Building a Thesis Statement


The heart of any essay is its thesis statement; the heart of any thesis statement is the subject-verb-object core of the main clause.  Take the following steps to build your thesis statement from the heart outward.


1.      Build the core.  Choose a noun (or short noun phrase) that describes the main subject of your essay.  Make sure it covers the whole of your subject, but no more.  Then choose a verb that describes both precisely and comprehensively what your subject does in your essay.  Then choose a noun that is the main recipient of the action.  Put the three together in that order. Your objective is to put as much information as possible in the core.  For instance, here’s the core of a thesis sentence in an essay about Oedipus Rex. “Oedipus Rex explains fate.”

2.      Add to it. Add clauses or phrases to your core to make it a full, descriptive, and interesting sentence.  You can add material before or after the core to concede something, to explain a cause and effect relationship, or to explain a consequence.  For instance, here’s the Oedipus Rex thesis with material added before and after: “At first glance, Sophocles’ most famous play appears to make its hero the victim of circumstance; nevertheless, Oedipus Rex explains fate as a function of character, not fortune.”

3.      Sharpen it. Look for vague, weak, or otherwise unsatisfactory words, phrases, and clauses in your thesis and make them more specific through either substitution or modification.  For instance, here’s the Oedipus Rex thesis sharpened: “Although Sophocles’ most famous play subjects its hero to deception, bad luck, and the crimes of his parents, Oedipus Rex nevertheless reveals fate to be primarily a function of character, not fortune.”

4.      Make your categories with key words. Look at the key works in the sharpened version: “hero,” “deception,” bad luck,” “crimes,” “fate,” “character,” and “fortune.”  The key words in italics are all potential sections for the body of the essay, especially if you design your thesis to analyze your subject according to defined categories. Not every thesis will list the main sections of your essay perfectly neatly, but almost every thesis will suggest useful divisions in your essay.

5.      Create a title by writing a noun phrase that contains a clear description of your subject and indicates something about your approach and thesis.  “Sophocles’ Idea of Fate” isn’t bad, but “Sophocles’ Idea of Fate in Oedipus Rex” is better, and “Doomed by Character: Sophocles’ Idea of Fate in Oedipus Rex” is even better than that.