Building a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is a specific assertion (usually, a single sentence) that provides the main opinion—argument—of the paper. It provides the paper’s focus and structure.

A thesis statement is NOT:

A statement of fact

Runaway Bride is a romantic comedy that was released in 1999.”

--Yes, but nobody is disputing that. We know or can easily look up the release date for Runaway Bride. What’s your opinion or interpretation of the film?

An announcement

“This paper will discuss the failure of Runaway Bride as a screwball romantic comedy."

--Okay, now there’s an opinion, but the announcement portion is superfluous. If you are discussing something in your paper, we know your paper is discussing it without being told so.

Wishy-washy

“I think that Runaway Bride is a failure as a screwball romantic comedy.”

--No “seems,” “perhaps,” “I think,” etc. Sound certain of your opinion. Assert it. Don’t hedge your bets. After all, when you write about a subject, you take on the role of an expert in that area. “I think” and “I believe” are unnecessary. If it’s your paper, we know you’re thinking it.

Broad or vague

Runaway Bride is a failure as a screwball romantic comedy.”

--Yes, it’s an opinion. No, it’s not an announcement, nor does it lack confidence. However, it’s not specific enough to provide a road map for your paper, as a good thesis statement should.

Thesis statements should:

Answer the question why? how? or to what effect?

"Runaway Bride, though it draws on classic screwball comdies such as It Happened One Night (1934), is a failure as a screwball romantic comedy because changes in sexual behavior prevent there from being any sexual tension between the male and female leads, the source of much of the comedy in the screwball genre."

Thesis statements from the sample papers on this site:

Mise en Scene Analysis of Woody Allen’s Manhattan

Beyond its aesthetic value, the famous Brooklyn Bridge shot in Manhattan, directed by Woody Allen, encompasses several central themes of the film: the romance of the city, its dominating presence, the inconsequence of its inhabitants and their problems, their anonymity, and the isolations of two people in love.

Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and the Western Tradition

Unforgiven (1992), directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, concerns itself with examining and reexamining the codes of its genre and calling into question the moral universe of the western film.

Crime and Punishment in Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows

Critic Michael Klein stated in Film Comment that "The 400 Blows is a protest against our concepts of crime and punishment." Throughout The Four Hundred Blows (1959), Truffaut depicts protagonist Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) being subjected to multiple and various punishments. His teacher forces him to stand in a corner, forces him to do extra homework, and ultimately threatens to phone the boy's parents—all in the first ten minutes of the film. Antoine's punishments get more severe as the film continues until he is finally placed in a home for juvenile delinquents. Yet, for Antoine to be punished, those in power have to consider Antoine guilty of crimes, but, for the audience, whatever Antoine's crimes are—real or perceived—they never seem to merit the punishment he receives.

*Note: The first two thesis statements are single sentences. The third thesis is threaded through the whole introduction. Can you rewrite it in a single sentence?

Return to General Writing Concerns

Writing about Theme and Character

Writing about Mise-en-Scene, Three-Act Structure, and Genre