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Introduction to Library Research: Thesis

A video presentation on starting your research using the resources at the Macdonald-Kelce Library at The University of Tampa.

Developing a Thesis

From Purdue OWL:

Definition:

A thesis statement is a sentence that summarizes the main point of your essay and previews your supporting points. The thesis statement is important because it guides your readers from the beginning of your essay by telling them the main idea and supporting points of your essay.

An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim (see box to the right). In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.

In short, a strong thesis statement should be a focused argument that can be disputed.

Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement

1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing:

  • An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.

  • An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.

  • An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.

If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.

2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.

3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper (the introduction).

4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

Examples

Examples of underdeveloped thesis statements that are broad and not debatable:

  • Pollution is bad for the environment.
  • In this paper, I will discuss how SUVs are bad for the environment.

Examples of good statements that are focused and encourage debate:

  • America's anti-pollution efforts should focus on privately owned cars.
  • Recent scientific research provides evidence that SUVs emit more CO2 than other types of vehicles. High CO2 emissions contribute to global warming.

From Question to Problem to Claim

  • Ask open ended questions that require complex answers. Who, what, when, or where are easily answered questions that relate factual information. A good research paper asks more nuanced questions like why and how.
  • Evaluate your questions: Why is it worth asking? What can be gained by attaining greater understanding? What are the broader implications or consequences? Why is it significant?
  • Does your question and its possible answer present an original contribution to existing scholarship? Remember research is not summary or reporting. Your goal as a researcher is to add something new or to further the conversation in some way through your own analysis.
  • Think about what problem you hope to find a solution to through your research. This will help you identify why it deserves research and communicate why it is of value to your readers.
  • As you begin to read books and articles you may notice inconsistencies, contraditions, unsubstantiated claims, unanswered questions, or the use of dubious evidence which can lead you to ask new questions or lead you to areas worthy of deeper exploration.
  • Your claim, thesis statement, or argument is your proposed answer to the problem posed by your research question. Your research and analysis of sources provide the evidence which supports your claim.
  • Your claim need not be absolute. Oftentimes your research may prove inconclusive, there may be a variety of valid alternatives, or it may be that not enough information is available.