The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin - Madison
The Writer's Handbook
Developing a Thesis Statement

Derive a main point from topic

Once you have a topic, you will have to decide what the main point of your paper will be. This point, the "controlling idea," becomes the core of your argument (thesis statement) and it is the unifying idea to which you will relate all your sub-theses. You can then turn this "controlling idea" into a purpose statement about what you intend to do in your paper.

  • Look for patterns in your evidence
  • Compose a purpose statement

Consult the examples below for suggestions on how to look for patterns in your evidence and construct a purpose statement.

Example 1

Topic

Franco's role in the diplomatic relationships between the Allies and the Axis

Evidence

  • Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis
  • Franco turned to the Allies when he couldn't get some concessions that he wanted from the Axis

Possible conclusion:

Spain's neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: Franco's desire to preserve his own (and Spain's) power.

Purpose statement

This paper will analyze Franco's diplomacy during World War II to see how it contributed to Spain's neutrality.

Example 2

Topic

The relationship between the portrayal of warfare and the epic simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64.

Evidence

  • The simile compares Simoisius to a tree, which is a peaceful, natural image.
  • The tree in the simile is chopped down to make wheels for a chariot, which is an object used in warfare.

Possible conclusion:

At first, the simile seems to take the reader away from the world of warfare, but we end up back in that world by the end.

Purpose statement

This paper will analyze the way the simile about Simoisius at 4.547-64 moves in and out of the world of warfare.

Derive purpose statement from topic

Look for patterns in your evidence

To find out what your "controlling idea" is, you have to examine and evaluate your evidence. As you consider your evidence, you may notice patterns emerging, data repeated in more than one source, or facts that favor one view more than another. These patterns or data may then lead you to some conclusions about your topic and suggest that you can successfully argue for one idea better than another.

For instance, you might find out that Franco first tried to negotiate with the Axis, but when he couldn't get some concessions that he wanted from them, he turned to the Allies. As you read more about Franco's decisions, you may conclude that Spain's neutrality in WWII occurred for an entirely personal reason: his desire to preserve his own (and Spain's) power. Based on this conclusion, you can then write a trial thesis statement to help you decide what material belongs in your paper.

Compose a purpose statement

Sometimes you won't be able to find a focus or identify your "spin" or specific argument immediately. Like some writers, you might begin with a purpose statement just to get yourself going. A purpose statement is one or more sentences that announce your topic and indicate the structure of the paper but do not state the conclusions you have drawn. Thus, you might begin with something like this:

  • This paper will look at modern language to see if it reflects male dominance or female oppression.
  • I plan to analyze anger and derision in offensive language to see if they represent a challenge of society's authority.

At some point, you can turn a purpose statement into a thesis statement. As you think and write about your topic, you can restrict, clarify, and refine your argument, crafting your thesis statement to reflect your thinking.

As you work on your thesis, remember to keep the rest of your paper in mind at all times. Sometimes your thesis needs to evolve as you develop new insights, find new evidence, or take a different approach to your topic.