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How to Write Thesis Statements on Literary Works


A thesis statement is the main point of your essay. After you have read a literary work and are assigned a writing prompt, you will need to create an analysis and interpretation of the text. The focus of your essay should be summarized in a single sentence, should not be a point of view or opinion and may be revised as you continue to develop your essay.

Narrow the Topic

An instructor may give you a prompt or assign specific texts about which you must write. It is your responsibility to narrow the topic to a more focused and specific subject about which you will create the thesis statement. For example, if the prompt asks about themes in playwright Tennessee Williams' work, you should choose a specific theme, such as madness, or a specific play, such as "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Make it Debatable

A thesis statement should make an argument and be debatable. Colorado State University suggests that "the thesis should be dramatic, have some tension in it, and should need to be proved." It cannot be a fact such as "there are many similarities and differences between William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and 'Romeo and Juliet.'" This statement is too general and self-evident since similarities and differences can exist between any two texts. Your thesis statement must state a position that someone can disagree with and argue against.

Make it a Roadmap

A thesis statement in an academic essay lets the reader know exactly what points the writer will be making. It also serves as a map for the writer to follow when composing the essay. Therefore, the thesis statement should be sufficiently developed and specific enough to prove in the body of the essay. These supporting paragraphs should prove the thesis statement through analysis and evidence from the text you are analyzing. Everything that follows the thesis statement should aid in convincing the reader of your point of view.

Revise the Thesis

Often the first thesis statement you write is a "working thesis" that serves to give your paper direction. In the process of brainstorming and composing your essay, you might need to update and develop the thesis statement to make it more precise. The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill states that "if a reader’s first response is 'how?' or 'why?' your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader." You can always revise and improve your thesis statement after you have completed the essay.

About the Author

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.

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