Thesis statement. How long does it need to be?

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How to Write a Thesis

What is a thesis statement?

Every essay should have a main point, a main idea, or central message. The argument(s) you make in your paper should reflect this main idea. The sentence that captures your position on this main idea is what we call a thesis statement.

How long does it need to be?

A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also make a comment about your position in relation to the topic. Your thesis statement should tell your reader what the paper is about and also help guide your writing and keep your argument focused.

Where is your thesis statement?

You should provide a thesis early in your essay -- in the introduction, or in longer essays in the second paragraph -- in order to establish your position and give your reader a sense of direction.

Tip: In order to write a successful thesis statement:

  • Avoid burying a great thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph or late in the paper.

  • Be as clear and as specific as possible; avoid vague words.

  • Indicate the point of your paper but avoid sentence structures like, “The point of my paper is…”

Is your thesis statement too general?

Your thesis should be limited to what can be accomplished in the specified number of pages. Shape your topic so that you can get straight to the "meat" of it. It is much better to write about something specific than to discuss a topic in general terms. When you write about a topic in general terms you may feel like you’re doing a good job but you’re actually not saying much of any value.

Compare the original thesis (too general) with a possible revision (more specific).

  • Original thesis:

    • Important scientific and technological developments took place in Canada between 1914 and 1929.

  • Revised thesis:

    • The popularization of the automobile during the 1920s lead to dramatic changes in Canadian society including the establishment of infrastructure such as paved roads, the growth of suburbia, and increasing personal freedom and mobility.

Is your thesis statement clear?

Your thesis needs to be as clear as possible. Having a clear thesis statement will ensure that your reader understands exactly what you are trying to say/argue.

Tip: Never assume that the meaning of a sentence is obvious or that your reader knows anything about your topic. To avoid misunderstandings, be as specific and clear as possible.

Compare the original thesis (not specific and clear enough) with the revised version (much more specific and clear):

  • Original thesis: Although there was no real evidence against them, Japanese-Canadians were sent to internment camps during WW2. [if there was no evidence against them -- why were they being interned?]

  • Revised thesis: Although numerous investigations suggested that they were innocent of any wrongdoings, Japanese-Canadians were sent to internment camps during WW2 because authorities suspected them of plotting against the Canadian state.

Does your thesis include a comment about your position on the issue at hand?

The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic and how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to a simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.


  • Avoid merely announcing the topic; your original and specific position should be clear.

    • Original thesis: In this paper, I will discuss gender equality in Canada.

    • Revised thesis: The Wartime Elections Act, increasing participation in the workforce during WWI, and the Person’s Case were important developments in the improvement of gender equality in Canada over the 20th Century.

  • Avoid making universal statements that oversimplify complex issues.

    • Original thesis: Dropping atomic bombs on Japan was unjustified.

    • Revised thesis: Although very controversial, President Harry Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons against Japan ultimately reduced the human toll required to bring WW2 to an end in the Pacific theater.

  • Make sure to specify and justify subjective statements.

    • Original thesis: Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was justified in cancelling the Avro Arrow project.

    • Revised thesis: Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was justified in cancelling the Avro Arrow because it was already obsolete by the time it was built.

Is your thesis statement original?

Do not expect to come up with a fully formulated final thesis statement before you have finished writing the paper. The thesis will inevitably change as you revise and develop your ideas—and that is ok! Start with a tentative thesis and revise as your paper develops; keep revising until the thesis reflects your real ideas.

So taking what you’ve learned, let’s apply that now to one of the specific essay topics.

For example:

25. Identify the major demographic trend(s) that occurred in Canada’s Population between 1945 and 1982 and compare them to trends/developments earlier in the century.

Possible Talking Points:

  • Origins of immigrants and refugees.

  • Arrival of War Brides.

  • The Baby Boom.

  • The Growth of Suburbs.

  • Increased Urbanization.

  • Changing status of established ethnocultural groups.

Sample Guiding Questions to help with your research for your essay:

  • What was new about the teen subcultures that developed after WWII?

  • In what ways were the lives of the youth in the 1950s different from those who lived in the 1920s?


The Baby Boom

Sample Guiding Questions:

What was the Baby Boom?

Why did the Baby Boom happen? What were its major causes?

Tentative Thesis:

The Baby Boom was a period following the Second World War in which significant population growth took place.

Refined Thesis:

The period of rapid population growth following the Second World War, known as the Baby Boom, was brought on by numerous factors including high marriage rates, a booming economy, and veterans who desired a sense of normalcy.

Final Thoughts

To recap:

A thesis provides the framework for any essay.

  • Your thesis should be one or two sentences long and should present the topic of your paper.

  • It should also state your position/opinion in relation to the topic.

  • It should appear early in your essay, usually in the first paragraph or in longer essays, the second one.

  • Be clear and specific, avoid vague or general statements.

  • Don’t expect to come up with the final draft of your thesis right off the bat, it’s ok to start off with a tentative one and revise it until it reflects exactly what you intend to discuss.

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