Thesis and Purpose Statements
Use the guidelines below to learn the differences between thesis and purpose statements
In the first stages of writing, thesis or purpose statements are usually rough or ill-formed and are useful primarily as planning tools.
A thesis statement or purpose statement will emerge as you think and write about a topic. The statement can be restricted or clarified and eventually worked into an introduction.
As you revise your paper, try to phrase your thesis or purpose statement in a precise way so that it matches the content and organization of your paper.
A thesis statement is a sentence that makes an assertion about a topic and predicts how the topic will be developed. It does not simply announce a topic: it says something about the topic.
Good: X has made a significant impact on the teenage population due to its . . .
Bad: In this paper, I will discuss X.
A thesis statement makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of the paper. It summarizes the conclusions that the writer has reached about the topic.
A thesis statement is generally located near the end of the introduction. Sometimes in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or an entire paragraph.
A thesis statement is focused and specific enough to be proven within the boundaries of the paper. Key words (nouns and verbs) should be specific, accurate, and indicative of the range of research, thrust of the argument or analysis, and the organization of supporting information.
A purpose statement announces the purpose, scope, and direction of the paper. It tells the reader what to expect in a paper and what the specific focus will be.
Common beginnings include:
"This paper examines . . .," "The aim of this paper is to . . .," and "The purpose of this essay is to . . ."
A purpose statement makes a promise to the reader about the development of the argument but does not preview the particular conclusions that the writer has drawn.
A purpose statement usually appears toward the end of the introduction. The purpose statement may be expressed in several sentences or even an entire paragraph.
A purpose statement is specific enough to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. Purpose statements are common in research papers in some academic disciplines, while in other disciplines they are considered too blunt or direct. If you are unsure about using a purpose statement, ask your instructor.
This paper will examine the ecological destruction of the Sahel preceding the drought and the causes of this disintegration of the land. The focus will be on the economic, political, and social relationships which brought about the environmental problems in the Sahel.
Sample purpose and thesis statements
The following example combines a purpose statement and a thesis statement (bold).
The goal of this paper is to examine the effects of Chile's agrarian reform on the lives of rural peasants. The nature of the topic dictates the use of both a chronological and a comparative analysis of peasant lives at various points during the reform period. . . The Chilean reform example provides evidence that land distribution is an essential component of both the improvement of peasant conditions and the development of a democratic society. More extensive and enduring reforms would likely have allowed Chile the opportunity to further expand these horizons.
For more tips about writing thesis statements, take a look at our new handout on Developing a Thesis Statement.
At some point in your academic career, you’ll need to know how to analyze an argument properly. Here, tutor Andrew P. shares his guide to success…
As a college student, you’ll be expected at some point to understand, restate, comment on, or discuss someone’s assertion (strongly stated position).
An argument is a reason(s) for a conclusion.
- He is dense (reason); therefore, I won’t talk with him (conclusion).
- I won’t talk with him (conclusion) because he is dense (reason).
When asked to analyze an argument, you are expected to explain how and why something works or does not work.
- My car will not start. I realize that I left the interior lights on overnight (“you stupid idiot”)—no analysis necessary.
- My car will not start. The battery is fairly new, and the engine started right up yesterday. So, I open the hood. As soon as I begin probing to search for the reason, I am analyzing (whether or not I find the answer).
To analyze an author’s argument, take it one step at a time:
- Briefly note the main assertion (what does the writer want me to believe or do?)
- Make a note of the first reason the author makes to support his/her conclusion
- Write down every other reason
- Underline the most important reason
Here’s an example, with the analysis of the argument following:
Part of my philosophy is that a life worth living involves taking reasonable risks, whatever that may mean to a person. Without that openness, responsiveness, a person sees very little possibility for change and can sink into a rut of routines. I have known many who define themselves by their routines–and little else. These are the people an American educator spoke of when he said, “Many people should have written on their tombstones: ‘Died at 30, buried at 60.'” How sad! I think that one of the most horrible feelings a person must have is to be on the deathbed, regretting the many things never tried, and many things done that cannot be undone. I live my life to minimize possibilities of regrets, as I hope you do. Did you ever see the Sandra Bullock movie 28 Days? She plays an alcoholic in a destructive relationship with a guy who wants only to have fun. A staff person at the clinic where she is sentenced to spend 28 days for rehab explained: “Insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting different results.” Maybe more people should watch that movie. The world may not go out of its way to help you–the world does not owe us fairness–but the world is there with more possibilities than most of us imagine. If we are responsible to ourselves–and response-able, we can continue growing in directions that are good for us. We do not need to understand the future, which, after all, does not exist, has not yet been created.
Main assertion: Worthwhile life = taking reasonable risks
- Being open to possibilities vs rut of routines
- Dying with regrets for actions and inactions is horrible
- Repeating same behaviors will prevent change
- Ability to respond to new possibilities, including risks, results in growth
You can now summarize the author’s position and, if required, agree or disagree in part or in whole, offering examples from your own experiences.
Complicated, huh? Yes, it is, until you get used to developing such a reaction paper. A writing tutor can be very helpful in guiding you through this process of how to analyze an argument, step by step, until you feel confident working with this important college skill.
Andrew P. teaches English and writing in Milton, VT, as well as through online lessons. He taught English courses at colleges and universities in five states for 35 years before retiring in 2013. Learn more about Andrew here!
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