What’s the Big Idea, Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement is a short summary of the main idea, purpose, or argument of an essay that usually appears in the first paragraph. It’s generally only one or two sentences in length. A strong thesis statement is the backbone of a well-organized paper, and helps you decide what information is most important to include and how it should be presented.

This thesis statement, for example, could open a paper on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s importance as a civil rights leader: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most influential figures of the American civil rights movement. His moving speeches and nonviolent protests helped unite a nation divided by race.” This example lays out the writer’s basic argument (King was an important leader of the American civil rights movement) and offers two areas for further exploration (his speeches and nonviolent protests).

A good thesis statement delivers a clear message about the scope of the topic and the writer’s approach to the subject. In contrast, a weak or broad thesis statement leads to a vague, unconvincing, and disorganized essay. Poor thesis statements fail to take a position, are based solely on personal opinion, or state an obvious truth. For example, “Democracy is a form of government,” is a weak thesis statement because it’s too general, doesn’t adopt a stance, and states a well-known fact that doesn’t need further explanation.

Types of Thesis Statements

Thesis statements can be either explanatory or argumentative. The type of paper determines the form of the thesis statement.

An explanatory thesis statement is based solely on factual information. It doesn’t contain personal opinions or make claims that are unsupported by evidence. Instead, it tells the reader precisely what the topic will be, and touches on the major points that will be explored in the essay.

In an argumentative essay, the writer takes a stance on a controversial topic. Unlike an explanatory thesis statement, an argumentative thesis statement allows the writer to express a personal opinion about a subject, and to try and persuade readers that the writer’s stance is correct. The body of the argumentative essay uses examples and other evidence to support the writer’s opinion.

Writing a thesis statement requires time and careful thought. The thesis statement should flow naturally from research and set out the writer’s discoveries. When composing a thesis statement, make sure it focuses on one main idea that can be reasonably covered within your desired page length. Try not to write about the entire history of America, for example, in a three-page paper. Although deciding upon a thesis statement can be challenging and time-consuming, a strong thesis statement can make the paper both easier to write and more enjoyable to read.

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