Formal Essay Thesis Statement

A classic format for compositions is the five-paragraph essay. It is not the only format for writing an essay, of course, but it is a useful model for you to keep in mind, especially as you begin to develop your composition skills. The following material is adapted from a handout prepared by Harry Livermore for his high school English classes at Cook High School in Adel, Georgia. It is used here with his permission.

Introduction:

Introductory Paragraph

See, first, Writing Introductory Paragraphs for different ways of getting your reader involved in your essay. The introductory paragraph should also include the thesis statement, a kind of mini-outline for the paper: it tells the reader what the essay is about. The last sentence of this paragraph must also contain a transitional "hook" which moves the reader to the first paragraph of the body of the paper.

Body:

Body — First paragraph:

The first paragraph of the body should contain the strongest argument, most significant example, cleverest illustration, or an obvious beginning point. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the "reverse hook" which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the introductory paragraph. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional hook to tie into the second paragraph of the body.

Body — Second paragraph:

The second paragraph of the body should contain the second strongest argument, second most significant example, second cleverest illustration, or an obvious follow up the first paragraph in the body. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the reverse hook which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the first paragraph of the body. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional hook to tie into the third paragraph of the body.

Body — Third paragraph:

The third paragraph of the body should contain the weakest argument, weakest example, weakest illustration, or an obvious follow up to the second paragraph in the body. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the reverse hook which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the second paragraph. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional concluding hook that signals the reader that this is the final major point being made in this paper. This hook also leads into the last, or concluding, paragraph.

Conclusion:

Concluding paragraph:

This paragraph should include the following:

  1. an allusion to the pattern used in the introductory paragraph,
  2. a restatement of the thesis statement, using some of the original language or language that "echoes" the original language. (The restatement, however, must not be a duplicate thesis statement.)
  3. a summary of the three main points from the body of the paper.
  4. a final statement that gives the reader signals that the discussion has come to an end. (This final statement may be a "call to action" in an persuasive paper.)

A Sample Paper

1Stephen King, creator of such stories as Carrie and Pet Sematary, stated that the Edgar Allan Poe stories he read as a child gave him the inspiration and instruction he needed to become the writer that he is. 2Poe, as does Stephen King, fills the reader's imagination with the images that he wishes the reader to see, hear, and feel. 3His use of vivid, concrete visual imagery to present both static and dynamic settings and to describe people is part of his technique. 4Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a story about a young man who kills an old man who cares for him, dismembers the corpse, then goes mad when he thinks he hears the old man's heart beating beneath the floor boards under his feet as he sits and discusses the old man's absence with the police. 5In "The Tell-Tale Heart," a careful reader can observe Poe's skillful manipulation of the senses. The introductory paragraph includes a paraphrase of something said by a famous person in order to get the reader's attention. The second sentence leads up to the thesis statement which is the third sentence. The thesis statement (sentence 3) presents topic of the paper to the reader and provides a mini- outline. The topic is Poe's use of visual imagery. The mini- outline tells the reader that this paper will present Poe's use of imagery in three places in his writing: (1) description of static setting; (2) description of dynamic setting; and (3) description of a person. The last sentence of the paragraph uses the words "manipulation" and "senses" as transitional hooks.
1The sense of sight, the primary sense, is particularly susceptible to manipulation. 2In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe uses the following image to describe a static scene: "His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness . . ." Poe used the words "black," "pitch," and "thick darkness" not only to show the reader the condition of the old man's room, but also to make the reader feel the darkness." 3"Thick" is a word that is not usually associated with color (darkness), yet in using it, Poe stimulates the reader's sense of feeling as well as his sense of sight. In the first sentence of the second paragraph (first paragraph of the body) the words "sense" and "manipulation" are used to hook into the end of the introductory paragraph. The first part of the second sentence provides the topic for this paragraph--imagery in a static scene. Then a quotation from "The Tell-Tale Heart" is presented and briefly discussed. The last sentence of this paragraph uses the expressions "sense of feeling" and "sense of sight" as hooks for leading into the third paragraph.
1Further on in the story, Poe uses a couple of words that cross not only the sense of sight but also the sense of feeling to describe a dynamic scene. 2The youth in the story has been standing in the open doorway of the old man's room for a long time, waiting for just the right moment to reveal himself to the old man in order to frighten him. 3Poe writes: "So I opened it [the lantern opening]--you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily--until, at length, a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye." 4By using the metaphor of the thread of the spider (which we all know is a creepy creature) and the word "shot," Poe almost makes the reader gasp, as surely did the old man whose one blind eye the young man describes as "the vulture eye." The first sentence of the third paragraph (second paragraph of the body) uses the words "sense of sight" and "sense of feeling" to hook back into the previous paragraph. Note that in the second paragraph "feeling" came first, and in this paragraph "sight" comes first. The first sentence also includes the topic for this paragraph--imagery in a dynamic scene. Again, a quotation is taken from the story, and it is briefly discussed. The last sentence uses the words "one blind eye" which was in the quotation. This expression provides the transitional hook for the last paragraph in the body of the paper.
1The reader does not know much about what the old man in this story looks like except that he has one blind eye. 2In the second paragraph of "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe establishes the young man's obsession with that blind eye when he writes: "He had the eye of the vulture--a pale blue eye, with a film over it." 3This "vulture eye" is evoked over and over again in the story until the reader becomes as obsessed with it as does the young man. 4His use of the vivid, concrete word "vulture" establishes a specific image in the mind of the reader that is inescapable. In the first sentence of the fourth paragraph (third paragraph in the body), "one blind eye" is used that hooks into the previous paragraph. This first sentence also lets the reader know that this paragraph will deal with descriptions of people: ". . . what the old man looks like . . .." Once again Poe is quoted and discussed. The last sentence uses the word "image" which hooks into the last paragraph. (It is less important that this paragraph has a hook since the last paragraph is going to include a summary of the body of the paper.)
1"Thick darkness," "thread of the spider," and "vulture eye" are three images that Poe used in "The Tell-Tale Heart" to stimulate a reader's senses. 2Poe wanted the reader to see and feel real life. 3He used concrete imagery rather than vague abstract words to describe settings and people. 4If Edgar Allan Poe was one of Stephen King's teachers, then readers of King owe a debt of gratitude to that nineteenth-century creator of horror stories. The first sentence of the concluding paragraph uses the principal words from the quotations from each paragraph of the body of the paper. This summarizes those three paragraph. The second and third sentences provide observations which can also be considered a summary, not only of the content of the paper, but also offers personal opinion which was logically drawn as the result of this study. The last sentence returns to the Edgar Allan Poe-Stephen King relationship which began this paper. This sentence also provides a "wrap-up" and gives the paper a sense of finality.

Jerz > Writing > Academic > [ Titles | Thesis Statements | Blueprinting | Quoting | Citing | MLA Format ]

A thesis statement is the single, specific claim that your essay supports. A strong thesis answers the question you want to raise; it does so by presenting a topic, the position you wish to defend, and a reasoning blueprint that sketches out your defense of your chosen position. A good thesis is not merely a factual statement, an observation, a personal opinion or preference, or the question you plan to answer. (See “Academic Argument: Evidence-based Defense of a Non-obvious Position.”

The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
  • Topic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book challenges a stereotype
  • Reasoning Blueprint: the three ways the book mounts this challenge are through attention to cultural detail, using Indian words, and using direct quotations from Black Elk.
    • A strong blueprint would hint at why these three details add up to support the thesis statement.
    • A less impressive blueprint might simply list the main points the essay will cover.

There is nothing magically “correct” about a thesis on challenging a cultural stereotype. Instead of claiming that a book “challenges a genre’s stereotypes,” you might instead argue that some text “provides a more expensive but more ethical solution than X” or “challenges Jim Smith’s observation that ‘[some quote from Smith here]’”. (Don’t automatically use “challenges a genre’s stereotype” in the hopes of coming up with the “correct” thesis.)

A more complicated thesis statement for a paper that asks you to demonstrate your ability engage with someone else’s ideas (rather than simply summarize or react to someone else’s ideas) might follow a formula like this:

Although Smith says “quote a passage that makes a specific claim you intend to disagree with” (123), in this paper I will use Brown’s concept of X to argue that [your original thesis goes here].”
  • Your instructor might not want you to use “I” in your paper. You might instead say “This paper will use…” or “Applying Brown’s concept of X will show…”
  • Rather than promising to “use Brown to argue” (which is too general), this model recommends that you “use Brown’s concept of X to argue” (or “Brown’s case study” or “Brown’s thorough analysis” or “Brown’s unsuccessful rebuttal” — the more specific you are about how, specifically you will use Brown, the better).
  • It’s not enough to disagree with someone else; a strong paper will go beyond saying “Smith is wrong” and will instead say “Here’s a better solution that avoids problems P and Q that prevent Smith’s solution from working.”

For a short paper (1-2 pages), the thesis statement is often the first sentence. A complex thesis statement for a long paper may be part of a thesis paragraph. But it’s hard to go wrong if you put your thesis first.

Useful Formulae for Thesis Statements

If you’re not sure whether you have a good thesis statement, see whether you can fit your ideas into one of these basic patterns.

[Something] [does something] because [reason(s)].
or
Because [reason(s)], [something] [does something].
Although [opposing evidence], [reasons] show [something] [does something].

If you are just starting out, and you are still developing an original, evidence-based claim to defend, a simpler formula is probably best. Once you have done the research, and you understand the subject, then a formula like the following won’t look like random words; it will suggest a way to frame a nuanced, complex argument that goes beyond making non-controversial factual statements.

While [a specific, named person] says [a direct quote or paraphrase from the source], [a different, named person] says [something else]. While the two authors disagree over [a minor point], they both share a deep concern over [the topic of your paper]. [Person one’s] refusal to accept [a particular point made by person two]suggests that [person one] is [your thesis — stating the real reason why person one won’t agree with person two].
What really matters is not guessing the magically correct words to fit some secret formula that your mean instructor is refusing to tell you.

What matters is that you have researched your subject, that you have found and engaged meaningfully with peer-reviewed academic sources, and that you are developing an evidence-based claim, rather than summarizing or giving unsupported opinion.

  • Unlike a personal essay, which can rely on personal experience and general observations, a research paper must draw on evidence — usually in the form of direct quotations or statistics from peer-reviewed academic journals.
  • You have no reason to “defend” a position unless some expert has presented credible evidence that challenges a claim you want to make. (Finding, quoting, and engaging with that evidence is part of your task as an academic writer.)
  • An academic argument is not a squabble, a difference of opinions, or an attorney’s courtroom statement. The author of an academic argument is more like the judge, who, after hearing out the best arguments in favor of various possible solutions, supports the best one. An academic argument is part of a discussion that respects multiple viewpoints (as long as those viewpoints are backed by credible evidence).

Parts of a Thesis Statement

The thesis statement has 3 main parts: the limited subject, the precise opinion, and the blueprint of reasons.

1. Limited Subject

Make sure you’ve chosen a subject that meets your instructor’s requirements for the assignment. (It never hurts to ask.)

2. Precise Opinion

The precise opinion gives your answer to a question about the subject. A good precise opinion is vital to the reader’s comprehension of the goal of the essay.

3. Blueprint of Reasons

A blueprint is a plan. It lets the builder know that the foyer will be here, the living room will be to the east, the dining room to the west, and the family room will be north.The blueprint of an essay permits you to see the whole shape of your ideas before you start churning out whole paragraphs.While it’s okay for you to start writing down your ideas before you have a clear sense of your blueprint, your reader should never encounter a list of details without being told exactly what point these details are supposed to support. (For more details on the reasoning blueprint, see Blueprinting.)

The biography Black Elk Speaks challenges the Western genre’s stereotype of the “savage Indian” through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
In the blueprint, the author signals an intention to support the precise opinion. The author of the example above introduces three different kinds of evidence:
  • cultural details
  • Indian words
  • quotes from Black Elk.

Informed by this blueprint, the reader expects to encounter one section (a paragraph or more) devoted to each subtopic.The blueprint determines the shape of your paper.

If your thesis statement introduces three reasons A, B and C, the reader will expect a section on reason A, a section on reason B, and a section on reason C.

For a single paragraph, you might only spend one sentence on each reason. For a 2-3 page paper, each reason might get its own paragraph. For a 10-page paper, each reason might contain its own local thesis statement, with its own list of reasons, so that each section involves several paragraphs.To emphasize the structure of your essay, repeat keywords or paraphrased ideas from the blueprint as you introduce the sections in which you expand on each point. Crafting good transitions is a skill that takes time and practice. (See Transitions and Reminders of Thesis).

Note: If you repeat your blueprint phrases and your thesis statement robotically (“The third point I want to talk about is how Black Elk Speaks accurately represents the Indian lifestyle through its direct quotes from Black Elk.”), your writing will be rather dry and lifeless. Dull writing is probably better than aimless rambling, although neither is terribly effective. |

Note: A thesis statement amounts to nothing if the paper is not completely focused on that main point. Blueprinting helps create the coherency of the thesis throughout the entire essay, which makes it a necessary part of the thesis statement.

Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle through its attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotes from Black Elk.
  • Topic: The representation of Indian lifestyle in the book Black Elk Speaks
  • Precise Opinion: the book is accurate
  • Reasoning Blueprint: the book pays attention to cultural detail, it uses Indian words, and it uses direct quotations from Black Elk. (The rest of the paper will establish the truth of teach of these supporting points, and then explain why they add up to support the truth of the thesis statement.)
Is Black Elks Speaks a tragedy?
This is a question, not a statement. It’s fine to sit down at the keyboard with the intention of writing a paper to answer this question, but before you start churning out the sentences, you should have a clear idea of what answer you’re trying to support.
This paper will look at the book’s attention to cultural detail, its use of Indian words, and its direct quotations from Black Elk, in order to determine whether Black Elk Speaks accurately represents Indian lifestyle.
The above sample is slightly better because it offers more detail, but it still doesn’t say what position the author is taking on the topic of whether the book is accurate.
Because the events in the story emphasize Black Elk’s role as a Sioux Warrior, and do not describe his eventual conversion to Catholicism and membership in the Society of St. Joseph, Black Elk Speaks presents a skewed and simplified view of the complex history of Native Americans.
Note that the above sample contains a topic (the accuracy of Black Elk Speaks), opinion (it is skewed and simplified), and reasoning (because the book only tells part of the story).

You don’t need to present those three parts in that exact order every time; furthermore, your instructor may have a good reason to ask you for a different organization. But most of the time, including these three parts will help your reader to follow your ideas much more closely.

Biographies of all types can teach us many things about the past. What was the culture like? What was the language like? And what did the people say? One such book is Black Elk Speaks, which tells the story of a Sioux warrior in the late 1800s. How accurate is this book? This paper will investigate the cultural details, the language, and what Black Elk actually said, in order to determine the answer.
The above sample starts off with a wordy, general statement about biographies. But the main topic isn’t about biographies of all types, it’s specifically about one book, Black Elk Speaks.

Blueprinting: Planning Your Essay

17 Oct 2000 — originally posted by Nicci Jordan, UWEC Junior
08 Dec 2000 — first posted here. Maintained by Prof. Jerz.
13 Dec 2003 — links updated
22 Sep 2006 — moderate revisions by Jerz
29 Oct 2011 — updated by Jerz
14 June 2015 — minor adjustments

A blueprint is a rough but specific plan, or outline, which defines the structure of your whole essay. The blueprint, usually located within the thesis statement, is a brief list of the points you plan to make, compressed into just a few words each, in the same order in which they appear in the body of your paper.Hochstein, Jordan, and Jerz

Thesis Reminders
A thesis reminder is a direct echo of the thesis statement. In a short paper, the topic sentence of each paragraph should repeat words or phrases from the thesis statement.Dennis G. Jerz

Timed Essays: Planning and Organizing in a Crunch

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