Last Updated June 12, 2023.
What is a thesis statement?The most important statement in an essay is your thesis. Simply put, a thesis statement clearly puts into words the primary argument that a writer will develop within the essay. What’s not simple? Actually writing one. The thesis is often the first and last sentence a writer works on, tinkering and revising throughout the writing process. It must be specific enough for the writer to support within the scope of the essay, but general enough to be relevant and interesting for the reader.
Thesis statements are essential. They provide a valuable function for both the reader and the writer of the essay. For the writer, the thesis acts as an anchor, helping the writer decide what evidence to include and what ideas need to be explored in the analysis—and helping the writer remove irrelevant evidence and ideas.
For the reader, the thesis statement acts as a guiding star. It describes the essay’s final destination and previews the route the essay will take to get there. Reading an essay without a thesis feels like walking in a dense forest without a compass—sometimes interesting, but ultimately confusing and disorienting.
How does a thesis statement work in a literary analysis essay?
If you’re writing in response to a prompt or essay question, the thesis statement provides a clear, concise, and complete response to that prompt or question.
In the context of a literary analysis essay, thesis statements accomplish the following:
- (1) identify stylistic elements in the text,
- (2) describe how those elements impact the story, and
- (3) explain why this impact is relevant to readers today.
So, a successful thesis has those three ingredients—stylistic elements, impact, and relevance.
Let’s take a look at a few examples. This is a thesis statement from an essay on John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Due to her status as a woman and her own behavior, Curley’s wife is an isolated and second-class character in Of Mice and Men. As is so often the case in real life, her disempowerment causes her to abuse the people around her that she finds weaker than herself.
In this case, the stylistic elements are somewhat general: Curley’s wife’s gender and her actions. They impact her by causing her to be isolated and disempowered. This is relevant because she behaves in a way that is as common today as it was during the Great Depression; she is abusive to those she deems weaker than herself.
Here’s a thesis statement from an essay on Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club:
In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan uses archetypes and situational irony to describe each character’s attitudes toward American culture, suggesting that one’s unique cultural identity ultimately strengthens their character.
Can you find the stylistic element, impact, and relevance? This essay is going to analyze how archetypes and situational irony function as stylistic elements. It will explain how these devices achieve their impact, revealing the different characters’ attitudes toward American culture. Why is this relevant? Because it is one’s unique cultural identity, as opposed to the extent to which they assimilate into American culture, that strengthens their character.
There are two important things to keep in mind while working on your thesis statement:
- Writing is a craft, and no formula will suffice for every writer all the time. For example, some writers choose to let their thesis statements develop over the course of the essay and describe the relevance of them in the conclusion.
- If you’re stuck, discussing your thesis with your teacher is a great way to get feedback on your essay before...
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- it’s due. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment or email your teacher if it's appropriate.
How to Write a Thesis Statement in 5 Steps
- Understand the Prompt
- Read and Research
- Develop a Working Thesis
- Draft the Essay
- Revise Your Thesis Statement
1. Understand the Prompt
Make sure you have a clear understanding of the assignment you’re working on. If your teacher has provided you with a variety of prompts to choose from, select the one that you find the most interesting. If you are developing your own prompt, consider exploring how a character or theme develops in the story. You can also start by exploring how a particular stylistic element conveys meaning in the text.
2. Read and Research
Read and reread the text that you’re working with, making note of specific details and quotations you want to use as evidence in your essay. It may also be appropriate to research what others have written about the story, though be careful to cite outside sources appropriately if you use someone else’s ideas in your essay. As you gather evidence, start brainstorming your own thoughts as to how different stylistic elements impact the story and why they’re relevant.
3. Develop a Working Thesis
Your working thesis is the initial draft of your thesis statement. Considering your evidence and your own ideas, write a response to the prompt or topic you’re working with. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect; your thesis will continue to evolve as you write your essay.
4. Draft the Essay
Using your working thesis to guide you, write your essay. Include your thesis at the end of the introduction. Be sure to keep your thesis in mind when you are analyzing the evidence you present in your body paragraphs. Ask yourself: how does this evidence support my thesis? Ideally, you learn more about the text as you analyze your evidence closely. Revise your thesis as needed.
5. Revise Your Thesis Statement and Essay
When you’ve written your draft, reread your essay closely. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your thesis include stylistic elements and their impact on the text? Is it clear why your thesis is relevant to readers today?
- Do you support your thesis thoroughly in your essay?
- Is there anything in your essay that doesn’t relate to your thesis? (If so, consider removing it.)
From there, examine your thesis statement again and consider whether or not it needs revising. It likely won’t need to be completely rewritten, but it’s quite possible that you’ll make some small changes to it. This is normal, since you now have a full draft of your essay. After you have made adjustments to your thesis statement, reread your essay draft to ensure that the evidence and analysis aligns with your goals and prompt. Finally, review and revise your essay for submission.