The thesis of an essay is the main historical point that its
writer is trying to prove. A history essay can be no better than its
thesis. If the argument that the writer is making is ill-reasoned,
historically inaccurate, or simply unclear, no amount of l iterary finesse
can save it. The examples below show how one can develop a thesis, from an
initial idea to a full historical argument. Following the examples are
some guidelines on how to most clearly state a thesis in an essay.
Assignment: How and why did Anne Hutchinson pose a threat to the
established structures of power and authority in Puritan Massachusetts?
Not a thesis: In this paper I will discuss how Anne Hutchinson posed a
threat to the established structures of power and authority in Puritan
Also not a thesis: Anne Hutchinson posed a threat to the Puritan
leadership in the Massachusetts colony.
These will not work because a thesis is not merely a general subject for a
paper or a restatement of the question, but should instead be a specific
point that one could either argue for or against.
A rough draft thesis: Anne Hutchinson posed a threat to the power and
authority of the Puritan leadership because she was a woman, a popular
preacher, and because of her religious convictions.
A second draft thesis: The leaders of the Puritan community in
Massachusetts not only felt uneasy about Anne Hutchinson's role as a
public figure, but were further threatened by her belief that individuals
could communicate directly with God.
This is more specific than any of the attempts above, but it still lacks
analysis. The writer needs to delve beneath the facts of this case and ask
A good thesis: While many Puritan leaders were uneasy about the
involvement of women outside the traditional female sphere, Anne
Hutchinson's preaching that every individual had the ability to
communicate directly with God posed a threat to the ecclesiastical
hierarchy in Massachusetts which based its power and authority on its role
as mediator between the congregation.
This is a workable thesis because it offers an explanation for how events
came to pass as they did. It would be easy enough to show that people were
threatened by Anne Hutchison. Your task as an historian is to find out how
and why that was so.
A short essay should contain a thesis statement in its first paragraph.
The thesis statement lets the reader know, as soon as possible, what
argument the paper will make. A thesis statement may require more than one
sentence to make. In deciding where to place the thesis statement and how
to introduce it, consider what a typical UW student would need to know to
understand your thesis.
A good thesis statement will probably have these characteristics:
It is clearly and forcefully supported by the rest of the paper, and
all of the evidence pertains to it.
It is precise, and can be understood on its own, before one has read
It is precise, and not so general and vague that it does not express an