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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What's a Thesis Statement?

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  • Tells the reader your opinion / point of view / interpretation of the subject under discussion. 
  • Indicates the direction the essay will take by stating the main points. 
  • Makes a claim that others might dispute. This aspect makes your thesis debatable, which is key to writing an analytical essay. Theses that aren’t debatable tend to be descriptive, summarizing a text rather than formulating an opinion from textual evidence.

How do I write a thesis? 

  • A thesis is a product of thoughtful close reading, analysis, and brainstorming.  
  • Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize detailed textual evidence.  
  • Once you close read and interpret the text, you will probably have a “working thesis,” an argument that you think you can support with evidence (but may need adjustments as you write). 

When reviewing your working thesis, ask yourself the following: 

Do I answer the question?  

Re-reading the question after constructing a working thesis helps you focus and make sure that you're on the right track. 

Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? 

If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary or describing the text, rather than making an argument. 

Is my thesis statement specific enough?   

Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”? 

Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering off topic?  

If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. Your thesis statement should be like a thread that is weaved in throughout your entire essay. 

Does my thesis answer “how” or “why”? 

If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too general. Answering these questions will help you be more specific and as a result will outline your main points to the reader. 

Example

Suppose your topic is asking you to write an essay that makes an argument about the importance of one of the primary themes of the "Story of An Hour" by Kate Chopin.  

Your immediate thought might be: 

"The story of an hour" is about how a woman feels when her husband dies. 

This thesis simply summarizes the story without providing the theme. A reader might think, “How does she feel? And why does she feel that way?” Ask yourself these same questions! 

As you think about these ‘hows’ and ‘whys,’ you should begin recalling specific examples from the text. 

The woman in "the Story of an Hour" feels relieved and liberated when she learns that her husband died, because she was in an unhappy marriage. 

Next, push your thesis towards an interpretation. Look for detailed, textual evidence to explain the how and the why. 

The theme of "The Story of an Hour" focuses on a woman’s freedom from a male-dominated relationship.  

Notice how the above statement still does not answer the ‘how’ question. Perhaps you would like to discuss how the language of the story indicates that the woman was indeed oppressed by her husband, and that as a result of this oppression she became ill.  

The theme of "The Story of An Hour" focuses on a woman’s lack of freedom from a male-dominated relationship, and we see this theme played out in the oppressive language, the illness of the character, and the imagery of life and nature only seen through a window. 

Compare the above thesis to the original working one. This final thesis presents a way of interpreting evidence that reflects the significance of the question. Keep in mind that this is just an example of many possibilities you can write about!


This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Comments (3)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

Rusul,
This is fantastic. I'm printing it out and will distribute it to my students this upcoming year. My simple definition for a thesis statement is one or two sentences that answers the question with insight. I find so often students are comfortable restating the question without taking a stance. It is far easier for them to repeat the verbiage than develop originality, yet as teachers we need to develop this confidence in the originality of their thoughts and their ability to covey those thoughts in their own voice. That is where your statement, that a thesis is a result of close reading, is imperative. The closer a student reads, the closer he or she will write.

(1)
Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Editor & writer on teaching, learning, & education

Hi Brian, wow! Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it. Please feel free to share as you like. The original post had a nicer interface with headings etc to make it more readable.
I agree, many of my students also lean comfortably into describing the text. I try to push for analysis using the above method. I find that after close-reading the story is relatable and easier to digest as a whole, so they can form their own opinions as a result.

Pattyf's picture

Rusul, Thank you for sharing your ideas. I'm always looking for better ways to explain thesis statements, and you have it done just that.

(1)
Pattyf's picture

Rusul, Thank you for sharing your ideas. I'm always looking for better ways to explain thesis statements, and you have it done just that.

(1)
Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

Rusul,
This is fantastic. I'm printing it out and will distribute it to my students this upcoming year. My simple definition for a thesis statement is one or two sentences that answers the question with insight. I find so often students are comfortable restating the question without taking a stance. It is far easier for them to repeat the verbiage than develop originality, yet as teachers we need to develop this confidence in the originality of their thoughts and their ability to covey those thoughts in their own voice. That is where your statement, that a thesis is a result of close reading, is imperative. The closer a student reads, the closer he or she will write.

(1)

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