Three steps to writing an academic essay:
Write a good thesis statement
The thesis statement is crucial to the success of your essay. If you get it right, the essay will flow. If you don't, you'll know something is wrong, and you won't be able to write a clear argument. Your tutor will notice, and your essay won't get the credit that your ideas may deserve.
What does the thesis statement do?
- It gives the germ or embryo of your argument. Everything that you will develop in your essay is already potentially there, in your thesis statement. The thesis statement is like an envelope that contains the whole of the rest of your argument, folded up and hidden.
- It therefore gives you the guidance you need on how to structure your essay. The argument is already potentially there, because you've done the preparation — you just have to unravel it.
- It also gives your reader the confidence that you know your topic and have an end in view. It helps the reader understand your line of argument. They can go back to it and refresh their concept of what you are trying to prove.
A thesis statement is like a signpost to the reader. It indicates your argument and tells your reader where the essay will be going. It doesn't usually outline the whole journey (i.e. give all the points of the argument). It points the reader in the right direction. It is like a railway announcement that just gives the train destination, and not every station on the route.
Where is the thesis statement placed?
The thesis statement usually goes at the end of the first paragraph. It concludes the introduction to your essay, and leads the reader into the argument. Take, for example, the the first paragraph of a recent report on the experience of joint honours students (Hodgson, 2011):
Approximately one-fifth of undergraduate university students of English in the UK currently study the subject as part of a joint honours course. This figure does not include students who study English Literature alongside other varieties of English (such as Language study or Creative Writing). According to statistics derived from the 2010 National Student Survey, the most popular disciplines with which English Studies are combined include History (17%), TeacherTraining (16%), Drama (10%), and Philosophy (7%). We have little direct evidence about the experience of these students: how they come to embark on joint honours study, what benefits they may gain, and what difficulties they may encounter.
You will see that the last sentence — the thesis statement — makes clear to the reader (and to the writer) what the rest of the article will explain and illustrate. It will deal with how students come to take joint honours, the benefits of their study, and the difficulties they may find.
It is often useful, as I did in this example, to write a three-part thesis — to give three aspects that your essay will develop.
For further examples of what a good thesis statement looks like, read the introductory paragraph of a few journal articles. And use the examples given on this website.
It is now time to look more closely at the introductory paragraph as a whole.