If you run into a classmate in the bookstore and she asks what your research essay is about, you would probably answer in a sentence or two. If you can provide the answer verbally, you can write a clear thesis statement, too. Like a GPS system on an unlit rural road, a thesis statement provides direction – meaning that every sentence that follows in your essay should support, develop, amplify, illustrate or otherwise explain the thesis. Usually positioned at the end of the first or second paragraph of an essay, a thesis often contains a “should” statement. To ensure that your thesis is communicating what it should, subject it to a series of questions, and if it doesn’t quite “pass,” revise the statement accordingly.

Communicate Your Viewpoint

Call it your viewpoint, stance, attitude or opinion, but your thesis should make your position clear. Make an assertion and use qualifiers sparingly. For example, this statement communicates a strong opinion: “All students at ABC College should be required to perform at least four hours a week of campus service projects to help them develop a sense of responsibility and belonging.”

Communicate With Specificity

All writing involves choices. In this example, ensure that you can support why “all” students should perform what type of projects and why you are advocating four hours a week, instead of fewer or more hours. Research essays often run off the rails because students find it difficult to support their thesis. Don’t sacrifice specificity in your thesis, but do make certain that you can support your assertions within the body of your research essay. Ensure there is symmetry between the two.

Communicate With a Sense of Unity and Cohesion

On first glance, the sample thesis statement might suggest that the topic of the paper is about campus service projects. While you may in fact wish to give examples of potential service projects, this thesis “promises” the reader that you will explore why a sense of responsibility and belonging is important to a college student.

Communicate With Reason

Don't be surprised if you revise your thesis statement at the last moment to provide that all-important symmetry. For example, if after reviewing your research you decide that service projects might place undue stress on freshmen, you may wish to alter your thesis statement so that you do not refer to "all" students on campus.