is a thesis statement?
Basically, a thesis statement is an assertion that the research paper
is intended to prove or support. However, it does much more than simply
announce a topic: it structures and controls the writer's entire argument
and reaches a definite conclusion about that specific assertion. Any
"paper" that merely combines a series of random paragraphs about the
same general topic without ever making any particular point or coming
to any specific conclusion about that topic is really not much of a
paper at all. To avoid such potential problems, a precise, well-articulated
thesis statement makes it clear (to both the writer as well as the reader)
just what the paper has been written to accomplish, as well as whether
or not that particular goal has been achieved.
must a good thesis statement contain?
There is no single, all-inclusive list of specific elements that absolutely
must be included in every thesis statement. However, the following
characteristics are present in most good thesis statements:
- They are adequately
they assert clearly defined opinions or ideas that avoid unnecessary
ambiguities in the words utilized or in the meanings of those words);
- They present an original
idea, or one that is developed in an original way;
- They contain an arguable
point (i.e., one that is not entirely self-evident or universally
agreed upon, which the writer will have to defend) that can be proven
evidence may take many different forms, such as facts, opinions,
examples, anecdotes, statistics, analogies, etc.) within the boundaries
set for the paper;
- They control the entire
argument (i.e., the thesis statement actually determines what the
writer can and cannot say in the paper. Every paragraph of the paper
exists to support the thesis);
- They signal to the reader
how the argument will be presented (by suggesting, either directly
or indirectly, the structure of the argument); and
- They state a definite
does the thesis statement compare with the paper's topic?
A paper topic is the general SUBJECT that the paper will explore.
The thesis statement reflects the writer's SPECIFIC ARGUMENT about
should not be included in a thesis statement?
There are certain things that most definitely should NOT be included
in a thesis statement. Generally, a good thesis statement is not merely:
- a simple statement of
- an incomplete sentence
or sentence fragment;
- a title for the paper
or simply an announcement of the subject of the paper;
- any unreasonable/unsupported
- a purpose statement
or introduction for the paper (Many people mistakenly assume
that a thesis statement simply states the central point or main
idea that the writer wishes to communicate in the paper. A purpose
statement announces the paper's topic and may even indicate
the general structure of the paper, but it does NOT present any
specific arguments relative to that topic, nor does it state any
conclusions. Thus, the purpose statement of the paper differs from
its thesis statement in that the thesis reflects the writer's conclusion
about a given subject/topic, after presenting a specific argument
in support of that conclusion.)
there different types of thesis statements?
Certainly! Thesis statements can be structured in many different ways,
depending upon the author's particular purpose in writing the paper.
Some of the more common types of thesis statements include:
- Analytical thesis statements
- these break down an issue or idea into its component parts, evaluate
them and present that evaluation to the reader;
- Expository thesis statements
- these explain something to the reader by stating first what will
be explained, then how it will be explained and finally the order
in which that explanation will occur;
- Argumentative thesis
statements - these assert a specific arguable claim about a topic
and then set out to prove that claim by relying upon specific supporting
|In legal writing,
"argumentative" thesis statements (and occasionally "analytical" thesis
statements) are among the most commonly utilized types of statements.
However, even within these two types of thesis statements there are
many different variations that potentially might be utilized. Some specific
examples of such variations include:
- Analysis and definition
"A well-constructed thesis sentence will make
your writing clear, effective, and engaging."
- Compare and contrast
"Legal rationale A is superior to legal rationale
B because of reasons 1, 2, and 3."
- Cause and effect thesis:
"X is caused by 5 contributing factors: 1,
2, 3, 4 and 5."
do I write a thesis statement?
Start by first developing a trial (or "working") thesis statement.
Usually, at the beginning of most papers the writer is not absolutely
certain what he/she will ultimately say in the final paper, or, for
that matter, precisely how it will be said. At best, many writers
at the outset of a writing project only have a somewhat vague, general
idea of what they intend to say in the finished paper. Moreover, even
if the writer does begin with a clear idea of what he/she intends
for the paper to say, during the actual writing process new ideas
or arguments or ways of looking at the topic frequently emerge. As
the writer explores and develops these new ideas, invariably the focus
of the original trial thesis will change, and a new (or at least modified)
thesis begins to emerge. Sometimes this occurs by design; at other
times it is purely inadvertent. However it happens, typically during
the course of writing a paper the writer starts off to answer one
question, and actually ends up answering a completely different question.
A trial (or "working") thesis statement helps the writer to recognize
these changes as they occur during the writing process and adjust
the paper accordingly. It differs from a true thesis statement in
that the trial thesis statement is intended to reflect the writer's
current thinking about the paper topic as he/she develops the paper
during the process of actually researching and writing it. Thus, a
trial (or "working") thesis statement is intended to represent the
writer's "work in progress" at any point in time throughout the actual
writing process itself. As such, it is merely a tool that is used
to continuously reflect the changes and modifications that inevitably
occur as the writer's thinking about the paper topic becomes more
focused and refined throughout the entire writing process. In writing
any paper, it is perfectly normal to make numerous modifications of
your original trial thesis statement before the paper is finished.
Indeed, that is the very purpose of a trial (or "working") thesis
are the specific steps in formulating and developing a true thesis
statement from a trial (or "working") thesis statement?
Initially, don't expect to find the absolutely "perfect" or "ideal"
paper topic. In most cases, such a topic might not even exist! Instead,
try to identify several interesting questions or issues about your
general topic and research each of these in turn. After doing this,
you should then be able eventually to narrow these issues down to
a single specific question about which you plan to write.
Begin by first formulating (in as much detail as possible) the specific
question that you intend for the paper to answer. This will be the
basis for your initial "trial" thesis statement (As explained, supra,
this is merely the first of several "working" thesis statements
and not really a true "thesis statement" at all. As such, it is
a starting point from which the final thesis statement eventually
will be developed). Remember, at this stage the trial thesis statement
is likely to be merely a "rough" prediction of what you (presently)
believe that the paper will end up saying.
Next, as you progress through the actual process of researching,
drafting, and re-drafting the paper, be prepared to modify your
"working" thesis as often as necessary to reflect any changes that
may occur with respect to your analysis, arguments or conclusions.
From this point on, your main focus in modifying your "working"
thesis statement should not be on how you want the paper to begin,
but upon what you want the reader to know or believe about your
topic at the end of the paper. You must be willing to challenge
or even omit altogether some of the evidence that you have gathered
if you wish to keep your paper focused and on point with your thesis.
Conversely, you may have to revise your "working" thesis to make
it conform to the evidence and analysis that you do intend to use
in the paper. In modifying each "working" thesis statement, you
should repeatedly ask the following specific questions:
- Is your original question
one with which someone could reasonably disagree?
- Have you asserted
a definite position in response to this question?
- Is your assertion
at least arguable?
- Are you presenting
an original idea (or at least one that can be developed in an
- Is your assertion
one for which you will have to provide evidence to convince your
- Does the material
that you use and the order in which you have presented it in the
paper support and clarify the argument(s) re: the position that
you have asserted?
- Have you reached
a definite and specific conclusion re: your assertion?
Step (4). At
some point, after you have worked and re-worked your "working" thesis
statement, a true thesis statement will finally begin to emerge.
It will contain more and more of those specific elements discussed,
supra, and eventually the thesis statement itself will tell you
when you have finished writing the paper. Further revisions of the
"working" thesis (and thus the paper itself) will simply be unnecessary
(and perhaps even unproductive). At this point, you are finished
writing! What's more, now your final thesis statement should actually
reflect precisely what you have written!
are some specific ways that a trial (or "working") thesis statement
can be modified into a final thesis statement?
Once a trial thesis statement has been developed, it will usually
need to be modified to properly reflect changes in the argument that
may arise during the course of actually writing the paper. Since initial
trial thesis statements are often far too broad in their scope, they
frequently must be
to bring them within more manageable limits. There are several common
methods that can be used to "limit," modify or otherwise restrict
the scope of an overly broad thesis statement.
- The "reason clause"
- a clause that can be used to deepen a thesis statement by making
it more specific, or by otherwise limiting its scope. Reason clauses
are typically introduced by words such as "because of," "in order
to," "by," or "if."
- The "concession clause"
- a clause that can be used to acknowledge an alternate or even
inconsistent viewpoint or to otherwise limit the source of the writer's
assertion. "Concession clauses" are typically introduced by words
such as "although," "regardless of," "while," "even though," or
does the thesis statement actually appear in the final paper?
Unlike the paper's topic that is almost always located somewhere in
the first paragraph of every paper, a thesis sentence might not always
appear in the first paragraph of the paper. Indeed, it might not appear
until the very last paragraph of the paper, or in some cases, it might
never even appear in the paper at all. Remember that the whole purpose
of having a thesis statement is to provide a sort of "roadmap" for
both the writer and the reader that clearly identifies and articulates
the main assertion the writer is making in the paper, as well as how
that assertion will be made. If the finished paper clearly follows
this "roadmap," then the thesis statement has succeeded in accomplishing
its purpose, regardless of whether or not the statement itself actually
physically appears anywhere in the paper itself.
What is an actual example of a "thesis
statement" within the context of a typical legal research paper?
paper will examine the effectiveness of the "U.S. Endangered Species
|This is NOT a thesis statement!
It is a "purpose statement," (i.e., a promise or a statement of intention
as to the purpose of the paper). While such a purpose statement may
be useful as a starting point in writing the paper, something more is
necessary to make this a true thesis statement. Still, with a little
refinement, a purpose statement can be turned into a thesis statement.
U.S. Endangered Species Act is effective in preserving species placed
at risk due to the destruction of their habitats because of the increased
restrictions that it imposes upon private landowners."
|Now, this is a thesis statement.
Notice how the original (and very broad) "purpose statement" (the effectiveness
of the E.S.A.) has been narrowed to a very specific question (the effectiveness
of the E.S.A. in preserving species habitats by increasing restrictions
on private landowners). Notice also that this thesis statement takes
an actual position with respect to this issue (i.e., that the E.S.A.
has been effective). Such a position is controversial, since not every
reader is likely to agree, but it is nevertheless arguable. No longer
does this thesis merely ask a question or state a topic. It asserts
a definite position, and it gives a specific reason for this position
(i.e., increased restrictions imposed upon private landowners). This
thesis is written in the active voice, making a positive assertion that
is clear and unambiguous. This particular thesis statement still does
not explain what those "increased restrictions" are, or how they operate
to improve species habitat, so there may still be some room for further
precision as the thesis is further refined during the actual writing
of the paper.
Once you have
carefully and thoroughly reviewed the preceeding materials you should
be ready to try your hand at developing your own "thesis statement."
Select "Thesis Questionnaire"
from the dropdown menu below.