All you need to know about how to write a thesis statement

By Paul Gilchrist - HSC English Teacher

Every essay needs a thesis statement. They are fundamental to the structure, and are something all examiners look out for. 

What’s a thesis statement?

It’s what you’re going to attempt to prove in your essay. t should be your answer to the question, and more.

More? Yes, more!

Consider this question and two possible thesis statements. Which is the best?

Question: “Unexpected discoveries make the greatest impact.” Do you agree?

Thesis statement # 1: Discoveries that are surprising are the ones that have the biggest effect.

Thesis statement # 2: Discoveries that come as a surprise, by their very nature, do not fit into an individual’s established worldview, and so demand that view be revised.

Well, Thesis Statement # 1 just takes the question and turns it into a statement. That doesn’t show much insight. Thesis Statement # 2, however, shows off some thought about the topic. Use your thesis statement as an opportunity to show off what you have learnt!

Consider this question and thesis statements:

Question: “Discoveries can be confronting and provocative.” How is this idea explored in your prescribed text and one related text of your choosing?

Thesis statement # 1: Discoveries can be confronting and provocative and this is shown in the experiences of several characters in the texts studied.

Thesis statement # 2: Discoveries can be confronting, as suggested by the emotional response they elicit, and provocative, because this response then leads to the reassessment of previously held views. In the texts studied, individuals…….

Yes, the winner is Thesis Statement # 2. Note how I didn’t struggle to find synonyms for “confronting” and “provocative” (though use synonyms if you’ve got them). I simply ensured my thesis statement was saying something not already obvious in the question!

Consider this question and thesis statements:

Question:Hamlet’s enduring value comes from its exploration of the complexity of the concept of performance.” Do you agree?

Thesis statement # 1: Hamlet will continue to be valued because it explores the complexity of the concept of performance.

Thesis statement # 2: Hamlet will continue to be valued because it suggests an intriguing contradiction: that performance, in its many forms, can be used to both reveal and conceal.

 Once again, Thesis Statement # 2 actually says something! Of course, you need to be able to back it up. In this case I’d be arguing that both Hamlet and Claudius perform (deceive) in order to conceal truths, whereas the players – and, in a sense, the play as a whole – perform in order to reveal truths.

Consider this question and thesis statements:

Question: “All representations are manipulations” Do you agree?

Thesis Statement # 1: All representations are manipulations.

Thesis Statement # 2: Representations are not reality, but rather composers’ attempts to highlight the aspects of reality they feel need either approbation or encouragement.  In this sense, representations are manipulations….

Once again, Thesis Statement # 2 is obviously the winner. And I included this example to point out that you don’t have to cram everything into one sentence!

And so where am I supposed to get these great ideas for thesis statements?

Good question!

  • Check out the rubric for each of your units.
  •  Have a good think about what each of your texts do in terms of the unit you are studying. The thesis statement is where you get to make big, bold statements. Don’t get lost in the small stuff (not here anyway). Yes, you are expected to be able to discuss techniques, but if your understanding of any text has been reduced to how the composer uses similes, you’ve missed the point and robbed yourself of the fun!
  •  Talk to people about your texts – teachers, students, tutors. Talk to people who enjoy the stuff!

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