How To
10 min read

How to Write a Thesis Statement

Reem Abouemera
November 20, 2022

Writing a thesis is one of the most important things you’ll do in academia—it can also be the most intimidating. Of course, it’s normal to feel daunted by the prospect of generating an entire argument from scratch, especially if you're not particularly familiar with the ins and outs of academic writing.

But fear not—we're here to help. In this comprehensive guide, we'll teach you everything you need to know about writing a thesis statement, from crafting an outline to sourcing research and putting pen to paper. By the time you finish reading, you'll have all the tools you need to write a stellar thesis statement of your own.

1. Pick a topic that interests you

The very first step to writing a great thesis statement is picking a topic you're passionate about. This could be something related to your field of study or something completely different—the important thing is that it interests you.

Not only will this make the writing process more enjoyable, but it will also increase the likelihood that you'll actually stick with your topic and see the project through to completion. Interesting topics are always easier to learn about, after all.

Pro Tip: Don't choose a topic just because you think it will impress your instructor. It's much better to write about something you're genuinely interested in. Your instructor might be impressed by a thesis on a "serious" topic, but that doesn't mean it's the right choice for you. The goal of writing a thesis is to learn—not to impress.

2. Explore your topic

Before you start writing, it's important to do some preliminary research. This will help you better understand the subject matter and give you a starting point for your own research.

Begin by reading some general background information on your topic. This could come from a textbook, a website, or even a conversation with an expert on the subject.

As you do, think about why this topic interests you and what specific questions you would like to answer. Similarly, factor in what you already know about the topic, as well as your own experiences and observations. This will help you focus your research and make the writing process much easier in the long run.

As you explore your topic, it's important to keep track of any information you find so that you can easily reference it later. You can do this by taking notes or even creating an annotated bibliography. This is simply a list of sources you've consulted in your research with a brief summary of each one.

Pro Tip: Don't skip using a dictionary to look up words you don't know during this stage—or any stage of the writing process, for that matter. Expanding your vocabulary will not only make you a better writer, but it will also help you better understand and engage with the subject matter.

3. Pick a topic that’s appropriate for your study level

One challenging part about writing a thesis? It’s easy to find a wide variety of topics you're interested in, but not all of them will be appropriate for your level of study.

For instance, a master's thesis will be more complex and nuanced than one written by a first-year college student. Similarly, a thesis written by a high school student will be much simpler than one completed by a doctoral candidate.

Accordingly, it's important to pick a topic that's appropriate for your level of study. Not only will this make the writing process easier, but it will also ensure that your thesis is relevant and valuable to your field.

If you're not sure whether your topic is appropriate for your level of study, consider two key things:

  • Will you be able to complete the research within the given time frame?
  • Do you have enough prior knowledge to understand the topic well?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you're on the right track. If not, you might want to consider picking a different topic.

Pro Tip: Once you've chosen a topic, it's a good idea to get some feedback from your instructor before you start writing. This is especially important if you're not sure whether your topic is appropriate for the assignment or if you're having trouble narrowing it down. 

4. Make sure you can find enough information on your topic

Now that you've chosen a topic, it's time to start doing your research. Before you get into the nitty-gritty of writing, it's important to make sure you can find enough information about your topic to make it worthwhile.

Basically, you need to have sufficient resources like books, articles, and online websites to support your thesis. Otherwise, you may not end up with enough information or source material to write a compelling thesis.

So, how do you find research materials? Here's what you need to know.

How to find reliable information sources

Perhaps most importantly, you need to make sure you're using reliable information sources. But what exactly makes a source reliable?

We'll get into that in more detail soon, but in general, reliable sources are known for their accuracy, authority, objectivity, and currency.

Good places to start are search engines like Google Scholar or JSTOR. These are full of peer-reviewed academic articles and books that you can use in your research. If there are plenty of results when you search for your topic, that's a good sign—it means there's plenty of material to work with. If not, you might want to consider picking a different topic where you’ll have more resources to utilize.

You should also look for primary sources if they're available. These are sources that were created at the time of the event or phenomenon you're studying. For instance, if you're writing about the American Revolution, a primary source would be the Declaration of Independence. 

Not all topics will have primary sources available, but they can be very useful in your research if they do exist.

If you’re a student, you can also try looking in your school's library, both physically and online. The librarian will be able to help you find sources that are appropriate for your level of study, not to mention give you tips on using the library's resources.

Of course, these aren't the only places you can find information. But they're certainly a good starting point.

Pro Tip: When you're looking for sources, make sure to take note of the author, title, date of publication, and publisher. You'll need this information later when you're writing your paper. 

How to determine which sources are reliable

Now that you know where to find reliable information, how do you determine which sources are actually reliable?

As we mentioned before, reliable sources are known for their accuracy, authority, objectivity, and currency. Let's take a closer look at each of these criteria.

Check the source's accuracy

First, you need to make sure the information in the source is accurate. To do this, you can:

  • Look for other sources that corroborate the information in the original source
  • See if there are any errors or inconsistencies in the data
  • Cross-check claims with other reliable sources

Consider the source's authority

You also need to make sure that the source is coming from a credible author. To do this, you can:

  • Look at the author's credentials (e.g., their educational background or professional experience)
  • See if the author has any biases that could affect their argument (e.g., political, religious, or personal)
  • Check to see if the author is an expert on the subject matter

Evaluate the sources cited in the article

Unless it's a primary source, an article or book will usually cite other sources. These are called secondary sources.

You should always check the secondary sources to make sure they're credible as well. If they're not, that's a red flag—it means the author of the original piece might not have done their research properly.

Another red flag would be if the author only cites their own work. This could be a sign of confirmation bias, which is when an author only looks for information that confirms their existing beliefs. Or even worse, if there are no sources at all, that's a sure sign that the piece isn't reliable.

Make sure the source is timely and up to date

This one isn't a must, but it's still worth considering. If you're writing about a current event, you'll want to make sure your source is recent. This way, you can be confident that the information is up to date and accurate.

However, if you're writing about a historical event, you might not have much of a choice—most likely, the only sources available will be dated. In this case, you'll just have to do your best to evaluate the source's credibility and make sure the information is still relevant.

Read reviews and endorsements

Yes, just like the social media posts you see every day, sources can also be endorsed or reviewed.

If you're not sure about a source, see if it’s been reviewed or endorsed by other experts. This can give you a good idea of whether or not the source is reliable.

Of course, you should take these endorsements with a grain of salt. After all, the person giving the endorsement might have their own biases. But if you see multiple endorsements from different people, that's usually a good sign.

In general, you should always be critical of your sources. Just because a source is popular or has been cited a lot doesn't necessarily mean that it's reliable. And on the flip side, just because a source is obscure doesn't mean it's not credible. The most effective way to determine whether or not a source is reliable is to use your best judgment and all of the information you have available.

See if the publisher is reputable

This one is pretty straightforward: If the source is published by a reputable publisher, it's more likely to be reliable. Why? Because reputable publishers have strict standards for the content they publish, so you can be sure the information in their sources is accurate and credible.

That's even more true if these publishers happen to be peer-reviewed.  This means that other experts in the field have vetted the sources and determined that the information is accurate.

If you're ever unsure about a source, one of the first things you should do is check to see who published it.

If the source is published by an unknown or shady publisher, it's more likely to be biased or unreliable. This doesn't mean you should immediately discount all unknown publishers, but some things you can look for include:

  • Whether the publisher has a good reputation
  • Whether the publisher specializes in publishing credible sources
  • Whether the publisher is known for fact-checking their articles  

How to use keywords to find relevant sources

To ensure a productive research process, you need to be able to conduct effective searches. This means knowing how to use keywords to find the most relevant sources. Here's how:

  • Use meaningful nouns related to your topic instead of adjectives, adverbs, or verbs (e.g., "recess and children's behavior" instead of "the effect of recess on children's behavior").
  • Use subject headings, which are assigned to sources by library catalogs and can be found in the record for each source. To find them, look for a link that says "Library Catalog Record" or "Show More." This way, you won't have to worry about variations in terminology.
  • Brainstorm a list of keywords related to your topic (synonyms, related terms, broader terms, narrower terms, etc.).

How to use advanced search functions to find relevant sources

Those were just the "basic" search techniques to get you started, but if you want to take your research to the next level, you can use even more advanced search functions.

Most databases have an advanced search option that lets you be more specific about what you're looking for. To access it, look for a link that says "Advanced Search" or something similar. 

Then, you can use the following techniques to zero in on the most relevant sources:

  • Use boolean operators—these are words like and, or, and not that tell the search engine how to combine your keywords. For example, if you want to find sources that talk about both math anxiety and elementary school students, you would search for (math anxiety) AND (elementary school students).
  • Use truncation to find different forms of a word. This is usually indicated by an asterisk (*) or a dollar sign ($). For example, if you search for child*, you'll find sources with the words child, children, childhood, and childish.
  • If you know how a book's title or phrase begins but not the complete title, search for it by using "starts with." This is most often seen in Quick Search.
  • When you're confident you recall the precise wording of a title, author, or other elements of an item you're looking for, use (exact) or exact phrase. This makes it possible to do phrase searching without using quotation marks.
  • Use quotation marks around phrases to find sources that include this exact phrase in the text ("chronic absenteeism" instead of chronic absenteeism)
  • Use the search function to narrow your results by:
  • Date published
  • Full-text or abstracts only
  • Subject
  • Type of resource (e.g., articles, book chapters, books)
  • Peer-reviewed only
  • Language
  • Source (e.g., academic journals, magazines, newspapers)

5. Write down your idea or some version of it

Now that you have a list of potential sources, you're ready to get started writing. Right? Almost—before you start typing away, it's important to have a plan. The best way to do this is by writing down your idea or some version of it, along with a rough skeleton of how you want to structure your thesis. This will help you stay focused as you conduct your research and write your paper.

At this stage, you’ll want to focus on writing your topic idea, main idea, supporting ideas, and conclusions. It’s similar to an outline, and it'll help you stay on track as you write.

At this stage, don’t worry about the wording

It's important to remember that the wording of your thesis statement isn't crucial at this point. Instead, the important thing here is to have a good idea and a general plan for execution. Once you have a draft of your paper, you can go back and revise your thesis statement to make it more precise. 

6. Make sure to include your original  idea in your thesis statement

Once it's time to start writing, make sure to include the idea you decided on in your thesis statement. This will help keep you focused on your argument and prevent you from going off on too many tangents that don’t directly support your thesis.

Remember—the thesis is the main point or argument of your paper, so everything else you write should be in service to your thesis.

A good thesis statement should be:

  • Clear: It should be free of any ambiguity or vagueness.
  • Concise: It should be as brief as possible while still capturing the essence of your argument.
  • Specific: It should be focused on a particular issue or problem.
  • Arguable: It should be open to debate or criticism.
  • Supportable: It should be backed up by evidence from your research.

Since it's located near the beginning of your paper, the thesis statement should be one of the first things you write but also one of the most polished and refined.

If you get bogged down in the details of your research or have trouble staying on track, take a step back and remind yourself of your thesis statement. This will help you stay focused and keep your argument clear.

Once you have a good idea, writing your thesis statement will be easy

In conclusion, remember that a good thesis statement is the key to making your paper successful. It's important to have a clear, concise, and specific thesis statement that's arguable and supportable by evidence since it's the main point of an essay.

Although it's usually a one-sentence statement near the beginning of your paper, it actually sets the foundation for the entire argument and is the basis of the whole essay. So make sure to take your time and craft a good one!

And don't worry, the hardest part about writing a thesis statement is getting started. But once you have a good idea, the rest will be easy. So take your time, brainstorm your ideas, and get started on that thesis statement!

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