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Developing a Thesis Statement

Crafting a thesis, a truly effective thesis, can be difficult. A good thesis reflects a strong understanding of the content and purpose of your paper, plus your audience and its needs. Fortunately for you, you have done a lot of work up front in tailoring your topic to the needs of your assignment and the sources available, in forming significant essential questions to guide your work, and in taking careful, thorough, thoughtful notes from your sources. Now that you have finished taking notes, you know your topic well and you can draw on the work you did in developing essential questions to craft the thesis.

At this point, Cathleen Pruden's Essential Question:

What did the photographs taken by the Farm Security Administration reveal about the role photography played in the Roosevelt administration's promotion of the New Deal?

is worked into a fine thesis statement:

The Farm Security Administration photographs illustrate the depth of poverty during the Great Depresssion, the need for federal government assistance, and the effects of the New Deal in alleviating rural poverty.


So how do you move from the working thesis to the polished thesis? We are going to suggest that you follow a basic formula for your first attempts at thesis writing:

Thesis Formula
Informed statement of topic + significant observation about the topic = THESIS

This formula contains the components of a strong thesis and is adaptable to any research situation. You can also use it for non-research-based writing tasks, such as papers about books you are reading in English class. However, please be aware that this formula is so basic, it requires a lot of input from you, the author. You know your topic best. You know how your paper progresses from point to point. You know how the paper concludes and what final thoughts you want your reader to have. So only you know how to present the thesis in the way that best prepares your reader for the experience of reading your paper.

Your “informed statement of the topic” should be short and specific. After an introduction that moves from the general to the specific, or that begins with a related anecdote or statistic, you need to use your thesis to put a very fine point on the exact topic of your research.

Your “significant observation about the topic” is the new, creative, interesting, or unique perspective you are bringing to the topic you have just stated, as a result of answering your research question(s). At the high school level, this may simply be a concise generalization of the answer you found for the research question that has become the central point of your paper. In a more advanced form (completely attainable by high school students), this section of the thesis statement reveals the new discoveries or perspectives your research has uncovered.

Examples of effective thesis statements:

“Through his journals, observations, and countless specimens of the Galapagos Islands, Darwin began a new journey to develop the framework of modern evolutionary theory” (Smaxwell 1).

“The only definitive conclusion one can make about the disease is that the people who are infected with ALS, like New York Yankees’ baseball player Lou Gehrig, are not the only people affected by ALS” (Meadows 1).

“Although at first fans were devastated to lose a hockey season, the Lockout has produced an NHL that everyone was hoping for. The causes, process, and outcomes drastically transformed the NHL and the hockey we view on TV” (Krattenmaker 1).

"The Farm Security Administration photographs illustrate the depth of poverty during the Great Depresssion, the need for federal government assistance, and the effects of the New Deal in alleviating rural poverty" (Pruden 1).

As you can see, each of these thesis statements contains the basic components of a strong thesis, though they do not seem formulaic or even very similar to one another. By taking each thesis out of the context of its paper, we have made it difficult to discuss what makes the thesis effective. As we explained above, only the author of the paper is really equipped to craft the perfect thesis for his work. By using the formula you can probably begin to imagine, in the context of your paper, exactly what needs to be said.

Using the “thesis formula,” translate your working sentence into an effective thesis:

1. Write an informed sentence that states your topic:

2. Write your significant observation about the topic (the answer to your essential question), framing this observation so that its importance is clear to your reader/audience:

3. Combine these two sentences into a single sentence, in which sentence 1 introduces
sentence 2. You will probably need to delete words and use conjunctions, commas, or


Like Templates?

These steps are another option and are adapted from pages 45-50 of The Craft of Research, by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. Here is a worksheet.

I am studying __________________,
because I want to find out __________________,
in order to help my reader understand _______________________.
(Booth, Colomb, and Williams 50-52)

Cathleen's statement would look like this:

I am studying Farm Security Administration Photography
because I want to find out what these photographs revealed
in order to help my reader understand the role photography played in the Roosevelt administration's promotion of the New Deal.

As you have it, this three part sentence is a perfectly acceptable working thesis. You have defined both your topic and the question you are seeking to answer about that topic, plus you’ve explained why the answer will be significant to your reader. That’s a great start. At this point, you could go ahead and outline your paper, moving through your argument from topic to topic. You could even write the first rough draft. But at some point, you will have to come back to create a polished thesis, one that eliminates “I” and presents both the topic and the question more elegantly. Your finished thesis needs to speak with the voice of authority, saying not “I want to find out about X,” but rather “I have researched X, these are my findings, and they are important because Y.”

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