This article will go into some depth about thesis statements, their role in your academic writing and how to create or refine such a statement. When writing any college level assignment, you will often be asked to write a persuasive essay of some form. You will be required to adopt a given position or create one on a topic and construct a logical point of view that is supported by cohesive arguments and facts. Often referred to as "academic argument," such assignments follow a predictable structure and pattern.

Normally, you begin by stating your position on a topic in a single sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, which is a summary of your entire argument. A thesis statement is of critical importance to the success of any academic argument as it provides a road map of your paper, explaining what the contents will be, your interpretation of the subject matter, and its significance to your argument. As you present a position and argue in favor of it, the position must be one that reasonable individuals can dispute.

In general, an assignment that requires analysis, interpretation, comparison or asks you to compare and contrast, demonstrate causality and effect, or argue a predetermined position are the assignments where a thesis statement is required. However, the process of getting to a thesis statement is not as simple as it would appear.

Before you can develop an argument, you must first, read, research, collect evidence, organize the arguments and establish links between different facts and finally assess the significance of those facts. This will leave you with a "working thesis", which will be the foundation of your argument that can be supported with the appropriate evidence such as facts and examples or text extracts. However, this working thesis may need extensive refinement, before you arrive at your final thesis statement.

A strong thesis can be difficult to craft. If you have the time, run your thesis by your instructor and get feedback. Alternatively, ask a few friends to read it and get their feedback. If time is truly against you, there are six questions you can ask to assess the strength of your thesis:

  1. Is the language specific enough? Many thesis statements actually contain vague wording, which dilutes the strength of the argument. Ensure that you are as specific as possible.
  2. Did I answer the question? Try re-reading the question/assignment instructions after you have crafted your working thesis to see if you are answer it.
  3. Did I take a challengeable position? If your thesis states facts that cannot be disagreed with, then you have written a summary, not a thesis statement.
  4. Does your thesis make a reader go "so what?" If this is a reader's first response to your thesis, you need to rewrite, clarify and add depth to the argument you present.
  5. Does your thesis pass the "how and why" test? A good thesis will not leave readers asking "how?" or "why?" Your thesis may be too open-ended and needs to be rewritten to provide guidance for the reader.
  6. Is your thesis supported specifically without wandering by your essay? If your essay and thesis do not seem to "fit" together, you have to change one of them. Changing a working thesis is far easier that changing all of the arguments. Never hesitate to rewrite a thesis statement when it is necessary

Moving on, we will examine a number of sample thesis statements, using a course in 20th Century history. Your instructor provides this assignment: "Compare and contrast the weapons of the First and Second World War." You turn to your computer and write:

Some of the weapons of the First and Second World War were the same, yet others were different.

The weakness of this thesis is that it restates the question but fails to adopt a specific position, uses vague language and provides no guidance to where the essay itself is going. This thesis would actually fail all six of the self check questions discussed above. Upon giving it some thought, you refine your thesis:

Due to technological advancement, the weapons of the First and Second World War were unique to the factions that created them, though they were created with a single purpose: To kill.

Notice how this has evolved in to a working thesis as it states a position about the uniqueness of the weapons created by different factions with a common purpose. A position that can be disagreed upon has been adopted, using specific language to answer the question. This is a working thesis statement, upon which an essay can be written.

Having done the research and possibly written the essay, you will probably have realized that your working thesis is still somewhat vague. Perhaps you realize that your essay has developed in an unexpected direction, leaving you with a final thesis that captures the argument of your assignment:

The weapons of the First and Second World War were unique to the faction that created them, yet based upon similar technological concepts driven by a single purpose: To kill the enemy.

Upon comparison of this final thesis statement to the original, it is clear that the evidence and arguments have been marshaled to support this one position, and others can choose to disagree with. Ultimately, there is no one right answer to such questions as any number of positions can be adopted and argued. What is crucial to your success or failure as the writer of such assignments is ensuring that your thesis statement is concise and presents your position, while your essay provides the evidence, facts and proof to support and argues the position.