Developing a Thesis Statement

Many papers you write require developing a thesis statement. In this section you’ll learn what a thesis statement is and how to write one.

Keep in mind that not all papers require thesis statements . If in doubt, please consult your instructor for assistance.

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement . . .

Not all papers require thesis statements! Ask your instructor if you’re in doubt whether you need one.

Identify a topic

Your topic is the subject about which you will write. Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic; or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper.

Consider what your assignment asks you to do

Inform yourself about your topic, focus on one aspect of your topic, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts, generate a topic from an assignment.

Below are some possible topics based on sample assignments.

Sample assignment 1

Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II.

Identified topic

Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis

This topic avoids generalities such as “Spain” and “World War II,” addressing instead on Franco’s role (a specific aspect of “Spain”) and the diplomatic relations between the Allies and Axis (a specific aspect of World War II).

Sample assignment 2

Analyze one of Homer’s epic similes in the Iliad.

The relationship between the portrayal of warfare and the epic simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64.

This topic focuses on a single simile and relates it to a single aspect of the Iliad ( warfare being a major theme in that work).

Developing a Thesis Statement–Additional information

Your assignment may suggest several ways of looking at a topic, or it may name a fairly general concept that you will explore or analyze in your paper. You’ll want to read your assignment carefully, looking for key terms that you can use to focus your topic.

Sample assignment: Analyze Spain’s neutrality in World War II Key terms: analyze, Spain’s neutrality, World War II

After you’ve identified the key words in your topic, the next step is to read about them in several sources, or generate as much information as possible through an analysis of your topic. Obviously, the more material or knowledge you have, the more possibilities will be available for a strong argument. For the sample assignment above, you’ll want to look at books and articles on World War II in general, and Spain’s neutrality in particular.

As you consider your options, you must decide to focus on one aspect of your topic. This means that you cannot include everything you’ve learned about your topic, nor should you go off in several directions. If you end up covering too many different aspects of a topic, your paper will sprawl and be unconvincing in its argument, and it most likely will not fulfull the assignment requirements.

For the sample assignment above, both Spain’s neutrality and World War II are topics far too broad to explore in a paper. You may instead decide to focus on Franco’s role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis , which narrows down what aspects of Spain’s neutrality and World War II you want to discuss, as well as establishes a specific link between those two aspects.

Before you go too far, however, ask yourself whether your topic is worthy of your efforts. Try to avoid topics that already have too much written about them (i.e., “eating disorders and body image among adolescent women”) or that simply are not important (i.e. “why I like ice cream”). These topics may lead to a thesis that is either dry fact or a weird claim that cannot be supported. A good thesis falls somewhere between the two extremes. To arrive at this point, ask yourself what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about your topic.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times . Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Derive a main point from topic

Once you have a topic, you will have to decide what the main point of your paper will be. This point, the “controlling idea,” becomes the core of your argument (thesis statement) and it is the unifying idea to which you will relate all your sub-theses. You can then turn this “controlling idea” into a purpose statement about what you intend to do in your paper.

Look for patterns in your evidence

Compose a purpose statement.

Consult the examples below for suggestions on how to look for patterns in your evidence and construct a purpose statement.

Possible conclusion:

Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: Franco’s desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power.

Purpose statement

This paper will analyze Franco’s diplomacy during World War II to see how it contributed to Spain’s neutrality.

At first, the simile seems to take the reader away from the world of warfare, but we end up back in that world by the end.

This paper will analyze the way the simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64 moves in and out of the world of warfare.

Derive purpose statement from topic

To find out what your “controlling idea” is, you have to examine and evaluate your evidence . As you consider your evidence, you may notice patterns emerging, data repeated in more than one source, or facts that favor one view more than another. These patterns or data may then lead you to some conclusions about your topic and suggest that you can successfully argue for one idea better than another.

For instance, you might find out that Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis, but when he couldn’t get some concessions that he wanted from them, he turned to the Allies. As you read more about Franco’s decisions, you may conclude that Spain’s neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: his desire to preserve his own (and Spain’s) power. Based on this conclusion, you can then write a trial thesis statement to help you decide what material belongs in your paper.

Sometimes you won’t be able to find a focus or identify your “spin” or specific argument immediately. Like some writers, you might begin with a purpose statement just to get yourself going. A purpose statement is one or more sentences that announce your topic and indicate the structure of the paper but do not state the conclusions you have drawn . Thus, you might begin with something like this:

At some point, you can turn a purpose statement into a thesis statement. As you think and write about your topic, you can restrict, clarify, and refine your argument, crafting your thesis statement to reflect your thinking.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.

Compose a draft thesis statement

If you are writing a paper that will have an argumentative thesis and are having trouble getting started, the techniques in the table below may help you develop a temporary or “working” thesis statement.

Begin with a purpose statement that you will later turn into a thesis statement.

Assignment: Discuss the history of the Reform Party and explain its influence on the 1990 presidential and Congressional election.

Purpose Statement: This paper briefly sketches the history of the grassroots, conservative, Perot-led Reform Party and analyzes how it influenced the economic and social ideologies of the two mainstream parties.

Question-to-Assertion

If your assignment asks a specific question(s), turn the question(s) into an assertion and give reasons why it is true or reasons for your opinion.

Assignment : What do Aylmer and Rappaccini have to be proud of? Why aren’t they satisfied with these things? How does pride, as demonstrated in “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” lead to unexpected problems?

Beginning thesis statement: Alymer and Rappaccinni are proud of their great knowledge; however, they are also very greedy and are driven to use their knowledge to alter some aspect of nature as a test of their ability. Evil results when they try to “play God.”

Write a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the essay you plan to write.

Main idea: The reason some toys succeed in the market is that they appeal to the consumers’ sense of the ridiculous and their basic desire to laugh at themselves.

Make a list of the ideas that you want to include; consider the ideas and try to group them.

Use a formula to arrive at a working thesis statement (you will revise this later).

What to keep in mind as you draft an initial thesis statement

Beginning statements obtained through the methods illustrated above can serve as a framework for planning or drafting your paper, but remember they’re not yet the specific, argumentative thesis you want for the final version of your paper. In fact, in its first stages, a thesis statement usually is ill-formed or rough and serves only as a planning tool.

As you write, you may discover evidence that does not fit your temporary or “working” thesis. Or you may reach deeper insights about your topic as you do more research, and you will find that your thesis statement has to be more complicated to match the evidence that you want to use.

You must be willing to reject or omit some evidence in order to keep your paper cohesive and your reader focused. Or you may have to revise your thesis to match the evidence and insights that you want to discuss. Read your draft carefully, noting the conclusions you have drawn and the major ideas which support or prove those conclusions. These will be the elements of your final thesis statement.

Sometimes you will not be able to identify these elements in your early drafts, but as you consider how your argument is developing and how your evidence supports your main idea, ask yourself, “ What is the main point that I want to prove/discuss? ” and “ How will I convince the reader that this is true? ” When you can answer these questions, then you can begin to refine the thesis statement.

Refine and polish the thesis statement

To get to your final thesis, you’ll need to refine your draft thesis so that it’s specific and arguable.

Consult the example below for suggestions on how to refine your draft thesis statement.

Sample Assignment

Choose an activity and define it as a symbol of American culture. Your essay should cause the reader to think critically about the society which produces and enjoys that activity.

Drive-ins are an interesting symbol of American culture because they represent Americans’ significant creativity and business ingenuity.
Among the types of drive-in facilities familiar during the twentieth century, drive-in movie theaters best represent American creativity, not merely because they were the forerunner of later drive-ins and drive-throughs, but because of their impact on our culture: they changed our relationship to the automobile, changed the way people experienced movies, and changed movie-going into a family activity.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast-food establishments, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize America’s economic ingenuity, they also have affected our personal standards.
While drive-in facilities such as those at fast- food restaurants, banks, pharmacies, and dry cleaners symbolize (1) Americans’ business ingenuity, they also have contributed (2) to an increasing homogenization of our culture, (3) a willingness to depersonalize relationships with others, and (4) a tendency to sacrifice quality for convenience.

This statement is now specific and fulfills all parts of the assignment. This version, like any good thesis, is not self-evident; its points, 1-4, will have to be proven with evidence in the body of the paper. The numbers in this statement indicate the order in which the points will be presented. Depending on the length of the paper, there could be one paragraph for each numbered item or there could be blocks of paragraph for even pages for each one.

Complete the final thesis statement

The bottom line.

As you move through the process of crafting a thesis, you’ll need to remember four things:

In the beginning, the thesis statement was a tool to help you sharpen your focus, limit material and establish the paper’s purpose. When your paper is finished, however, the thesis statement becomes a tool for your reader. It tells the reader what you have learned about your topic and what evidence led you to your conclusion. It keeps the reader on track–well able to understand and appreciate your argument.

main topic thesis statement

Writing Process and Structure

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Getting Started with Your Paper

Interpreting Writing Assignments from Your Courses

Generating Ideas for

Creating an Argument

Thesis vs. Purpose Statements

Architecture of Arguments

Working with Sources

Quoting and Paraphrasing Sources

Using Literary Quotations

Citing Sources in Your Paper

Drafting Your Paper

Generating Ideas for Your Paper

Introductions

Paragraphing

Developing Strategic Transitions

Conclusions

Revising Your Paper

Peer Reviews

Reverse Outlines

Revising an Argumentative Paper

Revision Strategies for Longer Projects

Finishing Your Paper

Twelve Common Errors: An Editing Checklist

How to Proofread your Paper

Writing Collaboratively

Collaborative and Group Writing

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main topic thesis statement

Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements

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This resource provides tips for creating a thesis statement and examples of different types of thesis statements.

Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement

1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing:

If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.

2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.

3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.

4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

Thesis Statement Examples

Example of an analytical thesis statement:

The paper that follows should:

Example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:

Example of an argumentative thesis statement:

The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Thesis Statement

Matt Ellis

A thesis statement is a sentence in a paper or essay (in the opening paragraph) that introduces the main topic to the reader. As one of the first things your reader sees, your thesis statement is one of the most important sentences in your entire paper—but also one of the hardest to write! 

In this article, we explain how to write a thesis statement in the best way possible. We look at what to include and the steps to take for writing your own, along with plenty of thesis statement examples to guide you. 

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What is a thesis statement?

The goal of a thesis statement is to let your reader know what your paper or essay is about. It helps your reader understand the greater context and scope of your topic, plus it lets your readers know what to expect from the rest of the work. 

A secondary benefit of a thesis statement is that it makes it easier to search for papers on a particular topic, especially in the realm of academic writing like research papers and thesis papers (which are sometimes known as dissertations when written for doctoral degrees). For example, if you’re writing a paper of your own, you’ll want to look up other papers to use as evidence and sources . You can simply scan the thesis statements of several papers to see which match your topic and could be worthwhile sources to cite. 

The thesis statement is located at the beginning of a paper, in the opening paragraph, making it an essential way to start an essay . A thesis statement isn’t necessarily the first sentence in an essay; typically you’ll want to hook the reader in an engaging way in the opening sentence before inserting your central idea or argument later in the first paragraph. A thesis statement is often confused with a topic sentence , the first sentence in a paragraph, because they both introduce the central idea of what follows. You can think of thesis statements as the topic sentence of your entire paper.  

What to include in a thesis statement (with examples)

Thesis statements are a necessary part of paper and essay writing , but different formats have different rules and best practices. Below, we break down how to write a thesis statement for the most common types of papers. 

How to write a thesis statement for expository and argumentative essays

Expository and argumentative essays are some of the most common types of academic papers. Because they don’t have a formal abstract like research papers, they rely on their thesis statements to provide an overview of what’s discussed. 

Thesis statements for argumentative and expository essays should use strong and decisive language; don’t be wishy-washy or uncertain. You want to take a stand right in the opening so that your readers understand what your paper is trying to show. 

Moreover, thesis statements for these essays should be specific, with some minor details to hint at the rest of the paper. It’s not enough to merely make your point; you also want to provide some basic evidence or background context to paint a full picture. 

If your paper dives into different subtopics or categories, try to fit them into the thesis statement if you can. You don’t have to get into details here, but it’s nice to mention the different sections at the top so that the reader knows what to expect. 

Thesis statement examples

Despite the taboo, insects make an excellent food source and could stem humanity’s looming food shortage, based on both their protein output and the sustainability of farming them. 

The backlash to rock ’n’ roll music in the ’50s by religious groups and traditionalists actually boosted the genre’s popularity instead of diminishing it as intended.

How to write a thesis statement for persuasive essays

Similar to argumentative essays, persuasive essays follow many of the same guidelines for their thesis statements: decisive language, specific details, and mentions of subtopics. 

However, the main difference is that, while the thesis statements for argumentative and expository essays state facts, the thesis statements for persuasive essays state clear opinions . Still, the format is the same, and the opinions are often treated like facts, including conclusive language and citing evidence to support your claims. 

Furthermore, unlike with other essays, it’s appropriate to make emotional connections in a thesis statement in persuasive essays. This can actually be a clever strategy to start your essay off on a more personal, impactful note. 

Advertising should not be allowed in public schools because it’s a distraction from studies and may lead to misguided priorities among the school board, to say nothing of the materialist culture it promotes. 

Exotic pets provide the same love and companionship as conventional pets, so the laws regulating which animals can and cannot be kept as pets should be more relaxed.

How to write a thesis statement for compare-and-contrast essays

Thesis statements for compare-and-contrast essays are tricky because you have at least two topics to touch on instead of just one. The same general guidelines apply (decisive language, details, etc.), but you need to give equal attention to both your topics—otherwise, your essay will seem biased from the start. 

As always, your thesis statement should reflect what’s written in the rest of your essay. If your essay spends more time comparing than contrasting, your thesis statement should focus more on similarities than differences. 

It sometimes helps to give specific examples as well, but keep them simple and brief. Save the finer details for the body of your essay. 

Sean Connery and Daniel Craig are the two most popular actors to portray James Bond, but both have their own distinct and at times contradictory interpretations of the character. 

While capitalism and communism are often viewed as diametric opposites, the truth is that, in practice, both ideologies tend to “borrow” principles from one another.

How to write a thesis statement in 3 steps

Now that you know what you’re aiming for, it’s time to sit down and write your own thesis statement. To keep you on track, here are three easy steps to guide you. 

1 Brainstorm the best topic for your essay

You can’t write a thesis statement until you know what your paper is about, so your first step is choosing a topic. 

If the topic is already assigned, great ! That’s all for this step. If not, consider the tips below for choosing the topic that’s best for you:

Once you’ve chosen a topic—and the angle or stance you want to take—then it’s time to put the idea for your thesis sentence into words. 

2 Phrase your topic as a question and then answer it

It’s not always easy to fit your entire thesis into just one sentence, let alone one that’s written clearly and eloquently. Here’s a quick technique to help you get started. 

First, phrase your topic as a question. For example, if you want to write about Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy, ask yourself, “What influences did Gandhi have on society after his death?” 

If you already know the answer, write it down—that’s a good start for your thesis statement. If you don’t know the answer, do some preliminary research to find out; you can certainly use what you discover as evidence and sources in your essay’s body paragraphs . 

3 Add some polish

Chances are, your first attempt at a thesis statement won’t be perfect. To get it to its best, try revising , editing , and adding what’s missing. 

Remember the core traits for thesis statements we mentioned above: decisive language, a happy medium of specific but not too specific details, and mention of subtopics. If you’re struggling to contain everything in a single sentence, feel free to move the secondary information to the following sentence. The thesis statement itself should only have what’s most necessary. 

If you’re in doubt, read your thesis statement to a friend and ask them what they think your paper is about. If they answer correctly, your thesis statement does its job. 

Next comes the hard part—writing the rest! While the bulk of the writing lies ahead, at least you’ve nailed down your central idea. To plot out your supporting argument, follow our advice on essay structure and let your ideas flow. 

main topic thesis statement

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How to Write Topic Sentences | 4 Steps, Examples & Purpose

Published on July 21, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 29, 2022.

Every paragraph in your paper needs a topic sentence . The topic sentence expresses what the paragraph is about. It should include two key things:

After the topic sentence, you expand on the point with evidence and examples.

To build a well-structured argument, you can also use your topic sentences to transition smoothly between paragraphs and show the connections between your points.

Table of contents

Writing strong topic sentences, topic sentences as transitions between paragraphs, topic sentences that introduce more than one paragraph, where does the topic sentence go, frequently asked questions about topic sentences.

Topic sentences aren’t the first or the last thing you write—you’ll develop them throughout the writing process. To make sure every topic sentence and paragraph serves your argument, follow these steps.

Step 1: Write a thesis statement

The first step to developing your topic sentences is to make sure you have a strong thesis statement . The thesis statement sums up the purpose and argument of the whole paper.

Thesis statement example

Food is an increasingly urgent environmental issue, and to reduce humans’ impact on the planet, it is necessary to change global patterns of food production and consumption.

Step 2: Make an essay outline and draft topic sentences

Next, you should make an outline of your essay’s structure , planning what you want to say in each paragraph and what evidence you’ll use.

At this stage, you can draft a topic sentence that sums up the main point you want to make in each paragraph. The topic sentences should be more specific than the thesis statement, but always clearly related to it.

Topic sentence example

Research has consistently shown that the meat industry has a significant environmental impact .

Step 3: Expand with evidence

The rest of the paragraph should flow logically from the topic sentence, expanding on the point with evidence, examples, or argumentation. This helps keep your paragraphs focused: everything you write should relate to the central idea expressed in the topic sentence.

In our example, you might mention specific research studies and statistics that support your point about the overall impact of the meat industry.

Step 4: Refine your topic sentences

Topic sentences usually start out as simple statements. But it’s important to revise them as you write, making sure they match the content of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence is specific enough to give a clear sense of what to expect from the paragraph, but general enough that it doesn’t give everything away. You can think of it like a signpost: it should tell the reader which direction your argument is going in.

To make your writing stronger and ensure the connections between your paragraphs are clear and logical, you can also use topic sentences to create smooth transitions.

As you write each topic sentence, ask yourself: how does this point relate to what you wrote in the preceding paragraph? It’s often helpful to use transition words in your topic sentences to show the connections between your ideas.

Emphasize and expand

If the paragraph goes into more detail or gives another example to make the same point, the topic sentence can use words that imply emphasis or similarity (for example, furthermore , indeed , in fact , also ).

Indeed , cattle farming alone is responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions.

Summarize and anticipate

If the paragraph turns to a different aspect of the same subject, the topic sentence can briefly sum up the previous paragraph and anticipate the new information that will appear in this one.

While beef clearly has the most dramatic footprint, other animal products also have serious impacts in terms of emissions, water and land use.

Compare and contrast

If the paragraph makes a comparison or introduces contrasting information, the topic sentence can use words that highlight difference or conflict (for example, in contrast , however , yet , on the other hand ).

However , the environmental costs of dietary choices are not always clear-cut; in some cases, small-scale livestock farming is more sustainable than plant-based food production.

You can also imply contrast or complicate your argument by formulating the topic sentence as a question.

Is veganism the only solution, or are there more sustainable ways of producing meat and dairy?

What can proofreading do for your paper?

Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words, and awkward phrasing.

main topic thesis statement

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Sometimes you can use a topic sentence to introduce several paragraphs at once.

All of the examples above address the environmental impact of meat-eating versus veganism. Together, they make up one coherent part of a larger argument, so the first paragraph could use a topic sentence to introduce the whole section.

In countries with high levels of meat consumption, a move towards plant-based diets is the most obvious route to making food more sustainable. Research has consistently shown that the meat industry has significant environmental impacts.

The topic sentence usually goes at the very start of a paragraph, but sometimes it can come later to indicate a change of direction in the paragraph’s argument.

Given this evidence of the meat industry’s impact on the planet, veganism seems like the only environmentally responsible option for consumers. However, the environmental costs of dietary choices are not always clear-cut; in some cases, small-scale livestock farming is more sustainable than plant-based food production.

In this example, the first sentence summarizes the main point that has been made so far. Then the topic sentence indicates that this paragraph will address evidence that complicates or contradicts that point.

In more advanced or creative forms of academic writing , you can play with the placement of topic sentences to build suspense and give your arguments more force. But if in doubt, to keep your research paper clear and focused, the easiest method is to place the topic sentence at the start of the paragraph.

View topic sentences in an example essay

A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.

Topic sentences help keep your writing focused and guide the reader through your argument.

In an essay or paper , each paragraph should focus on a single idea. By stating the main idea in the topic sentence, you clarify what the paragraph is about for both yourself and your reader.

The topic sentence usually comes at the very start of the paragraph .

However, sometimes you might start with a transition sentence to summarize what was discussed in previous paragraphs, followed by the topic sentence that expresses the focus of the current paragraph.

Let’s say you’re writing a five-paragraph  essay about the environmental impacts of dietary choices. Here are three examples of topic sentences you could use for each of the three body paragraphs :

Each of these sentences expresses one main idea – by listing them in order, we can see the overall structure of the essay at a glance. Each paragraph will expand on the topic sentence with relevant detail, evidence, and arguments.

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COMMENTS

  1. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    You can write your thesis statement by following four simple steps: Start with a question Write your initial answer Develop your answer Refine your thesis statement Table of contents What is a thesis statement? Placement of the thesis statement Step 1: Start with a question Step 2: Write your initial answer Step 3: Develop your answer

  2. Developing a Thesis Statement

    Derive a main point from topic Once you have a topic, you will have to decide what the main point of your paper will be. This point, the “controlling idea,” becomes the core of your argument (thesis statement) and it is the unifying idea to which you will relate all your sub-theses.

  3. Creating a Thesis Statement, Thesis Statement Tips

    Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement 1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing: An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience. An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.

  4. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    A thesis statement is a sentence in a paper or essay (in the opening paragraph) that introduces the main topic to the reader. As one of the first things your reader sees, your thesis statement is one of the most important sentences in your entire paper—but also one of the hardest to write!