Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What's a Thesis?

A thesis starts with an idea, your own idea.
A thesis starts with an idea, the writer's own idea.

Whether a writer is composing a speech or an essay, there is one thing that the writer should not forget to add, and that is the thesis statement.  But, what exactly is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is a writer's claim or position on the narrowed topic at hand.  

Seems simple enough, right?

Let's break it down.

Who Writes a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement must stem from the writer of the speech or essay, since a thesis statement is the writer's own claim or position on the narrowed topic at hand.  A paraphrase, summary, or quotation cannot be a thesis statement because none of those things would be the writer's claim or position on a topic.  A fact, statistic, or dictionary definition cannot be a thesis statement because those would not be the writer's own claim or position on the topic.

What Makes a Thesis a Thesis?

According to Osborn, Osborn and Osborn in  Public Speaking: Finding Your Voice, a thesis statement "summarizes in a single sentence the central idea of your speech" (117).  Jean Wyrick, in Steps to Writing Well, states "The thesis statement declares the main point or controlling idea of your entire essay" (pg. 31).   In other words, a thesis statement is the writer's own claim or position on the narrowed topic at hand.

When Does a Writer Compose a Thesis Statement?

A writer should compose a thesis statement after a sufficient amount of prewriting, including any required research.  Prewriting helps a writer narrow a topic to a manageable size: Remember, a thesis statement is a comment on the narrowed topic at hand.  Composing a thesis after a sufficient amount of research helps a writer answer a research question and make an educated claim about a topic or choose a position on a topic before drafting an essay.

A thesis statement should be well-thought out and clearly stated before the writer moves from the prewriting stage of the writing process to the outlining stage of the writing process.  At any time, a thesis can be edited or changed to reflect greater clarity or a change in the writer's position or claim.  However, starting with the clearest idea possible will greatly help the writer maintain unity, coherence, and clarity within the speech or essay.

Where Does a Thesis Go?

A thesis statement generally appears near the beginning of a speech or essay; it introduces the reader or audience to the writer's claim or position on a given topic.

In a basic five-paragraph essay or short speech, the thesis appears at the end of an introduction, following an "attention-getter" or "lead-in."  It may appear, again, in the conclusion.  In a narrative speech or essay, a thesis statement will often appear only in the conclusion, after the story has been told.

Why Do I Have to Have a Thesis?

The thesis statement helps a writer maintain unity in an essay or speech. Any idea that does not support the thesis should not appear in the essay or speech.

Furthermore, the thesis statement also has an effect on the audience.  The writer uses the thesis near the beginning of the speech or essay to offer the reader or listener a glimpse of what the essay or speech is going to prove.  The body of the speech or essay proves the claim or position of the thesis, and the conclusion reiterates the claim or position.   When a writer omits the thesis from the introduction, the audience might be confused about the point of the evidence offered in the body.  A reader or listener might begin to ask, "What's your point?"

How Do I Write a Thesis?

How a thesis statement is worded is very much related to the topic and purpose or the speech or essay.  For example, if the purpose of an essay is to inform, the thesis will indicate a position about the topic that is informative.  For a persuasive or argumentative speech, the thesis will indicate that the writer will be offering evidence in support of a claim.  A narrative thesis is generally a statement that sums up a life lesson or piece of wisdom or insight that was gleaned during the event depicted in the narrative.

 No matter the mode of an essay or speech, however, a writer should never forget the thesis statement, the writer's claim or position on the narrowed topic at hand.

Want to read more about writing essays?  Try
An Overview of the Writing Process
Avoid Unintentional Plagiarism
Myths about Writing Essays
Before Writing Your Blog

Want to learn more about writing essays?  Try my complete online essay writing course on Udemy.com called "Quality Paragraph and Essay Writing."  Use the coupon code link to get 50% off the regular price of the course. Receive a certificate of completion when you've finished!


  • Osborn, M., Osborn, S. & Osborn, R. (2012). Public speaking: Finding your voice (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
  • Wyrick, J. (2011). Steps to writing well (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

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