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How to Write a Thesis Statements: The Good and The Bad

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/20/2012

Writing a paper and completely lost about how to craft your thesis statement? It seems confusing at first, but thesis statements are actually not so difficult to create. Learn from this step-by-step guide, including examples of good and bad statements.

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    What is a Thesis Statement?

    A thesis statement should meet the following criteria:

    • Be composed of a sentence or two towards the beginning of your paper (most likely in the first paragraph)
    • Mention the main topic of your paper
    • Explain what the rest of your paper will be about
    • Make a statement that is not obvious (i.e., someone else may disagree with it before reading your paper)
    • Contain an element of opinion (usually)
    • Be based on facts or support that your paper will discuss
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    Tips on Writing a Great One

    Even once you have a general topic for your paper, you may be at a loss about what your thesis statement should be. Remember that your thesis paper should guide you as you write, so you want it to be strong and clear. To write a thesis statement, follow some or all of the following steps.

    • Research your topic in order to determine what type and quantity of information exists about your subject of study. Although you will do more in-depth research later on, you want to make sure that you have an overview of your topic before you begin drafting your thesis statement.
    • Free write about your topic. For several minutes, write about what you know about your topic, including research you have done. Think about trends in the research, as well as questions that you have (or answers that you have found) about your topic.
    • Go back through your free written work and underline ideas that you think might make the basis of a good thesis statement.
    • Check each underlined thought to see which one seems most interesting, possible to support through research, and appropriate for the length and depth of your paper.
    • Make a short list of minor points that you want to include in your thesis statement, and connect the points using sentence combining.
    • If you follow these instructions regarding how to write a thesis statement, you’ll often find that the process is more painless than you’d feared. Try it out, and see what happens!
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    Examples of Thesis Statments: Too Obvious

    The key to crafting the perfect thesis statement is making sure that it is not obvious to the reader before reading your paper.

    The Bad

    The War of 1812 came before the Civil War. (bad example)

    This is not a good thesis statement because it is obvious and does not need to be proven. Anyone can look at a timeline and figure out that the War of 1812 came before the Civil War.

    The Good

    This alternative version may not be historically correct, but it could definitely make a strong thesis statement if it were properly supported:

    The War of 1812 set into motion the main events that caused the Civil War. (good example)

    This example would be a strong thesis statement, because it is not obvious at first glance that the War of 1812 necessarily led to the Civil War at all. Therefore, this statement is not obvious and could merit a paper to be written about it.

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    The Unclear Statement

    The Bad

    Sometimes you might find that your thesis statement is unclear. For example:

    The judicial system needs to have power over Congress in order to do its job. (bad example)

    What does this statement mean? In which way does it need to have power over Congress? What is the job that judicial system cannot carry out without this power?

    The Good

    The following statement clarifies the statement:

    In order for the judicial system to judge whether a law is constitutional, it must have the power to overturn a temporary law of Congress. (good example)

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    Too General

    The Bad

    Take a look at this thesis statement:

    People need to stay healthy for several important reasons. (bad example)

    Could you write a paper on this? You could, but you’d barely be able to scrape the surface.

    The Good

    Now take a look at a better example, which is much more specific:

    Students must get sufficient sleep at night in order to succeed in school. (good example)

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    Too Specific

    The Bad

    In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Ron’s last move in the chess game parallels his defense of Harry in Book 7. (bad example)

    This example is far too specific. Could you write an entire paper on this? More likely, you could write a short paragraph defending this statement.

    The Good

    To revise it, you could focus on the chess match as a whole:

    In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the chess game parallels the struggle between Harry and Voldemort throughout the series. (good example)

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    Other Writing Issues

    Make sure that your thesis statement is not written passively (e.g., “the struggle was paralleled by…”) or as a negative statement (e.g., “Students will not succeed in school if they…”). You must be able to support your thesis statement through research and observation, and it must sum up the main point of your paper. Use these tips to guide you in creating the perfect thesis statement.

    Come up with a great thesis statement? Share it in the comments!