A thesis is the main idea of a paper. It should tell the reader in clear, definite language the scope of your paper and the specific claim you are making about your topic.
As a concise, concrete statement of your main idea, your thesis should distill the substance of your argument in an orderly statement. Develop a working thesis before you begin writing the body of your paper and then write the various sections of your paper with a view to refining and supporting the thesis.
The thesis gives your paper unity and focus. If your assignment does not require you to make a specific claim about the topic, your paper should still have a purpose statement that introduces your topic and subtopics.
The two absolutely essential elements of a strong thesis are:
- A clear indication of your specific topic
- A direct assertion of your claim about that topic
In addition to these necessary components, a strong thesis often indicates how the paper will be organized to support the claim. While this is not always necessary, it is generally true that the more specific information you can include in a thesis statement, the better.
For example, here is a potential thesis for a paper on J. Gresham Machen’s ecclesiology:
Analysis of Machen’s essay “The Responsibility of the Church in Our Age” in light of its historical context reveals that his missiological vision was guided not only by his theological convictions but also by his political and social ideals.
This thesis clearly states the author’s topic (Machen’s missiological vision) and asserts a claim about it (that Machen’s missiology is the product of several interrelated factors). Moreover, the thesis indicates the author’s organization and method—he will focus on a single essay and will situate this text in its historical context, examining Machen's theological convictions as well as his political and social ideals in turn. Thus, a clearly articulated thesis tells the reader what the writer intends to accomplish.
Other "Developing Your Thesis" topics:
Developing Your Thesis Home
Varities of Thesis Statements
Moving from Topic to Thesis
Becoming a Better Writer Home