Getting To The Thesis Statement

Successfully teaching the thesis statement to college composition students requires a step-by-step approach, starting with essay type.

The thesis statement is the bane of undergraduate students. Grasping the purpose of this one declarative sentence can be like learning a foreign language. Within its structure are layers of complexity and implicit understanding.

If the student does not recognize the persuasive context of this sentence, then the application of the thesis statement will be faulty at best. But more often, it will be totally off the mark.

One of the first approaches to teaching the thesis statement to an essay writer is by explaining its container: the essay form. Students need to comprehend the differences in essay types so the thesis statement fits into a usable context.

Teaching essay types – start with the foundation

What is the raison de etre of the thesis statement? It exists to propel a particular type of essay.

Most first-time college students are familiar with the expository or informative essay, where a concept is explained in detail via several blocks of paragraphs. Writing this does not call upon analytical or problem-solving skills though it is necessary for students to research the topic. The writing is usually a regurgitation of facts. Often, when faced with a college essay project, students will instantly revert to this formula. This is their first mistake.



The informative essay has no use for a thesis; instead, it relies on an opening paragraph to give background on the information to come. Sometimes casually referred to as the “main point,” this introduction makes no special claim. It is simply a means to enter the essay.

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On the other hand, a persuasive essay is a different composition. And, without the thesis statement in its first paragraph, it cannot make the transformation to an argument. It remains stalled as an informative essay.

The thesis statement is the pivot for a persuasive or argumentative essay. It is crucial that students recognize that the thesis belongs to a persuasive essay. And, they must be thoroughly grounded in the characteristics, components and purpose of this piece of writing.

Instruct with a compare/contrast explanation

Using a compare/contrast teaching method is the best way to show how the persuasive essay is not an expository essay.

Start with the similarities. Both essay types require the following:

  • topic or subject
  • external research
  • fact-based writing
  • introduction, body and conclusion
  • supporting references

Now that the similarities are seen, draw out the differences. These might be explained as extensions of the custom writings or informative essays. The focus will be on those components that make the persuasive essay an entirely different entity from the informative essay.

In convincing a reader of a claim, the persuasive essay includes three elements that are not present in purely informative writing.

  • the introductory paragraph includes a clear statement of a position, i.e. the thesis statement
  • the external references support and enhance that position
  • facts are recorded, analyzed and integrated into the essay

Teaching the thesis – The next step

Now that students understand the differences between an informative and persuasive essay, and see that the thesis belongs with the latter, it’s time for the next step: teaching the thesis.


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