Identify Thesis Statement In Readings

The first thing to remember is that a thesis is the point the author is trying to prove. That means that a topic, which can be expressed in a phrase, like “alcoholism” or “effect of corruption on poverty,” is not a thesis. A thesis can only be expressed by a complete, declarative sentence (not a question, either). So be sure to write out a complete sentence when identifying the source’s thesis. (Review “What is a Thesis” for more details.)

Often all you need to identify the thesis of an article is the abstract—the brief summary, usually just a short paragraph, provided with the listing of many articles in most databases. This explains the main idea of the article and states what point it is trying to prove.

However, an abstract is not always provided. In those cases, you may need to read the first few paragraphs to get the gist of the article. This is typically where the author will lay out the argument and, again, state the point that they are trying to prove. In more difficult cases it may be necessary to read the conclusion as well, since this is often where they sum up the argument one last time. Sometimes it’s clearer in the conclusion than in the introduction.

With books, the thesis may be stated on the back, on the jacket flap, in the preface or introduction, or early on in the first chapter. On the back and on the jacket look for phrases like “the author argues that…” In the preface, introduction or first chapter, look for “I argue…” or similar phrases.

Keep in mind:Reference works do not have theses. Remember the definition of a thesis: a point that an essay is trying to prove. Reference works don�t try to prove a point. They simply report information. Usually it�s the more in-depth general interest works, and especially the scholarly sources, that have theses. So those are the ones you�ll want to focus on.

Note: If the full text of the article is not available on line, or if you’re looking at a listing for a book, it will be necessary for you to go to the library and get the hard copy off the shelf in order to identify the thesis. In a worst-case scenario, our library won’t have the source, and it may be necessary to go to another library such as the UW library to find it. Plan your time accordingly!

Thesis Statements

A thesis statement is one of the most important elements of any successful essay. A thesis statement controls the subject matter of the essay and states something significant to the reader. It is the one statement that summarizes the main point of the essay and states why the essay is important and worth reading. An essay that lacks a strong thesis will be inadequate and often lacking in focus. 

The following are qualities of a well-crafted thesis statement:

  • A thesis statement should identify a specific purpose, a specific way to accomplish the purpose, and oftentimes a specific audience (depending on the type of essay).
  • A thesis statement should assert something about the essay. 
  • A thesis statement should be easily identifiable by a reader and should be clear and not ambiguous.
  • A thesis statement generally comes toward the end of the introduction. 

Examples of thesis statements:

Example #1: 

"In order to succeed in the classroom, college students need to utilize the resources available to them throughout their academic careers." Notice how this thesis statement includes a specific audience (college students), a specific purpose (success in the classroom) and the specific way this can be accomplished (utilizing available resources).

Example #2: 

"The United States government needs to implement a nationalized healthcare system to lower the cost of healthcare and improve the overall health of all citizens." Notice how, much like the above example, this thesis statement also has a specific purpose (lowering the cost of healthcare and improving health) and a specific way to do so (implementing national healthcare). What this thesis does not address, because of the nature of the essay and topic, is a specific audience. A thesis statement for an argument essay does not always address a specific audience since it is written to broader audience with the attempt to persuade others to a specific viewpoint.

Just as the contents of the essay may change during the writing process, so, too, may the thesis statement. It is important to create a thesis statement before writing the paper, but this type of thesis is generally referred to as a working thesis and may change along with the contents of the essay. It is important that a writer uses the thesis to direct the creation of the essay, but it is also important that the writer is open to changing the thesis as necessary. 

A reader should be able to easily identify the thesis in any essay. If someone reads your essay and cannot identify where the thesis statement is located, take this as a sign that the thesis is not clear and/or is not as specific or strong as it can be. Make sure that the thesis stands out and can be easily interpreted.

Exercises

For more information on writing an effective thesis statement, please see the thesis statement exercise.

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