The night before the due date, Erika stares at the blank page before her. She reads the assignment. How will she fill up four pages? Whatever comes into her mind goes onto the page. Finally, she reaches her page quota and quits.

Sound familiar? What's wrong with this picture? 

Erika's essay looks more like a journal entry than a finished paper. It doesn't demonstrate a clear and controlling idea, and the chances of it earning the grade she wants are slim. While a solid thesis statement cannot guarantee that the rest of Erika's paper will be brilliant, beginning with one will help her stay focused.

A Thesis Statement is the controlling idea behind your paper or essay.

A thesis statement can clarify and organize your thoughts so that your paper will directly address the assignment. It will also guide you in writing your essay so that you know what to write (and how to fill up the required number of pages). When you begin with a clear idea of what you want to write, it's easier to ensure that everything you write will be relevant. Using it as a guide to develop your paragraphs helps you locate what doesn't belong so that you can delete irrelevant content. Finally, a good thesis statement alerts your reader to your main idea and helps your reader follow your thoughts.

Before you begin writing, read your assignment.

If the assignment is in the form of a question, reword the question so that you are answering it. For example, if the assignment asks, "What are the three main causes of skin cancer?" then you would begin your answer, "The three main causes of skin cancer are  [______], [________], and [________]." 

If the assignment is in the form of a command, use the keywords from the instructions in your statement. For example, if your assignment asks you to "Analyze the effects of the Civil War on the Southern economy in the 1860s and 1870s," then you would begin by selecting keywords from the prompt to use in your statement: "The effects of the Civil War on the postbellum Southern economy . . . "

Limit yourself to only ONE sentence.

Ideally, a thesis statement should be one clear, concise sentence. If you deliver your main idea in more than one sentence, then you are in danger of delivering more than one controlling idea. The controlling idea is like a head that guides a body; if you have more than one head, then you have created a monster! Too many ideas results in a rambling paper.

Be careful! Do not write "This paper will be about," or any variations of this. 

"This paper will be about" is code for "I don't really know what I'm talking about." If you are stuck here, do a little research. Find out more about your topic. Jot some notes, but do not be tempted to use your research in developing your own controlling idea. Your thesis statement should be entirely your own thoughts expressed in your own words.

Creating your Thesis Statement:

1) Write down your topic. This is the main idea of your paper.  

For example: Camping in the rain can be fun if you follow three important rules. 

2) Then, list a few points that support your idea.

For example:

raincoat and boots

extra tarps

bring food that doesn't need to be cooked

don't fold up the tent while it's still wet

3) Make your points parallel.That means make them match. The examples above do not match. Make the first word of every item in your list the same part of speech (i.e. noun, verb, verbal, etc.).

For example:

pack waterproof supplies

eat food that doesn't require a fire to cook

wait until the tent dries to roll it up

In the example above, each item's first word is an imperative (giving a command) verb.

4) Put your topic and points together in one clear, concise sentence.

For example:

Camping in the rain can be fun if your follow these three important rules: pack water proof supplies, eat food that doesn't require cooking by fire, and wait until the tent dries to roll it up.

You have a thesis statement!

Use your thesis statement to guide your paper as you write.

Your thesis statement is the brain, the control center, of your paper. The topic contains your main idea for the entire paper, and the points that you listed in parallel form will become the topic sentences for each of the body paragraphs that explain and prove your main idea.

For example, if Erika were writing a paper in standard five paragraph format using the sample thesis above, her thesis statement would be the last sentence of her introduction, and then she would create topic sentences for each of the body paragraphs using the items in her list.


Happy writing!