Essay Writing, Part 3: How To Form A Proper Thesis Statement


Have you ever battled while trying to develop a thesis for an essay?  You’re not alone!  It is one of the areas that students often struggle with most.

What is a thesis, and why do I need one?

The thesis is the most important parts of you essay: it is how you tell your reader what you are arguing, and in turn why they should be reading what you’ve written.

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When a teaching assistant or professor is marking an essay, they are looking for a clearly-defined statement or series of statements that professes the point you are trying to make within your paper.

If your essay doesn’t have a thesis (or lacks a clear thesis), you’ve basically wasted your time on your paper.  And your grade will decrease too.

Thesis mythology

You may think you need a definite thesis when you are writing, but that’s a myth.  You can write a fine essay with a working thesis and then re-write it as your essay progresses.

Similarly, in high school, you are often taught to write your thesis as one sentence.  However, if you have a complex topic you may need to have your thesis as a couple of sentences.

Thesis contents

Although there are different kinds of theses for different kinds of papers (research papers vs. comparative papers vs. literary essays etc), they all follow the same general structure.

All theses must:

  • State a clear topic
  • Assert a debatable opinion

If you have these things, you probably have a decent thesis (w00t!)!

Common thesis errors

Below is a list of some of the common errors students make when writing a thesis statement or statements.  For each kind of error there is an example of a flawed as well as a sound thesis.

  • A thesis must represent a complete thought
    • Improper thesis: How university life is for students
    • Proper thesis: The first year of university is a difficult transition time for students
  • A thesis must not be a question
    • Improper thesis: Should Ontario reduce the legal drinking age?
    • Proper thesis: Anyone who is old enough to join the military should be able to drink legally.
  • A thesis should not include phrases like “I think…”
    • Improper thesis: In my opinion taxes are too high for lower-income families.
    • Proper thesis: Lower-income families do not have adequate take-home earnings because of the amount of taxes they pay.
  • A thesis must not include ideas that are unrelated
    • Improper thesis: Some ducks are migratory, therefore all birds travel south for the winter
    • Proper thesis: Although many species of bird change their habitat throughout the year, Canada Geese are more migratory than chickadees or blue jays.
  • A thesis should not use vague language
    • Improper thesis: Some people think the four year high school curriculum would be good for students because that is what politicians said.
    • Proper thesis: Contrary to the Ontario government’s goals, the four year high school curriculum resulted in numerous problems for students born in 1984, 1985 and 1986.
  • A thesis must not use muddled or incoherent language
    • Improper thesis: Students in other faculties should not think that university programs in the arts are easy because they don’t do math, actually essay-based classes might be much harder because they are marked subjectively.
    • Proper thesis: Students outside of the arts should realize that attaining a high GPA in essay-focused classes is difficult due to the subjective nature of essay marking.
  • A thesis should not be written in figurative language
    • Proper thesis: Love is a bouquet of roses in the garden of our soul.
    • Improper thesis: Even though love is a relatively new concept, it is critical in creating strong romantic and non-romantic relationships between people.
  • A thesis should not be a truism
    • Improper thesis: Lady Gaga has an interesting wardrobe.
    • Proper thesis: Lady Gaga uses intricate and unusual costumes to define herself as an artist.

Writing a good thesis statement takes practice, but writing an effective statement will ultimately make your essays that much better.


More articles in the Essay Writing series:

Developed using “Thesis Writing: The Eternal Struggle of Monkey vs. Man,” by Danielle Gellert
About the author

Danielle Lorenz is a long-time contributor to the Career Incubator. Danielle is a PhD student in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta. When procrastinating from schoolwork, you will find Danielle lurking on several social media platforms and trying to befriend the snowshoe hares on the U of A campus.