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Thesis Statements: Where Do Theses Come From?


Keep these questions in mind throughout every step of developing your thesis:

"What interests me?"

"Does this fulfill the requirements of the assignment?"

"Will I be able to find sufficient evidence to prove my point?"

"Will I be able to find sufficient research to prove my point?"

The Phrasing of the Thesis

I started with stating the basic idea of my paper, in a very basic sentence:

"Prince Hal's transformation into King Henry V is sincere."

This is a good start, but this version of the thesis is too ambiguous.  It is a fact that Prince Hal became King Henry V.  The change of character that I want to imply in the use of his different names is not clear for the reader.  Therefore, a better thesis would be:

"Irresponsible Prince Hal's transformation into wise King Henry V is sincere."

This is better, but still too simple: it doesn't prepare the reader for the complexities of the question.  I tried and rejected several more versions of the thesis before arriving at the one I finally used. 

"The transformation of irresponsible Prince Hal into wise King Henry V is a sincere one, despite times when we see the old Harry reemerge."  No, this is too informal and not specific enough.

"The transformation of irresponsible Prince Hal into wise King Henry V is a sincere one, despite evidence to the contrary."  No, this is too vague.

"The transformation of irresponsible Prince Hal into wise King Henry V is a sincere one, despite his occasional words and actions that suggest otherwise."  This is more specific, preparing the reader for a paper that will discuss the complexities of Henry V's transformation.

Step One

Identify the Broad Topic

Your professor may have already assigned a certain topic, in which case you can move to the next step.  Just be sure your thesis covers everything the assignment specifies.

If your professor asked you to come up with the topic -- don't panic!  It's a little bit more responsibility, but it also allows you to pursue something that really interests you!  Here are a few places to find inspiration:

Class Discussion

Assigned Readings

Professor Lectures

Your Notes  

Does any subject stand out to you?  Was there anything you wished your professor had spent more time on?  Are there any topics on which you have strong opinions?  What do you want to learn more about?  Talk with your classmates about potential topics. While you shouldn't steal their ideas, something they say may inspire you to take your paper in a whole new direction.

Step Two

Ask Questions to Develop a Working Thesis

Once you have the main topic, you can begin asking questions to narrow the focus of your thesis.  Here are a few to get you started:

Why is this topic important?

What about this topic could be debated?

What is the most interesting thing about this topic?

Step Three

Refine Your Thesis

As you continue your research, and even begin to write your essay, your thoughts about the topic may change.  Your working thesis may no longer express the exact nuances of your paper.  That is why it is called a working thesis!  It is meant to guide your work, but it is also designed to be changed.  As your thinking about your subject matures, feel free to tweak your thesis as necessary.  Just remember to adjust all the parts of your paper to reflect any changes so that the end result is a unified, internally consistent paper.

Example of the Process


Write a 4-6 page paper on any of the Shakespeare plays we have covered in class.  Use two sources. 

Find a Subject

Speaking in very general terms, the subject is a Shakespeare play.  But that is far too broad a category to write a thesis on.  How can I narrow my focus?  What have we talked about in class?  Well, Prince Hal/Henry V keeps coming up in all of the history plays.  I could write something about him.  What have I found most interesting?  I found the way Shakespeare presented Henry V's character transformation to be very interesting.  I'll write a paper about Prince Hal's transformation into King Henry V.

Find a Working Thesis

Great!  I have a topic.  Now I need a working thesis.  How about, "Irresponsible Prince Hal transforms into wise King Henry V."  Well, that's a good start, but it isn't very debatable; he did transform.  However, the sincerity of his transformation could be debated.  Was he just doing what he had to, or had his moral character really improved?  I will start my research with this main idea and refine my thesis as I gather more information.

Refine the Thesis

In my research, I've found that there is enough doubt about the sincerity of Henry V's transformation to make that an arguable point.  I will adjust my thesis to be, "The transformation of irresponsible Prince Hal into wise King Henry V is a sincere one, despite his occasional words and actions that suggest otherwise."

Restate the Thesis

Now I've finished writing the paper, and I just need to start my conclusion paragraph by restating the thesis.  I don't want my thesis to look exactly like it did at the end of the first paragraph because now, instead of introducing my topic, it is summarizing everything I've said.  Here is what I settled on for the restatement of my thesis: "Seeming lapses into his former self demonstrate the complexity of Henry V's character but do not negate the genuineness of his transformation."