For such an important element in an essay I remember having the hardest time grasping what a thesis should be. I knew that it was important, I knew that essays should have one, but when it came to writing one myself, the whole thing just fell apart.
It took me years to feel like I could reliably and effectively structure an essay. In the hope of saving you all some time, here’s my thoughts on the thesis. (Before we continue, know that these are my own interpretations and strategies that I have used as a student and writer of essays. If a teacher asks you for something else or expects a certain result, always go with what they say.)
When you’re given a prompt you’re essentially being asked a question. The essay you give back should be a long-form answer to that question, and will ideally contain within it all the evidence and reasoning you need to present your ideas. The exact nature of the evidence you give and the reasoning you apply will change radically based on the topic, but in my experience this skeleton has worked well.
If your whole essay is a long answer to a prompt, then the thesis of your essay should be a short answer version. Because it is short, it can’t hold evidence or argument; what it can offer is a definitive statement of what the writer thinks about the prompt. The whole rest of your essay is where you argue and convince.
From a strong thesis alone, a reader should be able to guess what the prompt might have been, or to even create their own essay that arrives at the same conclusion. If you list your evidence in the thesis, as we’re often taught to do, then that new essay could be essentially identical to your own.
At this point I’ve become a victim of semantic satiation, and the word “thesis” has lost all meaning. Essentially the idea that took me so long to fully grasp when it came to thesis statements was that they don’t need to be complicated or special. Ideally as a writer, answering a question, they’re something you’re already building in an informal way in your own head. From the moment you start thinking about your essay, it solidifies when you decide what to write about. The challenge is then finding a coherent and precise way to convey that to your reader.
PS. Did you know a thesis is a kind of car? I had no idea.
A couple of resources: