A thesis statement is the most important part of an essay. It’s the roadmap, telling the reader what they can expect to read in the rest of paper, setting the tone for the writing, and generally providing a sense of the main idea.
Because it is so important, writing a good thesis statement can be tricky.
Before we get into the specifics, let’s review the basics: what thesis statement means. Thesis is a fancy word for “the subject of an essay” or “a position in a debate.” And a statement, simply, is a sentence (or a couple of sentences).
Taken together, a thesis statement explains your subject or position in a sentence (or a couple of sentences). Depending on the kind of essay you’re writing, you’ll need to make sure that your thesis statement states your subject or position clearly.
While the phrase thesis statement can sound intimidating, the basic goal is to clearly state your topic or your argument. Easy peasy!
The basic rules for writing a thesis statement are:
- State the topic or present your argument.
- Summarize the main idea of each of your details and/or body paragraphs.
- Keep your statement to one to two sentences.
Now comes the good stuff: the breakdown of how to write a good thesis statement for an informational essay and then for an argumentative essay (Yes, there are different types of thesis statements: check them all out here). While the approach is similar for each, they require slightly different statements.
Informational essay thesis statements
The objective of an informational essay is to inform your audience about a specific topic. Sometimes, your essay will be in response to a specific question. Other times, you will be given a subject to write about more generally.
In an informational essay, you are not arguing for one side of an argument, you are just providing information.
Essays that are responding to a question
Often, you will be provided with a question to respond to in informational essay form. For example:
- Who is your hero and why?
- How do scientists research the effects of zero gravity on plants?
- What are the three branches of government, and what do each of them do?
If you are given a question or prompt, use it as a starting point for your thesis statement. Remember, the goal of a thesis statement in an informational essay is to state your topic.
You can use some of the same vocabulary and structure from the questions to create a thesis statement. Drop the question words (like who, what, when, where, and why). Then, use the keywords in the question or prompt to start your thesis statement. Be sure to include because if the question asks “why?”
Check out the following example using the first prompt:
Original question: Who is your hero and why?
Drop the question words: Who is your hero and why?
Answer the question using the key words: My hero is Amelia Earhart, because she was very brave, did things many women of her time did not do, and was a hard worker.
If we were to write the rest of the essay based on this thesis statement, the outline would look something like this:
Introduction: My hero is Amelia Earhart, because she was very brave, did things many women of her time did not do, and was a hard worker.
Body paragraph 1: Details about how Amelia Earhart was brave
Body paragraph 2: Details about how she did things many women of her time did not do
Body paragraph 3: Details about how she was a hard worker
Conclusion: It is clear that Amelia Earhart was a brave woman who accomplished many things that women of her time did not do, and always worked hard. These are the reasons why she is my hero.
These general guidelines work for other thesis statements, with some minor differences.
Essays that are responding to a statement or given subject
If you aren’t given a specific question to respond to, it can be a little more difficult to decide on a thesis statement. However, there are some tricks you can use to make it easier.
Some examples of prompts that are not questions are:
- Write about your favorite sports team.
- Describe how a motor works.
- Pick a famous scientist and write about their life.
- Compare and contrast the themes of a poem and a short story.
For these, we recommend using one of the following sentence starters to write your thesis with:
- In this essay, I will …
- [Subject] is interesting/relevant/my favorite because …
- Through my research, I learned that …
As an example of how to use these sentence starters, we’ve put together some examples using the first prompt: Write about your favorite sports team.
- In this essay, I will describe the history and cultural importance of the Pittsburgh Steelers, my favorite sports team.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers are my favorite because they have had a lasting impact on the history and culture of the city.
- Through my research, I learned that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a lot of influence on the history and culture of Pittsburgh.
Any one of these thesis statements (or all three!) could be used for an informational essay about the Pittsburgh Steelers football team and their impact on the history and culture of Pittsburgh.
Argumentative essay thesis statements
The basic building blocks of an informational essay also apply when it comes to an argumentative essay. However, an argumentative essay requires that you take a position on an issue or prompt.
You then have to attempt to persuade your reader that your argument is the best. That means that your argumentative thesis statement needs to do two things:
- State your position on the issue.
- Summarize the evidence you will be using to defend your position.
Some examples of argumentative essay prompts are:
- Should high school students be required to do volunteer work? Why or why not?
- What is the best way to cook a turkey?
- Some argue that video games are bad for society. Do you agree? Why or why not?
In order to create a good thesis statement for an argumentative essay, you have to be as specific as possible about your position and your evidence. Let’s take a look at the first prompt as an example:
Prompt 1: Should high school students be required to do volunteer work? Why or why not?
Bad thesis statement: No, I don’t think high school students should be required to do volunteer work because it’s boring.
Good thesis statement: I think high school students should not be required to do volunteer work because it takes time away from their studies, provides more barriers to graduation, and does not encourage meaningful volunteer work.
Let’s look at a couple other examples:
Prompt 2: What is the best way to cook a turkey?
Bad thesis statement: The best way to cook a turkey is the way my grandma does it.
Good thesis statement: The best way to cook a turkey is using my grandmother’s recipe: brining the turkey beforehand, using a dry rub, and cooking at a low temperature.
Prompt 3: Some argue that video games are bad for society. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Bad thesis statement: Video games aren’t bad for society, because they’re super fun.
Good thesis statement: Video games aren’t bad for society because they encourage cooperation, teach problem-solving skills, and provide hours of cheap entertainment.
Do you notice the difference between the good thesis statements and the bad thesis statements? The bad statements are general, not specific. They also use very casual language. The good statements clearly lay out exactly what aspects of the argument your essay will focus on, in a professional manner.
By the way, this same principle can also be applied to informational essay thesis statements. Take a look at this example for an idea:
Prompt: What are the three branches of government, and what do each of them do?
Bad thesis statement: There are many branches of government that do many different things.
Good thesis statement: Each of the three branches of government—the executive, the legislative, and the judicial—have different primary responsibilities. However, these roles frequently overlap.
In addition to being more specific than the bad thesis statement, the good thesis statement here is an example of how sometimes your thesis statement may require two sentences.
A thesis statement is the foundation of your essay. However, sometimes as you’re writing, you find that you’ve deviated from your original statement. Once you’ve finished writing your essay, go back and read your thesis statement. Ask yourself:
- Does my thesis statement state the topic and/or my position?
- Does my thesis statement refer to the evidence or details I refer to in my essay?
- Is my thesis statement clear and easy to understand?
Don’t hesitate to edit your thesis statement if it doesn’t meet all three of these criteria. If it does, great! You’ve crafted a solid thesis statement that effectively guides the reader through your work. Now on to the rest of the essay!