A high-quality essay must have a high-quality thesis statement. A thesis statement is a one to three sentence claim which establishes the topic and purpose of your essay. The thesis statement can be introduced anywhere in the introduction of your paper, and every sentence thereafter has one purpose: to prove that the thesis statement is true. Here is a quick and succinct guide on how to write one.
Identify the Topic and Purpose of Your Essay
Make sure your topic is specific. For example, if you want to write an essay about William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, you could choose a character, theme, or symbol to write about, or you could choose to compare this work with another work of literature. Your essay should have one of these three purposes: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain – identify which one fits. For example, are you informing an audience that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is historically inaccurate, or are you persuading an audience that Brutus’ actions were unethical? Once you have determined a clear, specific topic and purpose for your essay, write it as a statement. Some examples:
In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus’ actions against Caesar and the city of Rome are unethical. (specific topic – Brutus’ character; purpose – to persuade).
William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is historically inaccurate. (specific topic – a Shakespearean play based on a historical event; purpose – to inform).
Note: Be sure to name the author and the title of the work (ie, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).
Make Sure Your Statement is Defensible
If a statement is defensible, it means it is arguable. For example, writing, “Brutus is a character from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar who joined the conspirators,” is no more defensible than writing, “the sky is blue,” or “two plus two equals four.” A defensible statement does not merely state a fact, it presents an argument. For example, instead of,
In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus joined the conspiracy to overthrow Caesar’s dictatorship,
In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, it was his love for Rome which inspired Brutus to join the conspiracy to overthrow Caesar’s dictatorship,
Other Things to Avoid
If you followed the above steps, you should have a succinct, arguable 1-3 sentence statement. Importantly, you should avoid providing a critique of the work – for example, instead of
William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a poor portrayal of Roman history,
try something like,
William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a dramatized and historically inaccurate portrayal of Roman history.
Also avoid writing a statement which simply summarizes the plot of the work, or one that restates the essay’s prompt. A great thesis statement should be your own interpretation (your own stance on the issue).
Avoid writing in passive voice when writing about literature – always use active voice. This is difficult, but essential. When you write using active voice, the subject comes first and the object comes second. For example, instead of
Julius Caesar was killed by the conspirators,
The conspirators kill Julius Caesar.
Note: When writing about events which happened in literature, always use the present tense. You must resist the temptation to write about events which happened earlier in the plot in the past tense. For example, instead of
Cassius persuaded Brutus to join the conspirators before they killed Caesar,
Cassius persuades Brutus to join the conspirators and they kill Caesar.
As above mentioned, a high-quality essay must have a high-quality thesis statement. The thesis statement provides the specific subject and central purpose of the essay. Every word and sentence which comes after has one function: to prove that the thesis statement is true. If you begin with an ineffective thesis statement, the entirety of the essay will be unfocused and weak.
Jackie Donaldson is an American writer and teacher. Her work has been published in Loud Coffee Press, The Vehicle, Across the Margin and others.