How to Develop a Great Thesis Statement for Your College Essay

Coming up with a really good thesis statement is often one of the hardest parts of writing an essay, so we’re going to break it down for you and show you everything you need to know to get it right.

Your thesis statement is a roadmap to your essay. It’s the heart and soul of your paper, and if you don’t choose strong arguments you’ll have a really hard time with the rest of the writing and research. Not
only that, but most of the time if you take a look at the rubric your professor gives you for your essay, you’ll find that the thesis statement alone is worth a big chunk of your mark.

Essentially, the thesis statement sets the tone of your paper and tells your reader exactly what you’re going to be talking about or arguing for the rest of the essay. It also showcases how your paper is going to be organized, which helps everything flow seamlessly. You’re going to be graded on how well your paper flows, and the thesis statement is the glue that holds everything together.

Every thesis statement should have two main elements: an argument or position and an answer to a research question. Generally, the argument itself will be the answer to that research question. From there, you need to break it down and determine exactly which arguments you’re going to be making and what claims are going to back up your answer.

Avoiding General Statements

Anyone can make a general statement about something, and this should not be what comprises your thesis statement. It’s very easy to say that climate change is bad. In fact, most people would likely also believe this already. A real argument provides an analysis with credible facts explaining why climate change is bad, if or how it can be slowed down/reversed, or the factors that cause climate change.

Even if you’re tasked with writing a research paper where you’ll generally be providing objective information about that subject, you still need to form a statement that creates some type of point or argument. For example, if you need to write a biographical research essay about Abraham Lincoln, you could focus your thesis statement on why his election to President of the United States was a turning point in modern American history. Then, pinpoint the reasons he contributed to the growth of the country or the major challenges he overcame.

Even if you don’t need to take a debatable stance on your subject, your thesis statement should provide an idea of what your essay will tell the reader. For example, if you are writing an essay describing how something works, you could briefly summarize the information you’re going to present.

For longer essays, you’ll need a thesis statement that is versatile enough to apply to every supporting argument and point you’re going to make. That being said, if you are going to fill twenty pages with arguments, you’re not going to have the room in one or two sentences to explain all of those ideas. If you can, you probably have one big run-on sentence that will lose you some major grammar points.

Instead, think of an overarching point that connects multiple arguments together, and then make sure those body paragraphs are arranged in order within your paper.

How to Break Down a Topic to Make a Thesis Statement

To make your thesis statement, you’ll need to make sure your topic is broken down enough so you know what you are going to be focusing on. It should have enough information to tell your reader what information you’re going to discuss in the paper and why they should care.

A thesis statement needs to be something that is debatable. Think about your topic and your particular position, opinion, or stance about it. What would someone who disagrees with you say to disprove your
position, or what alternative viewpoints would someone present that might contrast with your ideas? If you can’t think of an answer to these questions, your topic is too broad.

When you’re trying to narrow down your thesis statement, try to think about the five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. If you can answer these questions about your specific topic, this will help you
narrow down your argument. Try to answer as many of them in your thesis statement as possible without forcing it.

This is why it’s important to try to choose a topic you’re passionate about if you can. The more you care about something, the easier it is for you to explain exactly why someone else should care, too.

Questions to Ask Yourself That Will Help Formulate a Thesis

  • Ask yourself some of the following questions if you’re stuck trying to figure out what to write for your thesis statement:
  • What do I want the reader to know?
  • What question am I answering?
  • If my topic is a widely known subject, what information am I presenting that someone may not already know? Alternatively, what new information can I present?
  • Is there a controversial opinion out there about this topic? If so, why does that person think the way they do, and what evidence are they using?
  • What arguments could someone make to refute my position on my topic?

A Few Things to Remember

Here are some final tips and pieces of advice to follow when you’re getting ready to create and finalize your thesis statement:

  • The order you list your arguments in your thesis statement should be the order they appear within your essay. You can order them in chronological order, from least to most significant, or however else it makes sense for your topic.
  • Try to be as specific as possible, and avoid using vague words that could be misconstrued.
  • Avoid using sentence starters such as “My paper will argue that…” or “In my paper, I will argue that…”
  • Avoid using jargon or technical terms that are very niche-specific. Unless you’re writing a very specific type of paper for a very knowledgeable audience, assume that your reader doesn’t know all of those terms and try to explain it for a broader audience.
  • Always be ready to answer “so what?” about your topic.