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What is a thesis?

A thesis consists of one or two sentences that clearly and concisely summarize the main point, purpose, and/or argument of an academic document. The thesis serves as the foundation—or heartbeat—of a paper; without a thesis, a paper is incomplete and lifeless. Ideally, a well-crafted thesis increases the likelihood that the target audience will engage with the writer’s discussion.

What are the functions of a thesis?

The thesis functions in several important ways:

  • It informs the reader of the paper’s direction

The thesis announces the direction of the paper’s conversation. Readers may find the paper’s position or argument more convincing if they know what to expect as they read.

  • It places boundaries on the paper’s content

The body of the paper provides support for the thesis. Only evidence and details that relate directly to the paper’s main ideas should fall within the boundary established by the thesis.

  • It determines how the content will be organized

The thesis summarizes the message or conclusion the reader is meant to understand and accept. A logical progression of these ideas and their supporting evidence helps shape the paper’s organization.

How should a thesis be developed?

Since the thesis clearly and concisely communicates and summarizes the purpose of an academic paper, the thesis should include:

  • The topic
  • The main point, purpose, or argument
  • The how or why of the purpose or argument

Let’s look at an example:

Topic: unwanted teen pregnancy
Argument: incidence can be reduced
How/Why: by providing support for abstinence programs, increasing funding for sex education, and making contraceptives more accessible to teens

Combine these components to form a clear, concise, well-developed thesis:

The incidence of unwanted teen pregnancies can be reduced by providing support for abstinence programs, increasing funding for sex education, and making contraceptives more accessible to teens.

For more information about thesis development, see also: