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Step 5: Thesis Statement

A thesis statement declares a premise based on research about a chosen topic. Normally, the statement will appear towards the end of an article’s first paragraph. For an essay, the thesis provides focus by tying together a series of facts and observations about a topic to a single idea. From the reader’s standpoint, the thesis offers clarity about the message and intent of a given article. Ultius knows that writing a thesis statement can be one of the most difficult parts of the essay writing process, and is here to help.

Scoping Out Ideas for a Thesis

The thesis you end up choosing for a paper could all depend on the parameters of a given assignment. Your professor could name a broad category for you to explore, or you might be instructed to write about a more specific topic. In order to get a better idea of your options, it’s best to examine each assignment for keywords contained in the subject line of an instruction page. For example, if a professor asks you to write an essay in which you’d examine the captive breeding of white tigers, you’d end up with the following key terms: "captive breeding" and "white tigers."

Once you’ve determined the keywords of your assignment, you’ll need to gather a variety of sources from which to draw facts on the topic at hand. It’s best to seek as many credible sources as possible, because that way you’ll have more information from which to develop a powerful argument. With the above example, you would need to gather books and articles that deal with the captive breeding of white tigers.

The Process of Thesis Construction

While familiarizing yourself with the concerns surrounding an assigned topic, you’ll need to break things down to a direct argument in order to formulate your thesis. Otherwise, you could merely end up jumping around with various facts and fail to arrive at a definite conclusion. Consequently, your paper wouldn’t make the grade with most college professors, who usually demand that you take a definite stance based on the facts and arguments explored in a given paper.

Tip: Make sure you clearly state your argument. Some professors will want to see a statement such as "I argue that", "It is argued here", or a variation thereof. Be sure to check with your professor for the exact requirements and styling preferences.


With a topic like white tiger breeding, it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a thesis statement, because the topic itself is direct enough in scope to cover within a single essay. For topics that are broader in scope and could take chapters to cover adequately, such as clemency for US draft dodgers during the 20th century, you’d want to file things down to a more specific concern, such as the Ford Administration’s treatment of Vietnam draft evaders.  

As you consider the topical options within an assigned parameter, you’ll also need to distinguish mountable arguments from cul-de-sacs. For example, if you were asked to write an essay dealing with a specific area of wildlife conservation, your paper could focus on anything from African elephants to Sumatran rhinoceroses. On the other hand, you’d have a difficult time waging a credible argument for the wilding of imported elephants or tigers in the great wide forests of the US, simply because that concept has gained no support amongst global conservationists. Unless you see yourself becoming a trailblazer for some radically new idea, it’s best to steer clear of arguments that have no support amongst the leading thinkers in a given field, especially with anything in the realm of science.

Isolate the Idea Behind Your Thesis

At the crux of your thesis, you’ll have a controlling idea that will unify all the facts, quotes and observations related to the topic in question. This idea will be outlined in a statement or question near the top of your paper and recapped or answered at the conclusion. You can isolate this idea early by examining common patterns in the sources for your topic, and possibly modify the idea later on as you write your essay. In some cases, you’ll have difficulty finding an immediate slant from which to write. But to prevent yourself from stalling, you can knock out a purpose statement based on your initial impressions. The purpose of such a statement is to forecast the tone and topic of a paper without making any foregone conclusions.

Once you’ve sunk your teeth into the topic and etched out a trial thesis, you’ll need to remain flexible about it during the writing process. As you gain more knowledge through writing about the topic at hand, it could lead you to different conclusions and change your thesis in the end.

Steps to Finding the Controlling Idea 

Example Topic 1: The captive breeding of white tigers

  • Facts: African elephants and Sumatran rhinoceroses are being poached at alarming numbers for their tusks and horns. The poaching is spurred by an illegal yet lucrative demand on the Asian black market.
  • Possible conclusion: The killing of African elephants must be stopped or else we’ll lose this wonderful species.
  • Purpose statement: This paper will examine the plight of African elephants and the things that must be done to restore their numbers and bring them off the endangered list.  


Example Topic 2: The plight of endangered species in various parts of the world

  • Facts: White tigers are bred through a recessive gene and are only known to exist today in captivity, being bred primarily as a visual attraction for zoo-goers. Due to their inbred nature, white tigers typically have facial deformities and suffer ill-health from bad genetics.
  • Possible conclusion: The breeding of white tigers is a cruel and unnatural practice that is motivated solely by profit and serves no conservationist value.
  • Purpose statement: This paper will examine the ethics behind the breeding of white tigers at zoos in the US and abroad. 

Based on the facts examined in the second example, your conclusion might stem from an emotional reaction, which in turn could lead to a purpose statement. But even with a topic like endangered elephants, your ideas could possibly change as you gather more info. For instance, conservationists who are based in Africa and have long interacted with local villagers will generally have a different take on matters than the more alarmist, US-based animal rights activists. Representatives of the former camp will point out the high density of elephant populations in certain parts of Africa, and how these densities are a threat to crops and villages. They might also raise the argument that translocation efforts have been a failure, with elephants wandering back into overcrowded areas and ruining further harvests. Once you’ve weighed the input of the African locals who must live amongst these creatures, it might lead you to a less militant stance on the issue at stake here. 

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Compose a Trial Thesis

There are several different methods that you can use to turn your purpose statement into a trial thesis. One is to turn an assignment question into an assertion, such as in the following example:

  • Question: Do you think that music from the 1950s will be as well known by the end of this century as the music of the 60s, 70s and 80s?
  • Assertion: Popular songs of the 1950s aren’t nearly as revered as the music of subsequent decades due to their repetitive and uniform nature, though the Eisenhower years did mark the pinnacle of recorded jazz.

Another method is to try a sentence template that pivots from an observation about an assigned topic to a statement that lays out the direction for the article at hand.

Despite the widely held assumption that (this) will result in (that), recent trends in the market show that there are (other things like this, that and the other) to take into account.

The preceding methods can help you get your paper underway, but a trial thesis does not exactly qualify as a controlling idea, which might not be determined until you put the finishing touches on your paper. In a sense, a thesis statement could serve as a planning tool while conquering new and foreign subject matter. As the writing unfolds, you might encounter certain things that outright clash with your trial thesis, as well as other chunks of info that would lead to different topics altogether. You might even compose some really interesting paragraphs that you’ll later have to cut from your final draft, simply because they wind up straying from the point of your ultimate thesis.

Tip: Your thesis must be defended in all aspects of your paper. Be sure that every argument made in the thesis statement has corresponding supporting evidence.


As you read through the first draft of your paper, you should note the foremost theme that unifies various elements of the text (questions, facts, quotes, figures, etc.) and how that theme relates to your concluding thoughts. If the theme leads directly from a question or statement, then onward through a series of positive or negative examples, all of which point to the final conclusion, you probably have the controlling idea for your ultimate thesis. 

How to Identify a Strong Thesis

Your next step will be to refine your final thesis statement. As long as the idea behind your trial thesis is still relevant, you could modify that statement to form your ultimate thesis. 

Example Topic 3: Gun control in the United States

Weak thesis: I’m going to write about the current state of gun control legislation in the US.


Problem: The thesis neither makes a claim nor poses a question, it merely states an intention to write about a topic.


Solution: Highlight one of the more controversial aspects of the gun rights debate.


Strong thesis: Few Americans oppose the handgun rights of trained, law-abiding citizens, but many would argue that no civilian has any reason to own a military assault rifle unless it’s to carry out an assault.


Example Topic 4: Purpose of elections in democratic states

Weak thesis: The purpose of an election is to vote the most popular candidate into office so that he or she can enact the will of the people.


Problem: The thesis simply addresses an area of conventional wisdom without indicating why anyone would call that statement into question.


Solution: Contrast the wisdom with one of the conflicting factors that have led to growing discontent with the electoral process.


Strong thesis: Even though elections exist to reflect the will of the people, the democratic process has largely been upended by big corporations, who are now allowed to make limitless campaign contributions and effectively bribe their preferred candidates.


Example Topic 5: Reality TV and creative value

Weak thesis: Reality TV provides light entertainment with no creative value.


Problem: The thesis is merely an opinion-based statement on an admittedly dubious topic.


Set the topic up as one that merits critical evaluation by presenting the opinion as a hypothesis.


While reality TV franchises have become network cash cows since the turn of the millennium, TV historians would argue that the genre has led to a loss of quality programming by swallowing up prime-time slots that were once reserved for now-classic dramas and sitcoms.


The thing to always remember while writing each paragraph is the overall context of your paper. A strong trial thesis is generally one that contrasts topics with conflicting ideas and indicates possible conclusions. Once your paper has reached its final draft, the thesis should function as a guiding statement that gives readers a definite idea about the paper’s focus. Furthermore, the thesis should function as an indicator of the factual revelations that will unfold throughout the paper – the revelations that will have led you, as a writer, to your ultimate conclusion. 

Now that you have a solid grasp on how to construct an effective thesis statement, you will be able to begin working on integrating your central argument into the essay introduction, essay body, and other significant elements of your paper. 

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