Your thesis statement is the live, beating heart of your essay. Even though it’s only one sentence, it is the primal force that directs all your other sentences. It introduces your arguments, keeps your thoughts in line, and cues your reader.
And that’s a lot of responsibility for one poor little sentence to carry.
You want your thesis statement to jump off the page and smack readers up the side of the head with clarity. Or at the very least, you want it to be clear and recognizable so that your teacher gives you full points for it. ;)
For this reason, yes, it is worth spending more time on this sentence than on the average sentence. But your time will be well-spent if you follow this sure-fire plan for writing a stress-free thesis statement.
Step 1: Answer the Big Picture Question in the Prompt
The first thing to do is definitely NOT to write a complete sentence. Just forget it. Not helpful. Tell your brain that Megan gave it permission to ditch the capital letter, period, and complete thought.
Use either your own words or the words in the prompt to answer the main question.
Here’s a sample prompt I’ll use for this explanation:
Throughout Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein’s creation is never given a name. It is referred to as “the creature” or as a “monster”. As readers, we get to see a more complete picture: we see the moment it comes into the world, its thoughts and emotions, its hopes and dreams. We also see its intense acts of cruelty and its unquenchable desire for revenge. Given all of these facets of its existence, in your opinion, is the creature human, and what rights and privileges is it entitled to or not entitled to based on your answer?
For my Step 1, I want to pick out the Big Picture Question and deal only with it. The biggest question here is whether or not I believe Frankenstein’s creation is human. So I’ll answer that, using the language of the prompt to help me:
the creature is human
Well, that was nice and easy!
Step 2: Answer any Little Sister Questions in the Prompt
This prompt also wants me to address a sub-question, one I can only really speak to after I have figured out the first part of my answer.
Now that I’ve decided (based on my reading of the novel and the time I already took to brainstorm and outline my position!) that this creature is human, here is my Step 2:
the creature has a right to determine its own destiny and should be treated with respect
Step 3: Preview Your Key Arguments
My thesis has to provide a preview of the arguments I’ll use to prove my position. This is usually called an ordering statement because the order of the ideas in the thesis statement matches the order of the ideas in the body paragraphs.
I’ll use a five-paragraph essay as my model and imagine that I am writing three body paragraphs. The best approach is to write your thesis statement after you have completed your outline; that way, you’ll be able to clearly see the arguments you are going to use.
And my best advice is to steal from yourself! Take the exact words of your topic sentences from your outline and put them all together for your ordering statement.
Here’s my Step 3:
the creature is self-aware, the creature goes out of its way to help humans, the creature understands the difference between right and wrong
Step 4: Paste it Together
Now’s my chance to be just like the title character in this novel and paste together a mishmash of parts with my fingers crossed, hoping for the best!
Here’s my Step 4:
the creature is human the creature has a right to determine its own destiny and should be treated with respect the creature is self-aware, the creature goes out of its way to help humans, and the creature understands the difference between right and wrong
Step 5: Smooth and Refine
Victor left his creation in a sad state of ugliness, but you’re going to refine yours. Sometimes you’ll be allowed to use multiple sentences for your thesis statement, but sometimes you won’t. So I’ll show you a single-sentence thesis statement.
The first thing I want to look at is order. My preference is to have the ordering statement last. I also want the ordering statement to come right after my Big Picture Question answer. That means my Little Sister answer should actually come first:
The creature has a right to determine his own destiny and should be treated with respect because he is human: the creature is self-aware, he goes out of his way to help humans, and he understands the difference between right and wrong.
I used a colon to introduce my ordering statement, and I removed the redundant nouns and changed my original pronoun “it” to “he” to match my idea—we wouldn’t call a person “it”, right?
Now I want to make sure my sentence flows well and is concise. My thesis has a big idea in it, but that doesn’t mean it should be enormous and hulking like the poor creature it describes.
I’ll make some slight adjustments:
Frankenstein’s creature has the right of self-determination because he truly is human, as evidenced by his self awareness, his deliberate actions to help other humans, and his clear moral compass.
Finally, I’ll add in the title and author. I will have mentioned them already in my introduction, but some teachers will be real sticklers about including this info in the thesis itself. So let’s just make a habit of putting that into the thesis statement so we’re safe!
In Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, the being created by the title character has the right of self-determination because he truly is human, as evidenced by his self awareness, his deliberate actions to help other humans, and his clear moral compass.
Presto! I’ve got a clear thesis statement that even has some finesse to it.
I promise you, you can have a thesis statement you love (and that your teacher loves). The trick is to let it be ugly at first. Let it be a monstrosity cobbled together from several different thoughts.
Then, unlike Victor Frankenstein did, learn to love your monstrous creation and help it grow up into something beautiful.
~Did these steps work for you? Did you get stuck anywhere? Let me know in the comments below!~