Step 5: Develop a Preliminary Thesis Statement

Coming up with a strong thesis is a process that takes time. You don't really have a finished thesis until you reach the end of your research investigation and conclude your argument. Once you have reached a balanced, informed perspective on your material, or come to the conclusion of your argument, you will have your thesis or claim. In order to get to this thesis, however, you will have to create a "working thesis" or preliminary thesis statement. The preliminary thesis will provide you with a strong focus that you can use when writing the response to your assignment.

Develop a Preliminary Thesis

Use Your Research Question to Launch Your Thesis

Your thesis should provide an answer to your research question. Without a thesis, you will write an informative paper about your question rather than an argumentative paper that provides an answer.

Your research question may prompt you to identify a problem and pose a solution.

Example from a Second-Year Political Science Paper

Canada's current electoral system is flawed, undemocratic and divisive [Problem]. Reforming Canada's electoral system to a mixed-member proportional system with a five-percent threshold would make it more democratic, promote national unity, and increase civic interest in democracy [Response/ Argument/ Thesis].

Note that this thesis statement includes two sentences:

  • a claim (the problem)
  • support for the claim (the response, made up of two parts: a solution and three reasons why the solution will address the problem)

Do not simply give a statement of intent or what you will try to do in the paper (e.g. "In this paper, I will analyze the reasons that Canada's electoral system is flawed and consider a possible solution."). This statement of intent may be a good initial response to the research question, but your thesis needs to present your conclusion, not how you got there.

Make Your Thesis an Arguable Statement

Your thesis must be debatable and cannot be a conclusion that simply describes an event or phenomenon or restates a commonly known fact.

Although questions can be used to good rhetorical effect in your introduction (and throughout your paper), your thesis should not be a question, but a statement of claim.

Demonstrate Independent Thinking

The point of the thesis is to show your thoughts on a topic. Although it can be intimidating to make a strong claim in writing — a claim that will be judged, and that you may be expected to defend personally — but it is also a particular benefit of academia that you are allowed and even encouraged to make strong claims based on solid reasoning, and that you will be lauded for doing so.

Pass the "So What?" Test

The reader will shrug and say "so what?" to an uninteresting thesis, so be sure your thesis makes a strong and notable point. Evaluate your thesis by asking yourself what the implications of your thesis are, e.g., "So what if a proportional electoral system were implemented in Canada? Would it matter?" Look at the sample thesis above: does it pass the "so what?" test?

Provide Details rather than Vague Assertions

Be clear about the approach you are going to take to support your thesis.

Consider including a "blueprint" or a "roadmap" of the major points you will make in your paper. Academic writing conventions require you to provide your reader with an outline of the argument you intend to make before you make it.

Thesis Statements: Beyond the Basics

You will keep revising your thesis statement as you go, making it increasingly specific and argumentative. See Step 9 for an example.