This post originated in the Fall 2014 iteration of my “Community & Collaboration” First-Year Writing Seminar that I teach at NYU Gallatin.

A good thesis statement not only helps direct your reader, but it also directs you and your train of thought. The following list further defines what good thesis statements are.

A good thesis statement…

    1. involves a sense of tension. That is, it isn’t an obvious statement that everyone can agree with, but contains an argument that provides forward momentum for the paper to develop.


    1. has a sense of stakes. It builds off context and aims to answer these questions: So what? Why does this matter?


    1. directs your focus to consider a subject in a particular way. It isn’t so broad that it tries to account for everything.


    1. creates relationships between ideas. When multiple texts are being discussed, it will specify the relationship among the texts under consideration. For example, is one text providing a lens through which to look at the characters in another text?


    1. considers and weaves in the potential impact or consequences. Often, the impact will provide forward momentum for the paper itself. In other formulations, consequences may be considered more fully in the conclusion to suggest new directions for future inquiry.


    1. will point towards the smaller arguments taken up by your body paragraphs. Each paragraph will consider some sub argument that fits under the contained, not crazily capacious umbrella that is your thesis statement.


    1. is NOT a grocery list. Five paragraph essays will often list three generalized and overly broad ideas that connect in a very flimsy fashion. See #3 and #4 for how a good thesis counters a listless list.


    1. acts as a roadmap for the paper. Sign post statements in body paragraphs will echo the thesis to pinpoint your location on the map.


    1. begins as good enough to get you started. While it’s not fully formed, there will be some precision and direction in even a draft thesis that emerges from your prewriting and brainstorming.


  1. evolves throughout the writing process. The analysis of your body paragraphs will help you clarify ideas to nuance your thesis. Often, it isn’t until you’ve finished a full draft that you find how all of your ideas work together. In subsequent drafts, the ideas in your conclusion may be moved up to your introduction.

And, now, you’re well on your way to having to a sassy, sophisticated, strong thesis statement!

Inspired by David Rosenwasser & Jill Stephen’s chapter, “Making a Thesis Evolve,” in Writing Analytically (2011, 6th ed.). Thanks to Amanda Licastro for encouraging this idea and to Matt Glass for help with the animated gifs from his impressive hoard.