Developing Strong Thesis Statements
These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.
Contributors: Stacy Weida, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2018-01-31 03:32:44
The thesis statement or main claim must be debatable
An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.
Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:
Pollution is bad for the environment.
This thesis statement is not debatable. First, the word pollution means that something is bad or negative in some way. Further, all studies agree that pollution is a problem; they simply disagree on the impact it will have or the scope of the problem. No one could reasonably argue that pollution is good.
Example of a debatable thesis statement:
At least 25 percent of the federal budget should be spent on limiting pollution.
This is an example of a debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it. Some people might think that this is how we should spend the nation's money. Others might feel that we should be spending more money on education. Still others could argue that corporations, not the government, should be paying to limit pollution.
Another example of a debatable thesis statement:
America's anti-pollution efforts should focus on privately owned cars.
In this example there is also room for disagreement between rational individuals. Some citizens might think focusing on recycling programs rather than private automobiles is the most effective strategy.
The thesis needs to be narrow
Although the scope of your paper might seem overwhelming at the start, generally the narrower the thesis the more effective your argument will be. Your thesis or claim must be supported by evidence. The broader your claim is, the more evidence you will need to convince readers that your position is right.
Example of a thesis that is too broad:
Drug use is detrimental to society.
There are several reasons this statement is too broad to argue. First, what is included in the category "drugs"? Is the author talking about illegal drug use, recreational drug use (which might include alcohol and cigarettes), or all uses of medication in general? Second, in what ways are drugs detrimental? Is drug use causing deaths (and is the author equating deaths from overdoses and deaths from drug related violence)? Is drug use changing the moral climate or causing the economy to decline? Finally, what does the author mean by "society"? Is the author referring only to America or to the global population? Does the author make any distinction between the effects on children and adults? There are just too many questions that the claim leaves open. The author could not cover all of the topics listed above, yet the generality of the claim leaves all of these possibilities open to debate.
Example of a narrow or focused thesis:
Illegal drug use is detrimental because it encourages gang violence.
In this example the topic of drugs has been narrowed down to illegal drugs and the detriment has been narrowed down to gang violence. This is a much more manageable topic.
We could narrow each debatable thesis from the previous examples in the following way:
Narrowed debatable thesis 1:
At least 25 percent of the federal budget should be spent on helping upgrade business to clean technologies, researching renewable energy sources, and planting more trees in order to control or eliminate pollution.
This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just the amount of money used but also how the money could actually help to control pollution.
Narrowed debatable thesis 2:
America's anti-pollution efforts should focus on privately owned cars because it would allow most citizens to contribute to national efforts and care about the outcome.
This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just what the focus of a national anti-pollution campaign should be but also why this is the appropriate focus.
Qualifiers such as "typically," "generally," "usually," or "on average" also help to limit the scope of your claim by allowing for the almost inevitable exception to the rule.
Types of claims
Claims typically fall into one of four categories. Thinking about how you want to approach your topic, in other words what type of claim you want to make, is one way to focus your thesis on one particular aspect of your broader topic.
Claims of fact or definition: These claims argue about what the definition of something is or whether something is a settled fact. Example:
What some people refer to as global warming is actually nothing more than normal, long-term cycles of climate change.
Claims of cause and effect: These claims argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur. Example:
The popularity of SUVs in America has caused pollution to increase.
Claims about value: These are claims made of what something is worth, whether we value it or not, how we would rate or categorize something. Example:
Global warming is the most pressing challenge facing the world today.
Claims about solutions or policies: These are claims that argue for or against a certain solution or policy approach to a problem. Example:
Instead of drilling for oil in Alaska we should be focusing on ways to reduce oil consumption, such as researching renewable energy sources.
Which type of claim is right for your argument? Which type of thesis or claim you use for your argument will depend on your position and knowledge of the topic, your audience, and the context of your paper. You might want to think about where you imagine your audience to be on this topic and pinpoint where you think the biggest difference in viewpoints might be. Even if you start with one type of claim you probably will be using several within the paper. Regardless of the type of claim you choose to utilize it is key to identify the controversy or debate you are addressing and to define your position early on in the paper.
In Greek Orphic tradition, Thesis, the goddess of creation, is worshiped for creating all of the matter we see in the world today.
In the academic writing world, it feels as if we are often worshiping her ourselves.
I mean, your thesis statement is kind of like the bedrock on which your paper will either live and breathe, or dissolve into primordial soup.
So it’s important that you have a solid grasp of what a thesis statement is and how to best formulate it, which is why we’ve spent so much time on the subject here at the Kibin blog.
Yet before we create our own thesis statement, it’s best that we understand the parts that make one up.
Just as the basic unit of all matter, the atom, can be divided into subatomic particles, the thesis statement can also be divided into parts. So what is it made of?
So what is a claim in an essay?
That’s what we’ll be talking about today. Before you formulate that all-important thesis statement, you must know what a claim is and how you can make yours good.
What Is a Claim in an Essay?
The purpose of most essays is to tackle a debatable topic. You begin by researching a topic and then choose a side. That’s where claims come in.
At its simplest, a claim is an argument.
However, not all arguments are created equal. For example, the old man down the street might think his climate change argument is perfectly logical, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in an academic essay.
For an academic claim to be worthy of a place in your essay, it should be complex, debatable, supported by research, and focused on the facts. No opinion allowed.
So how does this differ from the thesis? I thought it was your main argument.
Well, yes, it is. But while the overall gist of your thesis may be that climate change is bad, claims are the specific arguments that make up your thesis (e.g., widespread drought will lead to an increase in terrorism).
If we agree that the thesis is the backbone of your essay, then the claims are the vertebrae.
Now that you can answer the question that brought you here—what is a claim in an essay?—let’s look at how claims might differ.
Are There Different Types of Claims?
Although each of your claims will present an argument, not all claims will take the same approach to those arguments.
There are several approaches to making a claim. Here are the five major ones:
A claim of fact argues whether something is true. A claim in this category must be debatable. “The earth is actually flat” is not a valid claim. If you’re going to challenge something that has long been considered fact, you must be able to back it up with research.
For example, there’s competing research on how and when the dinosaurs went extinct. You could make your own claim on the matter if you have the research to back it up.
A claim of definition argues how something is defined. The idea is that you argue one thing is another thing, even though some people don’t consider it to be.
For example, you could argue that mass shootings in the United States should be considered terrorist attacks.
3. Cause and effect
A claim of cause and effect argues that one thing causes another. Again, it must be debatable. Smoking causes cancer. There is no argument there.
For example, you could argue that money in politics leads to the ineffectiveness of congress.
A claim of value requires you to argue how good or how bad your topic is. You’re going to want to steer clear of opinion here. “Baseball is the best sport” is not a valid claim because any support you come up with will be steeped in opinion.
On the other hand, you could argue that climate change will be the greatest geopolitical crisis of your lifetime.
A solution claim, also referred to as a claim of policy, takes the previous category a step further. Whereas value claims often argue how bad something like climate change is, a solution claim argues how we can best fix the problem.
For example, one could argue that the decriminalization of drugs would lower overall drug abuse rates.
What Makes a Good Claim?
Now that we’ve talked about the various ways in which you can approach a claim, let’s talk about how to ensure that your claims are good, no matter which approach you take.
You may have noticed a few warnings interspersed with the examples above. That’s because there are certain pitfalls that can tank your claims—and in turn your essay—if you’re not careful.
Keep it narrow
A thesis is supposed to be quite narrow in its scope. Your claims are even more narrow arguments within that argument. So needless to say, your claims should not have a broad focus.
Be specific about what you’re claiming, and consider breaking your claim into multiple claims if it covers too much area.
In and Out burgers are the best fast-food hamburgers. This may be true. You have my vote. But that doesn’t make this an academic claim.
This is a dead-end claim because it’s purely based on opinion. You can talk about the quality of beef all day, but some people genuinely prefer burgers made out of crappy beef. This is a sad fact of life.
Support your claims
An errant claim with nothing to back it up is like a kite with no string. It looks good, but it’s not going to work like you want it to.
So make sure you only include a claim if you’ve done the research to support it within the body of your essay.
What About Counterclaims? Should I Worry About Them?
So now that you’ve developed some strong claims that can be used in your academic essay, it’s time to look at the flip side.
Although you have lots of great research to back up your arguments, you still have to address your detractors.
A strong claim is supported not only by research that proves it, but also by the accompanying research that refutes the potential counterclaims. For example, let’s say your paper is focusing on climate change and the dangers that it poses.
You not only need to provide evidence of the dangers associated with an increasing global temperature, but you also must provide evidence that it’s not just a symptom of normal fluctuations that occur over time in the climate, but a symptom of human excess.
Addressing readers’ potential counterarguments will make your essay and your claims even stronger.
Now Let’s Talk About That Thesis Statement
As we wrap up this post on claims, let’s circle back and talk about that celestial body around which your entire essay orbits: the thesis statement.
Remember, strong claims are the building blocks of a good thesis. If your claims are weak, the gravity of your thesis will be too.
The main purpose of the thesis is to do two things:
- State the subject of your essay
- State your claim(s)
Your thesis should go at the end of your introduction so that your claims can serve as a road map of the rest of your essay.
After the thesis, you will begin to tackle each claim, one by one, supporting the claims in the body of your paper with research.
In a traditional five-paragraph essay, you’ll have an introduction at the beginning and a conclusion at the end. Between the two, you will have three body paragraphs, each one focused on supporting one of your claims.
However, many essays are shorter or longer than five paragraphs. Depending on the assignment and subject, you paper could have more than three claims or only one. This will depend on the scope of the project.
No matter which it is for you, follow the above advice and your claims will be strong, and in turn, your paper will be too. If you’re still unsure about your draft, send it over to the editors at Kibin. They will ensure your claims are strong.
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