Describe the Elements of a Good & Bad Thesis Statement

A good thesis sets up a strong argument.
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A convincing essay is like a good argument -- it takes a position and sets out to support that position with facts. A thesis statement is a sentence that clearly lays out this argument in the essay’s introduction. A strong thesis helps provide the framework for making a strong argument.

1 Summarize the Essay's Contents

A thesis statement should provide, in a sentence, an outline for the entire contents of your essay. It tells a reader exactly what argument you are making and the basic points that you cover in defending your argument. The statement, “Golden retrievers are the best pets for families,” would not give the reader as complete an understanding as the statement, “Golden retrievers are the best pets for families because of their trainability, devotion and energy levels.” In the latter case, the reader knows to expect the main sections of the article to discuss trainability, devotion and energy levels and how each contributes to making the golden retriever a good family pet. A thesis statement should include only information that you discuss thoroughly in the essay.

2 Give a Direct Answer

A good thesis should provide a direct answer to the question being asked or the assignment given. If your essay prompt asks you to discuss reasons for America’s entry into World War II, then a good thesis statement gives a complete, one-sentence response to the question, such as, “The previously neutral United States was forced into involvement in World War II by an attack from Japan and declarations of war from both Germany and Italy.” This sentence could stand alone as an answer to the question and needs only to be backed up by facts and details in the essay’s body. A statement such as, “The United States entered World War II for a number of reasons,” provides no clear answer to the prompt and could not stand alone as a short answer.

3 Address a Specific Topic

Choose a thesis that is specific enough to keep your essay focused. A thesis that is too broad, such as, “Vitamins are an essential part of a healthy diet,” is difficult to fully explore without producing entire volumes of text. Choosing a narrower topic, such as, “A diet rich in Vitamin C is essential to building strong bones, maintaining healthy blood vessels and resisting infection,” allows you to fully support your claims in an essay of reasonable length.

4 Take a Disputable Position

Remember that a thesis is a position that you are setting out to argue. A statement that no one disputes, such as “Oil spills are bad for ocean life,” is not worth arguing, as you have no one to convince. Instead, choose a claim that could spark reasonable disagreement, such as “The Exxon Valdez oil spill is responsible for two decades of decline in the killer whale population of Prince William Sound.”

Bethany Richardson has been an educator in Texas public schools since 2007. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English rhetoric with a professional writing certificate from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.