Thesis Statements



“ . . . the choice . . . of a subject is only a beginning; in fact, it can be a dead-end if something further is not done to define the subject. It is not enough for us to decide that we are going to write on ‘democracy.’ Before ‘democracy’ can become a real subject for a discourse, something must be predicated on it. The subject must be converted into a thesis; it must, to use a term from logic, be stated in the form of a proposition, a complete sentence that asserts or denies something about the subject. So our vague subject ‘democracy’ must be turned into a sentence like ‘Democracy is the form of government that best allows its citizens to realize their potentialities as human beings’ or ‘A democracy cannot function effectively if its citizens are illiterate.’ Now we have a theme or thesis to write about – a precise notion of what we are going to say about the subject of ‘democracy.’” (33).

Unpacking this:

Even though one picks out a topic, before something can really be done, or argued, then needs to do something to narrow down the topic. Corbett offers up two terms for us here:


For Corbett, this means that you, the author/writer, in order to present your topic to your audience/reader must convert the topic into a thesis. To do this, you have to impose restriction, to impose focus on what it is you wish to argue. In his example above, Corbett offers up “democracy” as a topic. Later though he demonstrates that he has “imposed” upon democracy by adding to qualifications such as “a form of government that best allows citizens to realize . . .” or “. . . cannot function effectively if its citizens are illiterate” (33). When Corbett does this, and when you do this, you have now, as Corbett notes above, converted the topic into a proposition.


Corbett barrows this term from “logic” and refers to it as “a complete sentence that asserts or denies something about the subject” (33). This “proposition” forms what we would likely want to offer our audience as the “first” part of our larger thesis statement.

In addition, to really drive home this thesis and turn it into a THESIS STATEMENT, one would most likely want to offer up to the audience some form of reasoning to attach to their Proposition.

This means that you really need to offer your audience some context or some form of relevance for them to “buy into” your argument as something that they will want to take seriously or want to read at all. This is where offering reasons and some support to back up your “proposition.”


“It is important that the thesis be formulated in a single sentence. Making use of a second sentence to state the thesis is likely to introduce foreign or subsidiary matter and thereby to violate the unity of thesis. It is equally important to formulate the thesis in a declarative sentence [to avoid leaving] the subject fuzzy . . . tentative or uncertain . . . The thesis will be firmly stated if the predicate asserts or denies something about the subject: ‘The integrity of our democracy can be preserved only if we fight to maintain it’; ‘Democracy is (is not) a feasible form of government.’” (35)

Unpacking this:

Thesis statements, besides being a “statement” are really only ONE statement that is guiding proposition for your entire paper. This means that it is ONE sentence in length. It is “a declarative sentence” as well, this means it ends with a PERIOD. In addition, it means that it makes a clear statement for what the paper will be discussing, analyzing, or arguing.

The aim is to assert (positive) or deny (negative) the subject under discussion. This means that you are proposing to argue for (positive) or against (negative) that subject. So, you are proposing to your audience to argue for or against the subject under discussion. You are responsible for making this clear to your audience in your THESIS STATEMENT.


“The thesis is a good starting-point in the composition process because it forces the writer to determine at the outset just what it is that he or she wants to say about the chosen or the designated subject. Moreover, it slays the foundation for a unified, coherent discourse. Then, too, it often suggests some of the topics that can be used to develop the subject” (35)

Unpacking this:

When one is composing a thesis statement, one needs to have a firm understanding and grasp of the position (either for or against) you have on the subject. If you are confused or uncertain, so will your audience. If you change your position while writing your paper, make sure you alter your thesis as well.


“It often takes considerable practice before students acquire the ability to define a thesis sharply. They can foster the development of this ability if they will make a habit of formulating a thesis sentence for any formal prose they read. Sometimes the author of the prose they are reading will help them by actually stating the thesis somewhere in the essay, and in that case, their job is to locate that thematic sentence. In some cases, however, the central idea of an essay is nowhere explicitly stated, and the readers must be able to abstract a thesis from the whole essay. The ability to generalize in this way is often the last ability we acquire in learning how to read. If we cannot abstract a thesis from what we read, it is not likely that we will have much success in formulating our own thesis statements” (36)

Unpacking this:

For our purposes, we want to be explicit. It can be useful to read other works and papers to see if you can clearly “abstract” a thesis by reading it, particularly when it is not explicit. This can be done by reading news articles, journal articles, and simply stories to try and practice your skills of determining the thesis of them and then figuring out how you can duplicate your own.

Thesis statements for this class should, according to MLA formatting, be located at the end of your Introduction Paragraphs and be explicit. This means that they are clear, direct, and leave the reader with no confusion to what your paper is specifically discussing.

In addition to being able to clearly identify WHAT you are discussing as the subject of your paper, your Proposition, you need to clearly provide your audience with some additional information to complete the Thesis Statement.

REASONS: You want to make sure after you clearly identify WHAT it is you are going to argue about in your paper, you need to provide them with Reasons for WHY they should take interest in your topic. Think about Reasons why your paper’s topic is relevant or important (the “So What”). Also, you might want to offer up a series of Reasons for the audience that will act as the main “pillars” or reasoning of your argument that you will expand upon throughout your paper (Reason List).

“So What”:   

The integrity of our democracy can only be preserved if we fight to maintain it because to not do so is to allow our nation to slide further into plutocracy.

Reason List:

The integrity of our democracy can only be preserved only if we fight for it byparticipating more in the election process, compelling lawmakers to pass stricter campaign finance laws, and make sure elected officials respect the will of the people.

Summing this all up…what do you need to do to have a proper THESIS STATEMENT:

 THESIS STATEMENT needs to be a clear PROPOSITION, refined in scope to allow for the SUBJECT under discussion to be clearly and directly dealt with in the course and length of the paper. This PROPOSITION forms the first part of your ONE SENTENCE Thesis Statement, the WHAT. The second part of the your Thesis Statement is the REASONS. The REASONS can be provided in one of TWO ways: the “So What” or by a Reason List depending on the SUBJECT and/or nature of the Paper.



Corbett, Edward P. J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 3rd Ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.