.
How Does One Develop a Thesis Statement?
Some writers perform research, develop a
thesis, and then draft their paper. Other writers do
research, draft their paper, and then develop a thesis from what
they have written. Any method can be effective, as long as
you keep an open mind through the process and are willing to revise
your thesis as you explore your topic.
What you don't know will hurt you.
Consider the following
questions (Hedengren, 2004, pp. 39-40) meant to help you
develop a complete thesis statement:
- What is your topic?
Get to know your topic by researching related events in
history and reading the prominent and not-so-prominent voices that
have weighed in on the conversation. At
some point, you will likely narrow your topic down so your work
relates to what you see these authors saying.
- What is your stance on the
topic? As you develop your understanding,
educate yourself by exploring multiple perspectives.
Look for strengths and
weaknesses in every
- Why do you believe this?
Deliberately challenge the assumptions you
hold. Why? Because to deepen your
understanding (as well as to reach your audience), you need to
scrutinize your own point of view, not just others'. This
helps you refine your stance as well as explain it to your audience
in their terms.
- Why would someone disagree with
this? Pay equal attention to sources you
agree with and those you disagree with -- including sources that
encourage you to ask yourself the really tough questions.
As you engage in honest, thorough inquiry, you
will uncover new truths, revise and hone your stance, and make your
work ethical and meaningful.
When you have answers to the four questions
above, you can use them to draft a tentative thesis statement.
For example --
. . . [possible disagreement] . . . , I believe .
. . [your stance] . . . because . . .
[reasons] . . . .
Though a complete thesis makes use of all of
these elements, the elements may appear in your thesis statement in
a different order or be implied rather than stated. As you
continue the inquiry process throughout your project, you
will revise your statement to meet your needs.
Hedengren, B. F. (2004). A TA's
guide to teaching writing in all disciplines. New York: