A thesis statement lays the groundwork for an essay. It tells the reader what the essay is about and what to expect as he reads through the essay. Locating and understanding the thesis statement, however, isn't always easy. Sometimes it requires that you read the entire essay, find the thesis statement and then read the essay again. The second time you read, you can then compare what the thesis statement said the essay was about to your thoughts about the essay's meaning.
Note First Impressions
Read the essay entirely. Take notes along the way about what you think the essay is trying to say about a particular subject, issue or event. These notes should be related to the big-picture meaning, not of specific passages. Consider whether the tone of the essay is factual, or emotional and persuasive. Determine the main idea of each paragraph, and ask how these ideas support the conclusion found in the last paragraph of the essay.
Identify Purpose of Essay
Write a brief paragraph describing the main purpose or objective of the essay. Use the notes you took to back up why you think what you've written is the meaning. Ask yourself if the essay is explaining a topic, analyzing a subject, or arguing a debatable point. Look for claims being made, detailed explanations, or statistical evidence that give clues to the thesis.
Review Opening Paragraphs
Search the first two paragraphs for a statement that matches the purpose of the essay. Most often, you will find the thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph. It might appear in the form of direct statement or might be a hypothesis that the author says he will prove. For example, if you said the purpose of the essay was that coffee hydrates the body, the author could say directly that coffee hydrates the body or that he intends to prove that coffee hydrates the body. Both qualify as a thesis statement.
Re-read the essay if you felt like the thesis statement provides more clarity to what you have already read. Keeping the thesis statement at the forefront of your mind while reading the essay a second time can help you better understand the author's objectives, findings and conclusions.
Finding the thesis is important because it strengthens reading comprehension and retention. Once you spot the thesis, you are better informed on the type of essay you are reading and the writer's intended purpose. Knowing this upfront helps you focus, so you don't have to go back repeatedly and analyze or dissect the text to figure out how it all fits together.