4 Steps to writing a thesis statement

How to Write a Thesis Statement in 4 Steps

Learn what a thesis statement is, why thesis statements are important to your essay, and how to write a thesis statement in four easy steps!


It’s no secret that a solid thesis statement is an essential part of any essay. If your writing doesn’t have a defined thesis, nothing else will matter. The thesis statement is the first element of your paper that you’ll be judged on. If your thesis is not clear and straightforward, you’ll lose your reader. So, let’s talk about how to write the perfect thesis statement in four simple steps. But first, let’s start from the beginning. 

What is a thesis statement?

What is a thesis statement?

A thesis statement is one or two sentences at the beginning of your essay that tells your reader the main idea of your paper and maps out the supporting details of that main idea. The thesis statement will focus your writing, and it will help readers link the subtopics of your essay to your central focus. 

In short, the thesis statement is one to two sentences that communicates the main idea, argument or central point of your essay. There are different types of essays, but each one will need a thesis statement. Let’s go over a few different types of essays. 

A thesis statement is one or two sentences at the beginning of your essay that tells your reader the main idea of your paper and maps out the supporting details Click To Tweet

Three Types of Essays 

What is an analytical essay?  

In an analytical essay, the author is analyzing a topic breaking it down into its component parts. In an analytical essay, you might dissect another author’s argument about a subject. You can also use an analytical essay to write about a book, movie, or other lengthy text. 

The thesis statement of an analytical essay will answer a ‘how’ or ‘why’ question. For example, a while back, I wrote a blog post on how Jane Austen uses the theme of effective communication in her novel, Pride and Prejudice. If you flip that statement and form the question- How does Jane Austen demonstrate the theme of effective communication in Pride and Prejudice? That’s the question I answered with my essay by analyzing the novel, its characters, and plot.  

What is an expository essay?  

In an expository essay, the author will explain their topic. They will elaborate on a subject or investigate an issue. You’ll also see the term expository essay used as a blanket term to describe all types of essays. Another name for an expository essay is an explanatory essay. 

So, expository can be a general term and may describe an analytical or argumentative essay. A thesis statement for an expository essay will be much like an analytical essay. You could answer a question and lay out the reasons for an outcome with a ‘because’ statement. 

For example: 

You shouldn’t drink and drive because alcohol impairs your judgment and motor skills which could cause harm to you or others and damage to property. 

What is an argumentative essay?  

In an argumentative essay, the writer is taking a stance and defending their opinion. They are making an argument about the topic of the essay. In an argumentative essay, you’ll be evaluating and presenting data that reinforces your opinion. 

In these essays, the term position statement is sometimes used to mean the thesis statement. If you hear a person use the term position statement, they’re talking about the thesis statement. To write your thesis or position statement, you’ll state your opinion and preview the details you will use to back it up. 

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the four steps you can use to write a perfect thesis statement that will fit the needs of any of these essay types. 

4 Steps to Writing the Perfect Thesis Statement

4 Steps to Writing the Perfect Thesis Statement

Step 1: Ask a question about your research subject. 

This question will guide your research and will lead you to a central idea for your essay. 

The first step in writing a thesis statement is investigating the subject of your essay. Whether that’s a text, like a book or a movie, or science topic like volcanos. The point of an essay is to relay some information to your reader. You need to decide what this information will be. The best place to start is with a question about your topic, something that genuinely interests you. Having a research question will make your research a lot easier and your writing clearer. 

Let’s go back to the example of volcanos. You don’t want to write an essay that focuses on just volcanoes because that’s too broad a subject. In writing, broad means boring. You’ll want to start drilling down on the topic and asking more specific questions. 

Maybe you want to know why volcanoes erupt. But, that question is still too broad a topic for most essays. You’ll need to ask narrower questions like why do people build cities close to volcanoes? Or, what is the chance of another eruption on the scale of Mt. Saint Helens, in the US? These questions will narrow the scope of your research and ease the writing process. 

Step 2: Formulate the Main Idea of your essay. 

The answer to your research question is your main idea or thesis. 

Once you’ve asked your question, you need to find the answer to it through research. Depending on the scope of your essay, this could take a few hours or a few years. The point of research is to come to some conclusions that answer your initial questions. 

You may find that your original research question changes as you look into your topic, and that’s fine. Nothing is set in stone until you start the writing process. Once you start writing, though, you don’t want to change the direction of your paper. 

When you have an answer to your research question, you can formulate a central idea. Your main idea is the main point of your essay, and it’s also called a thesis. 

Write out this thesis, and you’re half done with your thesis statement!

Step 3: Develop your Supporting Details 

Identify the facts that support, or prove, your main idea.

This isn’t to say, decide on your main idea and go out looking for data to prove it. This is working backward and will lead you to make a false assumption through confirmation bias. The concept of confirmation bias is that if you start with an idea you want to prove, then you’ll only look for information that confirms your view. When you do find data that disproves it, you’ll likely ignore it. 

You should already have supporting details once you develop your main idea. The supporting details are the data that led you to your main idea. You should also look for information that disproves your main idea. Be honest, and let your research guide you to a conclusion. Never start with your conclusion in mind. 

Once you’ve reached your conclusion, collect the most substantial data points that led you to that main idea, the answer to your research question. 

Step 4: Combine your Main Idea with your Supporting Details into one statement

Clearly state your main idea and preview your supporting details in one or two sentences. 

The job of your thesis statement is to layout, for the reader, your thesis or main idea early in your essay. You need to state your main idea as clearly as possible. You also need to preview the supporting details that will make up the body of your essay. Depending on the length and complexity of your article and main idea, you may need more than one sentence to accomplish this. 

We can take the above example of my analytical essay on Pride and Prejudice to examine how to formulate a thesis statement. Through reading the book, I decided there was a theme of communication. By drilling down on that topic, I discovered that each character had possessed a flawed way of communicating, which led to most of the conflict in the novel. 

The following sentence is a thesis statement developed from that conclusion: 

In her work, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen explores the theme of effective communication. Main Idea Through various characters’ means of expression, she demonstrates how the lack of communication skills can lead to a breakdown of romantic, friendly, and familial bonds.Supporting Details

In the above thesis statement, the first sentence states the main idea. In the second sentence, I preview my supporting details- the data that proves my main idea. 

Thesis Statement Checklist 

A thesis statement should… 

  • Be clear and concise 
  • In the intro paragraph(s) of your essay
  • Not be too broad 
  • Be An opinion not a fact 
  • Preview your supporting details 
  • Answer your research question

A Formula for Thesis Statements 

Thesis Statement formula

While there’s no single way to write a thesis statement, here’s a simplified way to help guide your thinking: 

State your Main Idea + Preview your Supporting Details = Thesis Statement 

Examples of Thesis Statements 

The following are examples of thesis statements pulled from the article 25 Thesis Statement Examples That Will Make Writing A Breeze by J.Birdwell Branson. You can read the full list here. As you read each of these examples, identify the main idea and the supporting details in each one. 

“Because many children are unable to vaccinate due to illness, we must require that all healthy and able children be vaccinated in order to have herd immunity.”

“Educational Resources for Low-Income Students Schools should provide educational resources for low-income students during the summers so that they don’t forget what they’ve learned throughout the school year.”

“School uniforms may be an upfront cost for families, but they eradicate the visual differences in income between students and provide a more egalitarian atmosphere at school.”

“The rise in populism on the 2016 political stage was in reaction to increasing globalization, the decline of manufacturing jobs, and the Syrian refugee crisis.”

Check out the twenty-one more great examples at Servicescape.com 


Write your own Thesis Statement using our Controlling Idea Writing Exercise

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Writing the Perfect Thesis Statement

Read more about Thesis Statements: 

The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing

The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing

“Whether you’re composing a letter, writing a school thesis, or starting a novel, this resource offers expert advice on how to think more creatively, how to conjure up ideas from scratch, and how to express those ideas clearly and elegantly… Some features include:

• How to use journals to store ideas and explore potential topics
• Examples of style and technique from such masters of form as Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, E.B. White, and Annie Dillard
• Advice on using outlines to shape your material—and drafts and revisions to refine them
• Selecting the proper words to convey both information and point of view
• A useful appendix on punctuation, ranging from commas to underlining and capitalization”


Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements– Purdue University 

Writing Tips: Thesis Statements– the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

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