Almost every English teacher has to deal with what a thesis is.  Here I present my ideas and those of my friend, colleague, and mentor, Nancy King.  Take what works for you.

Connie: One way to unify and develop the essay is to have a clear idea of your thesis.  You can express that thesis in the form of the narrowed topic + your opinion.  It should be a complete sentence.

"Mixed breed dogs" cannot be a thesis because it isn't a complete sentence.  It is only a noun and gives no opinion.  "The best pet" is only a noun.  Sure, it gives some opinion, but about what?  What is the best pet?  If the phrase can be a title but not a complete sentence, it cannot be a thesis.

"Mixed breed dogs make the best pets."  This is a fine thesis.  It gives us the topic: mixed breed dogs; the opinion: best pet; and it's in a sentence.

 
Nancy: An essay's topic is the narrow subject about which the essay is written.  It can be often determined by asking, "What subject is this essay about?" 

An essay's thesis is a one-sentence statement that makes a point about the essay's topic.  It is the main idea of the essay and can never take the form of a question.  In a persuasive essay, the thesis will be the writer's opinion on the essay's topic.  The essay's thesis is related to the writer's purpose for writing on a chosen topic.  An essay's thesis can often be determined by asking, "What is the writer's purpose for writing about this topic?  What one idea does the writer want his or her readers to understand about this topic?"

 
Connie: In other words, WHAT'S THE POINT?

Do you have to state the thesis in your essay?  Not necessarily.  I recommend you have it clear for yourself.  And you may end up saying it several different ways in the essay.  The most important thing is that everything in your essay works toward proving that point, whether you state it outright or not.

 
Nancy's table:
Topic Examples Thesis Examples
1.  The death of my grandmother (topic for a personal narrative essay) 1.  The death of my grandmother made me decide to become a nurse.  (thesis for a personal narrative essay)
2.  Doctor-assisted suicide (controversial topic) 2.  Terminally ill people in great pain should be allowed to commit suicide with the help of their doctors. (persuasive thesis)
3.  Water rationing in Albuquerque (controversial topic) 3.  The City of Albuquerque should require its citizens to ration their use of water indoors and out because our supply is running short.  (persuasive thesis)
4.  Marijuana decriminalization (controversial topic) 4.  The recreational use of marijuana should be decriminalized in the US because it is safer than alcohol use and would take the profit away from drug lords.  (persuasive thesis)

 

 
Connie's table:

Nancy gives good examples of persuasive theses, but often my first assignment is an informative essay.  Here are some informative theses and how they relate to topic and report.

General Topic Narrowed Topic Thesis Statement of Fact
1.  Baseball 1.  Little League baseball 1. Little League baseball teaches kids good teamwork.  (informative essay) 1.  Little League baseball is for children age 12 and younger.  (report)
2.  SUVs 2.  Hummer 2 2.  The Hummer 2 is not worth the expense.  (informative essay) 2.  The Hummer 2 costs close to $100,000.  (report)
3.  Fiction writers 3.  CS Lewis 3.  CS Lewis was a better writer than JRR Tolkein.  (informative essay) 3.  CS Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  (report)
4.  Produce 4.  Organic produce 4.  Organic produce is healthier for you than regular produce.  (informative essay) 4.  Organic produce is often found at a farmer's market. (report)

Note that the thesis for informative essays STILL has an opinion, although it may not be an opinion people would disagree with.

The statements of fact can be used to support a point or thesis, but they cannot BE a thesis.

 
 

 

 

Now it's your turn:  Come up with four topics that you might like to write about.  Then turn those topics into four thesis statements.  Underline the topic in the thesis. 

Topic Examples

Thesis Examples

1.

1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.
 

    A topic is to a thesis what peanut butter is to a peanut butter cookie.

 

This page last updated, Tuesday, May 18, 2010, by Connie Gulick.

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