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Chicago Style Guide: Developing a Thesis

What is a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement:

  •  is a road map to the paper and tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
  • answers a question.  It is your interpretation of a question or subject. The subject of your essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; your thesis develops a persuasive interpretation for understanding your subject.
  • makes a claim that others might dispute.
  • is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper that presents your argument to the reader. The body of the paper presents evidence to persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation.

What Kind of Paper are You Writing?

The following paper types require a thesis statement:

Analytical Paper: Breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation  to the audience.

Expository (or Explanatory) Paper: Explains something to the audience.

Argumentative Paper: Makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.

Source: Purdue Owl

How Do I Know if My Thesis is Strong?

 When reviewing your first draft and its working thesis, ask yourself the following:

  • Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question.
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to  be “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
  • Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.

Developing a Thesis Statement

Tips for Developing a Thesis

Writing a Thesis 

  • A thesis is never a question. 
  • A thesis is never a list. 
  • A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational.
  • An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim. 
  • A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible.