A thesis is the paper’s central claim or promise. It is an arguable claim—i.e., an assertion someone could reasonably argue against; as such, it provides unexpected insight, goes beyond superficial interpretations, or challenges, corrects, or extends other arguments.

The thesis is both the anchor and the compass of a paper. As anchor, it firmly grounds the claims, providing a stable focus point for the ideas that are floated around it. As compass, it helps the reader navigate through the claims it presents; it offers a roadmap of the central claim and the way it will be presented.

In the following student excerpts, you will see works that artfully incorporate strong central claims and a clear plan for the paper with nuance and detail; each of the selected theses entice the reader to read the full draft attentively. In the transition to college writing, writers usually recognize the need for more sophisticated arguments as our five paragraphs expand into five pages, a lab report, or a dissertation — as we move from a simple kayak to an unwieldy speedboat. While both an art and a science, the approach for writing a thesis for any type of project need not reinvent the wheel. Beginning with asking yourself these questions is a good start: what am I arguing and how am I arguing? The role of the thesis is central across all disciplines, despite differences in stylistic conventions.

In the following essays, “ The Presence of Loneliness in ‘Song of Myself’” and “Absurdist Consciousness and Post-Reflective Identity in Camus’ L’Etranger” we found examples of thesis statements that successfully articulated interesting arguments. We have curated the following collection of essay excerpts and accompanying commentary to demonstrate two forms that a successful thesis might take. While every type of assignment and each discipline has its own conventions for a thesis, we present a sampling of ways to construct a successful argument and commentary highlighting the process and pedagogy that we hope will serve as a resource for generating other effective theses.

The author


Samantha Jaroszewski is a first year PhD student in sociology. After completing her B.A.  at the University of North Carolina, she joined Princeton’s Writing Center. Pedagogically, she is particularly interested in teaching good writing (and good writing habits) through writing groups.