Why an Essay Needs a Thesis

Having a clear thesis can help you avoid lots of rewriting later.
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A strong thesis statement can make the difference between an A and F paper. It can also affect whether a reader understands or even cares about your essay's central point. Knowing the importance of a thesis statement will help you structure a clear, effective paper that will intrigue, persuade and inform your readers.

1 Basics

A thesis statement is a sentence, usually placed at the end of the first paragraph, that lays out the direction of the entire essay, providing a clear description of the author’s main idea or goal. Just as people who read for pleasure look at the back cover of a book to see what it is about, your audience will take a peek at the thesis statement to see what they can expect from your paper.

2 Arguments

All writing makes an argument. For example, an anti-death penalty essay offers reasons for its position while an analysis of a TV commercial explains a company's persuasion tactics. An essay needs a thesis to build the foundation for a clear argument about a debatable issue. It isn't enough to simply state a fact or say that something is good or bad. The thesis must clearly set solid groundwork for the author's claims. For example, your original thesis might say "Young girls shouldn't watch Disney movies." Your revised thesis might state "From finding a woman's self worth in Prince Charming to living happily ever after, Disney movies present numerous unrealistic views of romance that could be harmful to young female viewers."

3 Mapping

When going on a trip, directions highlight important landmarks, tell you when to exit the freeway or turn, and estimate how long the trip will be. Writing an essay without a thesis statement is like sending readers on a trip with no map. Sometimes a thesis gives this road map by explicitly stating each major point readers will encounter in order of appearance. This will provide better signposting for audiences as they move through each main idea. For example, your original thesis might state simply "Cheerleading is a sport." After some consideration, you might flesh out the thesis to say "Cheerleading is a sport because true sports require precision, teamwork and physical endurance."

4 Considerations

If readers are not interested in the essay by the end of the first paragraph, they most likely won't read on. Essays require a thesis statement to show readers why they should care about the topic. Know what you believe and why before beginning the writing process; if you aren't convinced, readers won't be either. Your thesis should always answer the question "So what?" -- explaining to audiences why the topic is significant and relevant to them. Your original thesis might state "Cooking Mexican food is easy." But, after you research the subject, you might revise the thesis to say "Cooking Mexican food at home is not only a fun family activity, but it can also help you save money."

5 Tips

Identify the purpose of the essay before writing a thesis. Most essays are written to inform readers about a topic, analyze an existing work or persuade audiences of a position. The kind of paper determines the structure of the thesis. Avoid first-person statements like "It is my opinion." This reduces your thesis' credibility by implying that your ideas are grounded in personal views, not sources. And, avoid starting the thesis with phrases like "This paper will prove." Go directly to the main content with concise, specific language.

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.