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CJUS 3130: Research Methods

Thesis Statements: A Brief Guide

A thesis statement guides your essay by identifying both your subject and your attitude toward it. A thesis statement:

  • is potentially interesting to the intended reader.
  • is specific.
  • limits the topic so that it is manageable.
  • evolves as your thinking about the subject evolves.

Construct a working thesis.

Think and pre-write; Identify important words; Choose one to use as subject; Finish the clause

Test the working thesis.

  • Try substituting other words—if the same statement can be made about another subject, the thesis needs to be more specific.
  • Ask “so what?”
  • Ask “why?” and “how?” 
  • Try filling in the “Magic Thesis Sentence”:

By looking at __________________, we can see ____________________, which most readers/viewers/observers don’t see; this is important because ___________________.

Revise the working thesis.

  • Add information that responds to the “so what?” question to explain relevance.
  • Add reason clauses to answer “why” and “how.”
    • because
    • through
    • by
    • in order to
  • Add qualifiers and conditionals:
    • although
    • while
    • despite
    • if
    • often
  • Use specific language—make every word count.
    • Use active verbs
    • Avoid abstract terms (e.g. issue, aspect, society, etc.)
    • Avoid empty modifiers (very, important, etc.)

Use a Seed Sentence

Another way to construct a working thesis is to start with a paradigm in the form of a “seed sentence.” These are patterns that reflect common ways of thinking about topics that are open to different perspectives. While anything constructed using one of these seeds will almost certainly need to be revised before the paper’s final version, they can provide a helpful starting point. If you choose to use sentence-paradigms to help you construct a thesis, try out several to find the best fit for your topic, idea, and assignment.


“Once I was _______________, but now I am _______________.”

“They say that _____________, but my experience [or closer examination] shows that ____________.”

Once I thought vulgar language was unforgivable, but now I feel sorry for those who express hatred by using it.

They say that people can learn from their mistakes, but my experience shows that once they learn prejudice, few people change their behavior.


“When I saw ____________, I saw ____________ instead of ______________.”

When I saw that I could fight the bullies or ignore them, I saw that fighting would be degrading while nonviolence would maintain my self-respect.

Cause and Effect:

“If _________________, then ________________."

“Because ______________, ________________." 

If we look at the way teens view bullying, then we see that current interventions devised by adults are not likely to be effective. Because I learned to ignore bullies when I was young, I can now find ways to encourage people with differing points of view to work together.


“Because of ____________similarities [or differences], ___________.”

Because adults and teenagers define bullying differently, the typical adult approaches to combatting the behaviors will not be effective.

Difference/Likeness (or Likeness/Difference):

“However ______________, ______________.”

However much both adults and teenagers agree that bullying behaviors damage relationships, this problem will persist until both groups begin using the same language to label the undesirable actions.


“Not only ___________________, but also _________________.”

Not only do adults want to blame technology for the problem of bullying, but they also tend to rely on ineffective solutions such as school assemblies.

Shift of Focus:

“Instead of [even though, because, etc.] _______________, we should direct attention to ________________.”

Even though these attempts to stop bullying are well-meaning, they will not be effective until they address the roots of the problem: lack of empathy and the desire for attention.