Writing Thesis Statements: A Workshop


“The quality of a college essay depends on the quality of your thinking, not the flow of molten evidence in the same general direction” (Humble, p. 103). Good thinking begins with a solid thesis.

A thesis is:

  • A debatable answer to your research question.
  • Not simply something you think, believe, feel, etc., but something important to you and your reader/audience.
  • Not a fact, but a careful or creative analysis.
  • Not a general answer or truth, but a complex, sophisticated claim.
  • Really, really specific (refer to Humble, p. 109).
  • The conclusion you arrive at after carefully considering all your evidence.

First, let’s clarify what Humble says in Chapter 3. In fact, you should include a well-crafted, specific thesis in your essay; the thesis Humble recommends you not put in your essay, the one he calls a writer’s tool, is extremely detailed and is several lines long. It’s a good guide for you – it’s a thesis in overdrive. For your essay, you can include a thesis that’s a little less detailed and unwieldy (think back to Evelyn White’s thesis, or even Flusty’s, for example) – go for a thesis in third or fourth gear.

Professors will often expect to see a thesis at the end of your first paragraph (usually the introduction), but it may show up a little later, especially for a longer paper with a lengthier introduction.


Chapter 3 in The Humble Argument gives you some advice on ways to find a good research question and then narrow it down to something debatable and answerable: a thesis.


“A question helps you explore a wide range of evidence, consider many possible answers, and then arrive at the best possible answer you can find. It’s hard to discover anything if you start with an idea you already have in mind” (Humble 53).

Both Humble and Lamott (“Shitty First Drafts” emphasize that writing is thinking and that writing is a process of discovery, not simply a catalog of what you already know (remember, the college essay is not a report).

At this point, you should be working on revising the shitty first draft of your Public Space Essay, which means you should be looking for an emerging argument. In order to construct a solid argument, you need a clear, focused thesis statement around which to organize your points.


According to Humble, “establishing reasonable possibilities is what argument does best” (70); and remember, argument is not always persuasion (from Chapter 1). Your thesis should present your central argument, or claim.

Humble’s Methods to Narrow Your Topic

  1. Focus on a subtopic (or even a sub subtopic) of your main topic.
  2. Focus on a single case study as a way of exploring a larger issue.
  3. Replace broad terms with more precise terms.

Drafting: Getting Started

Start drafting a thesis by finishing the following statements. Run your drafts by a partner in class.

  1. What I really want people to understand about my space is…
  2. My purpose in writing about this space is to…
  3. When most people visit my space they see _______, but what I want them to see is ________.
  4. My analysis is important because…

Now look back at Evelyn White’s thesis statement. Look at Flusty’s We identified these in class. Modeling on their sentence structure, write your own thesis.


Developing Strong Thesis Statements: Is it narrow? Is it debatable? Is it answerable? And finally, is it interesting to you and your reader?

Organizing Your Argument: Have you linked your data with your claim?  Do you have sufficient backing?  Have you addressed the counterargument(s)?








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