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What is a thesis?

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Attributes of a Good Thesis///Thesis Equation///Thesis Brainstorming///

Five Tests///Proficient vs. Advanced///Is it a Thesis?///Thesis Resources

What is a thesis?

A thesis statement declares what you believe and what you intend to prove. A good thesis statement makes the difference between a thoughtful research project and a simple retelling of facts.

A good tentative thesis will help you focus your search for information. But don't rush! You must do a lot of background reading before you know enough about a subject to identify key or essential questions. You may not know how you stand on an issue until you have examined the evidence. You will likely begin your research with a working, preliminary or tentative thesis which you will continue to refine until you are certain of where the evidence leads.

The thesis statement is typically located at the end of your opening paragraph. (The opening paragraph serves to set the context for the thesis.)

Remember, your reader will be looking for your thesis. Make it clear, strong, and easy to find.


Attributes of a good thesis:


Simple equations for a thesis might look something like this:

Specific topic + Attitude/Angle/Argument = Thesis

What you plan to argue + How you plan to argue it = Thesis


How do you know if you've got a solid tentative thesis? 

Try these five tests:

If you cannot answer "YES" to these questions, what changes must you make in order for your thesis to pass these tests?

Examine these sample thesis statements.

Visit our thesis generator for more advice.


Proficient vs. Advanced

Proficient: Inspires the reasonable reader to ask “How?” or “Why?”

Advanced: Inspires the reasonable reader to ask “How?” or “Why?” and to exclaim “Wow!” This thesis engages the student in challenging or provocative research and displays a level of thought that breaks new ground.

Remember: Reading and coaching can significantly improve the tentative thesis.


Thesis Brainstorming

As you read look for:

Example of brainstorming a thesis:

Select a topic: television violence and children

Ask an interesting question: What are the effects of television violence on children?

Revise the question into a thesis: Violence on television increases aggressive behavior in preschool children.

Remember this argument is your “preliminary” or “working” thesis. As you read you may discover evidence that may affect your stance. It is okay to revise your thesis!

For more ideas on brainstorming visit Purdue's Thought Starters

Create a list of sample questions to guide your research:

For basic advice on almost any writing issue as you work on this major project, visit the Purdue OWL Handouts and our own Research Project Guide and our MLA Stylesheet.

For advice on selecting your sources, visit Why Should I Take this Author Seriously?


Now, let's play: Is it a thesis?

I would like to become a chef when I finish school

Although both chefs and cooks can prepare fine meals, chefs differ from cooks in education, professional commitment, and artistry.


I enjoy white water rafting.

A first water rafting experience can challenge the body and spirit and transform an adolescent into an adult


Men are chauvinists.

Our American family structure encourages men to repress their true feelings, leaving them open to physical, psychological, and relationship difficulties.


Steroid abuse

Steroids, even those legally available, are addictive and should be banned from sports.


Hip hop is the best thing that has happened to music in twenty years

Though many people dismiss hip hop as offensive, hip hop music offers urban youth an important opportunity for artistic expression, and allows them to articulate the poetry of the street.


Many people object to today's violent horror movies.

Despite their high-tech special effects, today's graphically violent horror movies do not convey the creative use of cinematography or the emotional impact that we saw in the classic horror films of the 1940s and 50s.

Other examples from St. Cloud University


Your turn: Now let’s work together to develop thesis statements around areas in which we already have some background knowledge.

Here’s a few ideas: high school sports, school uniforms, high stakes testing, steroid abuse, divorce, school dances, music censorship

Let's start by brainstorming keywords and concepts.


Thesis Resources on the Web

For more information on developing a thesis, visit:

Purdue OWL's Thesis or Question

Harvard University's Developing a Thesis

Indiana University's How to Write a Thesis

Northwestern University Writing Center's Developing a Thesis

University of Wisconsin's Developing a Thesis Statement

Dartmouth's Developing a Thesis

Hunter College's Developing a Thesis

Hamilton College's Introductions and Thesis Statements

Capital Community College's The Thesis Statement

Developing a Thesis Statement http://english.ttu.edu/uwc/thesis.html

Using Thesis Statements (U. Toronto) http://www.utoronto.ca/writing/thesis.html

Write Place: Thesis Statement http://english.ttu.edu/uwc/thesis.html

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