Elements of a Thesis Statement

August 2006. Revised, December 2007

A thesis is an argument that can be supported by evidence. It must have three qualities:

Interpretation

A thesis cannot be a mere statement of fact. It must explain facts to show their significance. In historical writing, a thesis explains the words or deeds of people in the past. It shows cause and effect; it answers the question, why?

Precision

A good thesis is specific to the facts being discussed and shows the precise relationship among them. If the thesis makes as much sense for a paper on the French Revolution as for one on the spread of VCRs (e.g., “the world is always changing”), it is too vague. If it states that two ideas were similar or different, without explaining how they were similar or different, it is too vague. If the thesis is specific to the assigned documents, it is precise.

Lists of factors make poor theses; decide what factors were most important. Likewise, avoid the term different in your thesis in favor of more precise comparisons.

Surprise

A thesis must change a reader’s mind to be of value. If it presents only facts or an obvious finding, it will merely confirm what the reader already believes. If it presents a shocking finding without supporting evidence, it will again fail, for the critical reader will dismiss the claim. An effective thesis, then, makes a claim an informed reader might not believe at first, but which she will find persuasive once she has read all the evidence that follows.


For more on developing a thesis, see “A Thesis-Statement Template” and “Dialectical Thesis Statements.”