Writing an essay was one of the first things I had to do in uni. I felt prepared for this because I’d written quite some essays in school, but, to my surprise, essay writing in university turned out to be A LOT different. What I struggled with the most initially were thesis statements (these one-sentence statements that take you ages to come up with). My first attempts at thesis-writing were, let’s just say, rather weak. I’d never learned how to write them in school, so I needed quite some help to get it right at the beginning (thankfully, my university offers a writing centre where you can go to for writing tips. Most universities also offer writing courses for first semester students).

If you’re currently at a similar stage as I’d been at the beginning, don’t worry!  As so often in life, practice makes perfect and you’ll get better with every essay you write.

Here are some helpful guidelines for thesis statements:

1. A Thesis is a Claim, not a Summary, Description, or Your Opinion!

A thesis is the main argument of your paper. It’s a concise sentence which captures your position on a particular issue and structures the rest of your essay. Try to avoid using phrases like “this story is about…,” or “I think/believe that … ”. Arguments are always about claiming, stating, arguing!

2.  A Thesis is Interpretive!

A good thesis demonstrates that you’ve thought about the significance of your primary source. Try to ask yourself “What does it mean, or signify?” or, “Why should anyone care?” Remember, you’re not just summarising your source, you’re analysing it.

3. A Thesis is Debatable!

A good thesis doesn’t just state the obvious, like “The sky is blue” (well, congrats, 7 billion people agree). Debatable means that you make a claim that the reader can either agree or disagree with. Once I’ve come up with a thesis, I usually try to take up the opposite point of view and ask myself what someone who disagrees with my position could say. In your main part, it’s your job to persuade this person of your position.

Remember: Your thesis must be placed in the introduction of your paper! It prepares your readers for what’s to come, they should know what to expect at the beginning.

How do I Create a Thesis?

Well, this is the most time-consuming aspect of writing a paper. First of all, you need to find a subject to write about. This can be a piece of literature or a broader subject area (e.g. education, global politics, the environment … ).

You then need to narrow down your subject to a topic. What do you want to focus on within this particular subject? This can be a theme or motif in the book or story you’ve chosen or a specific issue within your subject area (e.g. plagiarism, terrorism, global warming).

The next part is the most important one on the way to your thesis: You need to problematize the topic in form of a question. This shouldn’t be a simple yes/ no question or one that’s too obvious. Try to come up with a critical question, one that can’t be easily answered.

The answer to this question is your thesis statement. This last step isn’t something you do in a minute: To come up with an answer to the question you’ve posed, you need to read, re-read and analyse your primary source(s) and collect and read some secondary sources to see what other scholars have thought about your topic. Once you’ve come up with an answer—your thesis—make sure it meets the criteria for a good thesis statement: Is it a claim? Is it interpretive? Is it debatable?

Here’s a table that you may use as inspiration:

Subject Topic Question Thesis

Also remember: At this point, your thesis isn’t for all eternity. You might want to revise it in the course of your writing process, that’s completely normal.

Do you have any tips for writing thesis statements or essays in general? Any advice that has helped you in the past? Let me know in the comment section below!

Sources: Aitken, Rob. “Guidance on Academic Writing.” The University of York. Web.
Gillet, Andy. “Features of Academic Writing.” Using English For Academic Purposes. Web.
Puhl, Les and Bill Day. Writing at University: A Guide to Writing Academic Essays and Reports at Edith Cowan University. Perth: Edith Cowan University, 1992. Print.


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