How to Write a Thesis Statement

Your first question might be: what exactly is a thesis statement? Your thesis statement is the entire argument of your doctoral dissertation, or of your master's thesis, or of your research paper, summed up into one or two sentences, and it gives you a lightning rod that you can refer back to throughout the paper. Your first step towards writing your own thesis statement is to choose a topic. Your topic is likely going to depend on the subject matter of your course, or your master's program, or your doctoral program, and for the purposes of this video, we're going to say that you're taking a class on the Lord of the Rings history.

If I'm going to write a research paper on the Lord of the Rings history - or the history of Middle-earth, which is the setting for the Lord of the Rings - the topic for my thesis statement is going to obviously have something to do with the Lord of the Rings, but that's such a broad subject. I need to pare it down a little bit, and that's where I want you to think about parameters. So for the sake of this video, let's talk about pipeweed. It's not enough for me to just say in my thesis statement, "pipeweed in Lord of the Rings history" - that's too broad of a topic, and it doesn't really tell us much about what we're gonna study in the research paper. So I want you to think about setting parameters that limit the scope of your research paper, and of your thesis topic.

Here's an example:

if I'm talking about pipeweed in the history of Middle-earth, that's probably going to be a paper of about a thousand pages where I have to discuss everything that has to do with pipeweed, and everything that has to do with pipeweed in Middle-earth. It's gonna be easier for me to limit the scope of that research project, and of my thesis topic, by using the time parameter. What time do I want to study pipeweed within the Lord of the Rings history? For the sake of ease, let's just say it's modern day. I want to study pipeweed in modern day Middle-earth. Fine. I've set a time parameter that limits the scope of my project by the parameter of time. The next parameter that I want to think about is location. Can I dial back the scope of the project by looking at a particular region of Middle-earth, or a particular place where pipeweed has grown, or where it's distributed? That's going to help me to also dial back my thesis statement and have the scope be more focused on a particular area.

So let's say I want to study pipeweed in the Shire, rather than pipeweed in Lothlorien or pipeweed in Mordor. I want to study pipeweed in modern day Middle-earth, specifically in the Shire. That's a bit more contained, and maybe we've got it down to a 700 page research paper instead of a thousand pages! We can keep adding parameters, and a lot of those parameters will depend upon your particular subject matter, or the field that you're studying in. For example, if you're doing an anthropological study, you'll probably want to look at ethnic groups. Or, if you're doing biology, or engineering, there'll be other parameters that you'll have to use and will dictate the scope of your research paper. But in this case, we've got time, and we've got location.

A third parameter I can use is actor.

Who are the actors within this thesis statement? Who are the people that I'm studying, and what are they doing? For example, am I studying the pipeweed itself? Is it how the pipeweed is grown? Is it how it's distributed? Is it how it's made? Is it how it's packaged? These are all different parameters I can use, and I want to look at: who are the people, or who are the things, that are enacting whatever it is I'm studying in my research paper. So for this example, we'll say I want to study, particularly, for this research project: hobbit farmers in the Shire who farm pipeweed in the modern era. That's a much tighter research project than where we started, which was just all of Middle-earth, or pipeweed in all of the Lord of the Rings history. So we've got that going for us, and we can add other parameters as necessary, but once you have solidified a topic for your thesis statement, you're gonna think about what is the research question. What is the question that you're trying to answer, that no one else has done so, or that all of the research that you've already done has not provided? Sometimes, in some classes, you might be able to get away with just doing a literature review, and recapitulating what other people have already said, and not really have to have a strong research question. But in most research papers, particularly a master's thesis, and also a doctoral dissertation, you're gonna want to present something new to the field that hasn't been answered before.

How do you come across that research question? Well, you've got to do some research. Look into the topic that you're interested in, and first make sure that there's enough research out there for you to do a study on the topic. Maybe you'll hit a dead end and see that there's just not enough info out there for you to study pipeweed, or study pipeweed in the modern era, and you have to change your location, you have to change your time, you have to change some of your other parameters so that you can actually get the information that you need. Or perhaps you might be on the frontier of that research, and you're the one who has to go out there and do that research.

What you're trying to find is the question that has not been answered. For example, with our Shire Hobbit pipeweed farmers, what are the things that that no other researchers of Middle-earth have found so far? It could be something about the distribution of the pipeweed, it could be something about how they're farmed, it could be a sociological study about those pipeweed farmers...For the interest of this discussion, we'll say that we're interested in learning more about how Hobbit pipeweed farmers in the Shire in the modern era have contributed to the public discourse about labor unions. That's a really nice and concise research subject for our research paper, and we want to first pose that as a question so that we can turn it into a statement. So our research question for this topic is something along the lines of: what do Hobbit farmers in the Shire in the current era have to do with public discourse about labor unions? And that's when we do some research upfront so we can figure out a preliminary answer for ourselves, that we can then convert into a thesis statement.

So let me back up. We've got our time, we've got our location, and we've got our actors for this particular research project, and this thesis statement. And we're trying to figure out: what is the question for our thesis statement? The question we're trying to answer now is: how do Hobbit pipeweed farmers in the Shire in the modern era contribute to the public discourse on labor unions? Let's say, after doing my literature review, I find that Hobbit farmers have actually expanded the public discourse on labor unions, because of the ways in which they engage with transnational Middle-earth labor unions! Well, I'm going to change that question into a statement for my thesis statement, and I'm going to put them all together with those parameters to create a nice and concise research statement. It'll sound something like this: hobbit pipeweed farmers in the Shire have contributed to the expansion of public discourse about labor unions in the modern era. Boom! That's a really nice and concise thesis statement that I can refer to throughout my research paper, and provide a strong core to the argument of the entire paper. Even better, if I refer to that thesis statement in the introduction of my research paper, or my master's thesis, or my doctoral dissertation, I give the reader an idea of what they're getting into. Even if they don't read the rest of the paper, they understand what my argument is for the entire paper. Importantly, if someone's checking out your work, they're just looking at the abstract, or the thesis statement of your paper, so you want to make sure that your entire paper is summed up in that one little sentence.