Writing a good and efficient thesis statement is an important skill for students and researchers to acquire. Although everyone is in agreement that research statements should be concise, there seems to be little guidance with regards to their optimal length. So, exactly how long should a thesis statement be? Well, it depends… is the boring but correct answer.
To get at the question, let’s dissect the following:
● How does the nature of the paper impact the length of your thesis statement?
● How specific should your thesis statement be?
● Where in a paper or essay does a thesis statement belong?
How does the nature of the paper you are writing impact the length of your statement?
A rule of thumb is to always craft a thesis statement that reflects your knowledge and the scope of the paper you are writing. A broad thesis that ties together a limited number of thoughts in a fairly short paper should be concise, a sentence or two at most. But if you are involved in an in-depth professional discourse where your thesis interacts with other detailed arguments in a rich dialogue, the thesis statement can be three or four sentences long. In other words, a complex argument requires more words. Joe Haley, who used to work as a writing instructor at Johns Hopkins University, illustrates this well by contrasting the difference in scope between these two theses statements about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
- In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, gossip is an important but morally ambiguous tool for shaping characters’ opinions of each other.
- As the aforementioned critics have noted, the prevalence of gossip in Jane Austen’s oeuvre does indeed reflect the growing prominence of an explicitly-delineated private sphere in nineteenth-century British society. However, in contrast with these critics’ general conclusions about Austen and class, which tend to identify her authorial voice directly with the bourgeois mores shaping her appropriation of the bildungsroman, the ambiguity of this communicative mode in Pride and Prejudice suggests that when writing at the height of her authorial powers, at least, Austen is capable of skepticism and even self-critique. For what is the narrator of her most celebrated novel if not its arch-gossip par excellence?
Both statements are fine, the size is ultimately determined by the aim and scope of your paper and how much knowledge you have of the topic.
How specific should your thesis statement be?
Whether you happen to be writing an analytical, expository or argumentative paper, you need the thesis statement to frame the topic you are covering and for it to declare your specific position on the topic at hand. It is important for the thesis statement to make it clear to the reader what you are arguing for without unnecessary exposition. It is all about striking the right balance between not having a flat and trivial thesis and not imparting too much extraneous information.
Although it’s impossible to put a specific number on it, most experts advise staying in a range between 25-50 words for a thesis statement. Try to keep it to a single sentence, if you can, preferably to three or four lines in a paragraph. You should certainly not exceed a single paragraph. Make sure every word in your thesis statement is purposeful. Remove all vague or unnecessary words.
Where in a paper or essay does a thesis statement belong?
Irrespective of whether you are writing an essay or an analytical research paper, the thesis statement always belongs in the beginning, preferably in the first paragraph. It helps the reader understand the purpose of the paper and the intentions of the author.
Some final advice!
Take time to really think about how you compose your thesis statement. Do it right and it can be an invaluable map that guides the reader.
Treat the writing process as an act of discovery. Don’t worry if your thesis statement changes as you are writing, just remember to revise the thesis statement to reflect where you have ended up in your journey.