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Introductions and Thesis Statements

Introductions and Thesis Statements

Author: Sophia Tutorial

Recognize the purpose and characteristics of an effective thesis statement.

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what's covered
This tutorial covers thesis statements and introductions—some details on how they work and how they’re connected, and the purpose and components of a thesis statement. The specific areas of focus include:
  1. Essay Development
  2. Thesis Statements
    1. Successful Thesis Statements
  3. Introductions

1. Essay Development

Before going more in depth about thesis statements and introductions, it’s important to think about essay development overall. Essay development simply means the process of developing or composing the ideas that are going to govern your essay.

This requires you to build support, such as facts and examples, for the main idea. Thus, as you write, you should be referring back to the outline of your essay to make sure that those supporting details match the plan you made for the progression of the essay.

It might feel a little daunting to think that you have to generate a whole essay, but the secret is that if you can write a successful paragraph, you can write a whole paper. This is because the structure of a paper mirrors the structure of a paragraph.

Just as in a paragraph, the topic sentence focuses and announces the main point of the paragraph, so too does the thesis statement focus, announce, and structure the whole paper.

Likewise, in a paragraph, supporting sentences provide details, evidence, and examples to prove that the main point of the paragraph is believable. The supporting paragraphs of an essay parallel this role, providing supporting details for the whole thesis statement.

big idea
The same writing skills you’ve been mastering all along are still at work in these essay development tasks.

2. Thesis Statements

First of all, remember that a thesis statement is not a topic. The topic can be broad and overarching, like an umbrella, whereas the thesis statement is specific and focused. It’s an articulation of your main point only.

A topic might have multiple thesis statements that come out of it, and that demonstrates how broad it is in contrast to your narrow, focused thesis. Therefore, a thesis statement can be defined as a single sentence that expresses the controlling idea for a piece of writing, and it usually comes in the first paragraph or so.

To get to that single focused statement, you might go through multiple drafts. You might even find that your thesis statement changes as you write the essay. That means that it’s totally okay to have a working thesis statement, which is a thesis statement that a writer uses in the service of creating a first draft. The working thesis may be rewritten as the essay evolves.

You always want to start writing with a strong draft thesis to make sure that your writing stays focused around the purpose of the essay; however, as you write, the working thesis might require some revision and rethinking, especially if you find that you need to think through ideas that you hadn’t originally considered as part of the plan.

You may do research and discover that the facts don’t match your original assumption, and so you need to change your thesis to match the data. Or you might write your way into a new opinion or position on the issues.

All of those are great reasons to revise your working thesis statement. You can reassess and revise at any stage in the writing process because again, writing is a process, not a product. It’s recursive, so you’ll go back over and through your thinking many times as you write.


This is really similar to a scientist’s journey through the scientific method. When scientists are working through a problem, they start with a hypothesis, which is basically a working thesis. Then as they experiment, if their findings contradict or alter their original hypothesis, they let those findings alter their thesis. Treat yourself like a scientist of writing and do the same with your thesis statements.

terms to know
Thesis Statement
A single sentence that expresses the controlling idea for a piece of writing.
Working Thesis Statement
A thesis statement that a writer uses in the service of creating a first draft; may be rewritten as the essay evolves.

2a. Successful Thesis Statements

Building successful, effective thesis statements is important because the thesis statement sets up the reader’s expectations about the purpose and content of the essay, signaling what the main points are going to be.

Therefore, you need to express your main idea in a clear and interesting manner by:

  • Using the thesis as a signpost, letting the reader know what direction the writer is going to take in a text
  • Being precise, concise, and specific
  • Using the thesis to mirror the purpose, such as an argumentative thesis that takes a side in a debate for an argumentative essay
  • Making just one single clear assertion about your take on the topic
try it
Take a moment to read the following short essay, and see if you can identify where and what the thesis statement is.

See how the thesis comes at the end of the introduction?

The thesis relates to the essay’s content by specifically mentioning traditions, connection, family, and heritage. You see those concepts taken up again in more detail in the body paragraphs.

You’re also probably interested in seeing where this goes. If you have your own traditions that matter to you, you might be engaged and connected to the specific discussion here. Overall, this is a strong thesis because it expresses the main point of this short essay in a compelling, concise manner.

Now consider if the writer changed the thesis statement like this:

It’s based on the same topic, but does it indicate to you, the reader, what the main point is going to be in any kind of detail? And do you care about this statement? You probably don’t because it’s pretty vague and doesn’t really set up specific, direct exploration of one interesting aspect of this topic.

What about this thesis?

Again, this is the same topic, but is this really the specific subject of the essay? Does this point to where the essay actually goes? No. The essay doesn’t discuss the difference between traditionalists and evolutionists. This thesis statement needs some revision to match the direction the essay took.

3. Introductions

It’s also important to think about where the thesis statement fits— the introduction. Since this is the piece of writing that your readers will experience first, you want it to make a good impression by being clear, articulate, fully thought out, and connected to the reader.

Every introduction should give both a brief explanation of the topic and a clear statement of the thesis, but a really good introduction will draw the readers in and capture their attention. This is called the hook, because it keeps the reader on the line, wanting to learn more.

You can hook your readers in a lot of ways, some of which are:

  • Offering a narrative of an interesting situation or experience
  • Providing a quotation that grabs the reader’s attention
    • If you choose to do this, try to avoid quotations that people hear all the time, as they won’t be interesting or new. Instead, go for a surprising or compelling piece of information, a statistic, or someone’s idea.
  • Comparing two dissimilar things through a compelling analogy to form new connections in the minds of your readers
  • Giving a definition of a term that’s central to your essay
    • If you choose to do this, avoid dry dictionary definitions, as these can be pretty boring and don’t always help build new connections or ideas for your reader. Instead, use definitions to make more connections, explaining an interesting facet of the definition, or previewing some debate over the terms or concepts of your essay.

For instance, what if the introduction to the previous essay sample said:

See how this opens with a debate about the significance of tradition that uses the definition to point towards the thesis? This is an example of effectively chosen definitions.

Here is an introduction that uses the narrative hook:

And here is one that uses an analogy:

As you see, each of these introductions pulls the reader in and encourages him or her to read further by making a connection between the reader and the author.

term to know
The beginning of an essay or other writing project; the first paragraph or two of an essay.

In this tutorial, you learned that essay development is the process of developing or composing the ideas that are going to govern your essay. A key component of this process is the thesis statement, which is the single sentence that expresses the controlling idea for your essay. An important criterion for successful thesis statements is to express your ideas in a clear and interesting manner.

Finally, you learned about essay introductions, which are the beginning of a piece of writing, and where the thesis statement resides. There are many ways to write a good introduction, but it’s always important that you hook the reader by opening in a way that will make him or her invested in what you have to say.

Good luck!

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Martina Shabram.

Terms to Know

The beginning of an essay or other writing project; the first paragraph or two of an essay.

Thesis Statement

A single sentence that expresses the controlling idea for a piece of writing.

Working Thesis Statement

A thesis statement that a writer uses in the service of creating a first draft. It may be rewritten as the essay evolves.