How do I write a good thesis statement?

Your thesis answers the question, "So?" To construct a decent thesis statement, state your opinion, make a point, take a stand, have a slant, and provide perspective, set out to prove something — you get the idea. Begin boldly with a challenging or provocative assertion; you can always refine your approach later.

You'll want to start out with a simple sentence you can write on a sticky note and post on the corner of the computer monitor while you tap away at the keyboard. Keep your working thesis straightforward — it's only meant to keep you from straying into the pros and cons of Mongolian woolly slippers. Here's the magic working thesis equation:

Subject + Attitude = Thesis

Your topic and your opinion on that topic — that's it. The secret of the working thesis is that you're allowed to change your mind (about either your subject or your attitude) at any point while writing. Just whip off that first sticky note and slap on your new, improved, topic-and-opinion combo with fries.

Every "A+" thesis starts with a specific topic. Here are some guidelines to what "specific" means:

  • If your instructor has told you what to write about, make sure to do just that. Sorry, but it's true — if your teacher wants to see something specific, this is not the time to get creative and imaginative.
  • If the assignment has been left up to you, write about something you're deeply passionate and profoundly knowledgeable about. Or write on something that bores you, and find a small spark of attitude to start your own fire. Or even discuss something from your everyday life. What's familiar to you may fascinate others when examined up close and personal. (Think twice about this one — no one wants to read about the life of your fern, for example.)

Focus your thesis in three quick steps:

  1. Use specific terms instead of vague categories. (Narrow "music" to "reggae.")
  2. Use adjectives. (Narrow "reggae" to "American reggae.")
  3. Limit the discussion to a particular context. (Narrow "American reggae" to "the American reggae revival in the 1980s.")