Confusion with Thesis Statements


Students need to understand both what a thesis looks like and how to develop one.

Point of Confusion: Students can write a thesis but are not sure which type to use.

In many cases, students become confused about thesis statements’ structure because, when they hear “thesis statement,” it has not always meant the same thing in all their previous courses. For example, the most common problem occurs when students conflate thesis statements, which make a clear argument, and purpose statements, which merely preview the paper’s organization.

To complicate the issue, even traditional thesis statements can vary in structure and complexity. Some disciplines prefer a simple position statement (that does not preview the paper’s main supporting reasons); some faculty are happy with a simple listed-based thesis (claim+3-4 supporting reasons); others prefer compound-complex sentences. (See the Moody Writing Center handouts “Thesis vs. Purpose Statements” and “Different Types of Thesis Statements”).

There is no need for faculty to spend a great deal of time on this issue, but there are some straightforward ways to clarify what a good thesis looks like in each discipline:  

  • Tell students what type of statement makes sense for their project and why.
  • Explain how this type of thesis/purpose statement fits within the larger discipline.
  • Offer short examples of what an effective thesis looks like for this kind of project. Often, this might be a brief discussion of how a course reading demonstrates the strategy they should follow