Ask the professor: How do you write a good thesis statement?

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“How do you write a good thesis statement?”

—Lauren H., Trent University, Ontario

This is a great question. I’ve been teaching college writing for almost 20 years and have read a lot of essays that haven’t included one of the most important components of good writing: a point!

Each of your professors will have their own idea of what makes a good thesis statement. A thesis for a history paper may look different from that of a science research paper. Regardless of the subject matter, however, most professors agree that a good thesis is always clearly written and makes a point that you support in the rest of your writing. And if you can include it within the first or second paragraph, all the better.

Because every assignment is different, here are some general questions to ask yourself as you draft your thesis statement:

  • What is your purpose, or why are you writing your paper? The answer should move beyond “Because my professor said I had to.” Instead, think about whether you’re informing your reader about a topic or persuading your reader to think or act differently. Your answer to this question will influence your thesis.
  • What are you arguing? Most college assignments require that you make a claim about a topic and then provide evidence to support that claim. For example, you may argue that a character in a play is responsible for their own demise. If you’re making that claim, then you will find examples within the play to support your thesis.
  • What do want your readers to learn? For example, if your answer is “I want them to see Willy Loman as a true hero and not a failed man,” then you can use that to create a thesis such as this: “Willy Loman is often seen as a failed man, but he’s actually a true hero.”
  • Can you create a question? Thinking about a question may prompt you to generate a good thesis statement. For example, if you ask yourself, “How were women affected by early 20th-century industrialization?” your answer could end up being a great foundation for a thesis statement.