Thesis Statements

Efficacy | Claims | My Best Advice


Characteristics of an Effective Thesis

  • An effective thesis is a generalization; it is not a fact. Facts, by definition, have already been proven, so a factual thesis statement requires no proof—which renders the body of the paper superfluous (a paper with a fact for a thesis is a very short paper indeed). Generalizations, on the other hand, require support, thus providing a purpose for the paper's body. (For an exception to this rule, please see Claims of Fact below.)

"Too Factual: The first polygraph was developed by Dr. John A. Larson in 1921.

"Revised: Because the polygraph has not been proved reliable, even under the most controlled conditions, its use by private employers should be banned." (Hacker 33)

  • An effective thesis is limited; it is not too broad. Breadth is largely a function of scope.  In other words, while the sample thesis below might function perfectly well for a 500-page paper, but it requires too much proof for a short paper.  Avoid sweeping modifiers like all, always, never, everyone, best, worst, and most.

"Too Broad: Many drugs are now being used successfully to treat mental illnesses" (Hacker 33).

"Revised: Despite its risks and side effects, lithium is an effective treatment for depression" (Hacker 33).

  • An effective thesis is sharply focused; it is not too vague. A thesis statement is no place for words whose connotations vary wildly.  My definition of disgusting, for instance, might vary widely from my readers'.  Prefer the concrete, the specific.

"Too Vague: Many songs played on station WXQP are disgusting" (Hacker 34).

"Revised: Of the songs played on station WXQP, all too many depict sex crudely, sanction the beating or rape of women, or foster gang violence" (Hacker 34).

Back to Top


Thesis statements typically fall into one of three categories--or claims:

Claims of Fact argue that a condition has existed, exists, or will exist (an inference: a statement about the unknown based on the known). Claims of fact are supported by factual information: verifiable statistics, examples, and testimony. Although I caution, above, that facts make poor thesis statements, some facts and all inferences require proof and explanation.  For instance, at one time, the general population required proof of ozone-layer depletion because the proof was available only to a specialized group of scientists.  

  • Hyphen use affects a sentence's meaning.  (requires specialized information)

  • Our current president will lead the country into economic ruin.  (inference)

Claims of Value argue that one view is better or more valuable than another view. Claims of value ultimately involve a comparison (explicit or implicit) and express approval or disapproval of standards. To fashion a sound claim of value, employ standards with which your audience agrees.  For example, if I were to argue that graffiti is art and, therefore, valuable, I would need to prove that graffiti fits the criteria most readers would employ to define art.  In this way, claims of value incorporate elements pertinent to claims of fact (testimony, examples, etc.).

  • The hyphen is a critical punctuation mark.

  • Our current president is a dangerous buffoon because s/he will lead the country into economic ruin.

Claims of Policy argue that certain conditions should exist. These claims advocate adopting or changing policies or courses of action because current policy is either inadequate or under fire. To fashion a sound claim of policy, include in your claim (either implicitly or explicitly) the words should, ought to, or must, and establish that a problem exists. In this way, claims of policy include elements of factual claims (to prove that present conditions are unsatisfactory) and value claims (to prove that the existing situation is bad, to prove that change is in order, and to prove that your solution is beneficial).  In short, claims of policy involve several steps: prove that a problem exists (and, by extension, address the problem's negative consequences), offer a solution (in appropriate detail), and address the benefits of adopting that solution.

  • Writers should familiarize themselves with the conventions that govern hyphen use.

  • Voters should not re-elect our current president because s/he is leading the country into economic ruin.

Back to Top




My Best Advice about Thesis Statements

  • Tattoo on the inside of your eyelids the following definition: "[A thesis] is a debatable point, one about which reasonable persons can disagree. It is not merely a fact [. . .]. Nor is it a statement of belief [or faith] [. . .]. Neither facts nor beliefs can be substantiated by reasons, so they cannot serve as a thesis for an argument" (Hacker 574).

  • Know that your thesis statement serves as the crux of the argument that is your paper; it is your informed opinion about your paper's subject. 

Back to Top


Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook for Writers. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford, 1994.

Rottenberg, Annette T. Elements of Argument: A Text and Reader. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford, 1994.


Updated: 08.16.07