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Define the Purpose, Consider the Audience and Develop the Thesis

Develop the Thesis Statement

In the last few pages, you’ve learned about your purpose and audience based on the topic that you’re interested in. The thesis statement is where those three elements come together. Let’s consider what a thesis statement is, why you have to write one, where it goes in the paper, when you should write it, and how you write one.


So, what exactly is a thesis statement? A thesis statement is the controlling idea for your paper. It may include the main idea you wish to communicate, your attitude toward the idea, and your purpose. Your “attitude toward the idea” is your opinion of the topic. Your thesis cannot be a statement of fact (i.e. husbands and wives assume marital roles), but rather your thesis statement has to be an assertion about that fact. Let’s look at an example.


Audience Psychology students, especially those who plan to offer marriage counseling,
Purpose need to be informed
Main Idea and Your Attitude that marital roles adopted by husbands and wives are determined as much by their individual social networks as by family history or personal values.


In the example above, you can see that the writer identified the audience for her paper. You also may need to identify your audience, depending upon your instructor’s guidelines. But remember, even if you don’t have to directly state your audience, your audience will play a large role in what you’re writing about.


Another way to think about the thesis statement is to think of it as a one or two sentence summary of your paper. As a “summary,” it serves as a preview of the paper for the reader.


Why do you have to write a thesis statement and who is it for? The final goal of the thesis is to clearly inform your reader about the purpose and direction of the paper. Additionally, the thesis can be incredibly useful to you by keeping you on track, or helping you make conscious decisions about changing the direction of your paper. In the above example, you can easily spot “who” the paper is for—psychology students. And, your readers, psychology students, will be able to understand the direction of your paper— informing them about marital roles.


Where does the thesis statement go in the paper? Generally, in short papers, your thesis will appear toward the end of your introduction. This issue is discussed in greater detail in the handout “Draft Your Introduction.”


When should you write your thesis? Like your paper itself, you’ll probably have many drafts of your thesis statement. Fairly early in the research or writing process, you may want to draft a working thesis statement that can serve as a focal point for your researching and writing. Remember, that this thesis statement is a “working” thesis statement, and you will most likely have to revise it as you research and draft your paper.


How do I write a thesis statement? No one way or technique exists for writing a thesis statement. Individuals write very differently—some begin with an overall picture of what they want to write about that can be turned into a thesis statement, while others begin with a list of specific items that they want to write about. If you’re the kind of writer who begins with an overall picture of what you want to say, you might benefit from listing the specific items within your “overall picture” that you want to discuss in your paper.

On the other hand, if you begin with a list of items that you’d like to discuss. Write down your list and look for ideas that connect the items on your list. If you don’t have either an overall picture or a list of specific items to begin drafting a thesis, you might try asking yourself questions. Lester and Lester (2002) discuss several questions you can ask yourself. A few of these questions include “what is the point of my research? What do I want this paper to do? Can I tell my reader anything new or different? and Do I have a solution to the problem?” (149).

Finally, a good thesis statement is a culmination of your consideration of your audience, purpose, and topic. Good thesis statements share several characteristics:


1. The thesis statement is appropriately focused for the purpose, audience, and length of the paper. Another way of putting this characteristic is that the thesis statement is appropriately narrow for the purpose, audience, and length of the paper.


2. The thesis statement asserts a supportable opinion, rather than a fact.


3. The thesis statement is a clear assertion of your supportable opinion.


4. The thesis statement is specific.


5. The thesis statement unifies the ideas within your paper.


6. The thesis statement is a statement and not a question.


Essentially, your goal is to combine the main idea you wish to communicate, your attitude toward the idea, and your purpose into a statement that you will support with the body of the paper. As you write and complete research, you will be evaluating and reevaluating your thesis statement as you make modifications in topic, audience, or purpose.


Our best advice: don’t fall in love with your thesis statement.


You want to ask yourself throughout the writing process how your purpose and audience relate to your topic as well as how those factors relate to any assignment guidelines. You need to be willing to change or refine your thesis statement as you write, research, and consider your audience and purpose.