In this post, I’m going to give you what I think is the easiest win when it comes to improving your writing: using thesis statements to tell the reader what the destination is right at the outset of your writing. PhD thesis statements will be a useful tool in your arsenal.
I read a lot of dissertations and essays, not just at PhD level. I must have read well into the millions of words by now. So when I say this is the easiest win, I mean it.
Whenever you start a chapter, a paper, or a section, rely on thesis statements to tell the reader what the destination is. Inform the reader upfront where you’re headed, so they’re better able to keep up with you.
This contradicts our instinct. We often treat our writing as if it’s a murder mystery, writing in a way that shields the conclusion from the reader until the last possible moment.
I blame school. For me, at least, this was how I was told to write my essays there. Layer up evidence, and then present the conclusion in some grand reveal at the end.
This approach is nonsense, however, and serves only to ensure that the reader has no idea what you’re talking about much of the time.
Whilst you certainly need to layer up evidence to make your argument as convincing as possible, you need to tell the reader what the destination is before you start. That’s where thesis statements come in.
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What Are PhD Thesis Statements?
PhD thesis statements are sentences that condense all of the key ideas from that particular paper, chapter, or section. They answer the question: ‘I’ve only got 10 seconds, but can you tell me what this section/paper/chapter is about?’
Read back the opening sentence of this blog post—that’s a thesis statement. It told you right at the outset what I was going to explain in this blog post.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one sentence. Sometimes you need a couple of sentences to explain the main headlines of what’s about to come.
In summary, thesis statements fulfil three roles:
- Sets the Tone: They tell your reader what to expect.
- Guidepost for Your Reader: Think of them as the roadmap that directs your reader through your paper, keeping them oriented along the way.
- Snapshot: It’s the condensed version of your argument, giving a glimpse into what the paper will discuss.
Why Are PhD Thesis Statements So Useful?
The easiest way to understand why they’re so useful is to imagine life without them.
Imagine you’ve submitted your thesis for examination. Your examiners are reading through your literature review, eager to get a sense of where your research sits and why it is relevant. They’re immediately overwhelmed by detail. It doesn’t take long for anyone reading your thesis to become very, very lost.
You want to avoid losing your examiner at all costs.
Herein lies the problem: you know where you’re headed, but the reader doesn’t. You need to guide them to the destination.
By doing so, the reader is primed for what is about to come.
Your PhD Thesis.
On one page.
How Do I Write PhD Thesis Statements?
Step 1: Identify Your Main Argument
What to do: Think about the main point you want your paper to convey. This should be something arguable and specific.
First and foremost, be sure about your main argument or point. What is the core message you want to convey? Have it clear in your mind or, better yet, jot it down. If you’re struggling to condense it in two one or a small number of sentences, you may need to ask yourself if your argument is as refined as it could be. There’s a joy in simplicity, and often simplicity is the result of an incredible amount of hard work. Ask yourself if you need to do more work to simplify the essence of your writing.
Our thesis writing template will help here. It’s designed around a series of question prompts, which force you to, in effect, create thesis statements for each chapter.
Real-world example: Let’s say you’re writing a paper on the impact of remote work on employee productivity. Your main argument could be: “In this paper, I will argue that remote work significantly impacts employee productivity.”
As you can see, this tells the reader what the destination is But it’s a little vague, and doesn’t really prepare them for the detail you’ll have to bring in to elaborate upon that point. In other words, we haven’t told them what the stops are en route.
That’s where supporting ideas come in…
Step 2: Find Supporting Ideas
What to do: List two or three supporting points that reinforce your main argument. Each point should offer a different facet of support. These will typically form the basis of the various paragraphs or sections in the writing to come.
Real-world example: For our remote work paper, supporting points could be:
- Remote work improves work-life balance (paragraph/section one).
- Remote work cuts down on commute time (paragraph/section two).
- Remote work may lead to distractions at home (paragraph/section three).
Step 3: Keep It Concise
What to do: Combine your main argument and supporting points into one or two sentences.
Real-world example: “In this paper, I will argue that , remote work significantly boosts employee productivity by improving work-life balance and eliminating commute time, although it may also introduce distractions.”
You can see now that by combining the broad summary form step one with the specific ideas in step two, we’ve created a clear roadmap for where our argument will end up. We’ve told the reader what the destination is, and what the stops are en route.
Step 4: Make It Specific
What to do: Add specific metrics or criteria that can be measured or argued, if possible.
Real-world example: “In this paper, I will argue that , remote work has been shown to increase employee productivity by up to 35% by improving work-life balance and cutting down on average commute time by 1.5 hours per day, although it may also increase the likelihood of at-home distractions by 20%.”
Step 5: Test Its Strength
What to do: Evaluate your statement. Is it clear? Is it compelling? Does it invite discussion? You want your thesis statement to meet these criteria. It should also be open to evidence-based confirmation or refutation.
The example thesis statement we developed above is:
- Clear: It straightforwardly presents an argument.
- Compelling: It provides multiple angles (both pros and cons).
- Invites Discussion: It is not a foregone conclusion but rather invites evidence-based discussion on the extent and situations in which the pros and cons apply.
Step 6: Revise and Refine
Once you’ve written your thesis statement, it’s a good idea to revisit it after finishing your paper to ensure it still aligns with the content. If you’ve shifted your argument in any way, your thesis statement should reflect that.
Real-world example: After completing your paper, you may find that the focus has shifted slightly, to more of a psychological perspective on productivity. In this case, you could refine the thesis statement to: “In this paper, I will argue that, remote work increases employee productivity by up to 35% due to improved work-life balance and mental well-being, although it may raise the incidence of home-related distractions.”
Tips to Elevate Your PhD Thesis Sentences
- Use Powerful Vocabulary: Choose words that pack a punch.
- Appropriate Punctuation: A well-placed comma or semi-colon can make all the difference.
- Fluidity and Rhythm: Make it easy on the ears. Read it aloud and see how it flows.
Common Problems With Thesis Statements:
- Vagueness: The reader can see straight through academic mumbo-jumbo and they’ll be the first to spot when you are confused. Be clear about your point.
- Run-on Sentences: Long, complicated sentences can confuse the reader. Keep sentences concise, and use more than one sentence if you need to.
- Off-Topic Details: Stick to your main point. Tangents have no place in your thesis statements. The detail comes later.
As with everything in academic writing, there are no hard and fast rules. There’s only guidance. Writing at this level isn’t a tick-box exercise; it’s a craft that needs to be honed. That means that there’s some fluidity to how, or whether, you apply thesis statements to your writing and, if you do, the form they take. You might find that you need to include these kinds of statements throughout your writing, say for each new section or indeed for each new paragraph (in which case, they’ll be referred to as ‘topic sentences’, but the principle is the same). Or, if the writing is more more straightforward, you might just have one at the outset.
But however you approach it, keep your writing simple, and do all you can to avoid confusing the reader by showing them the path ahead.