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Developing Your Topic & Thesis Statement

Choosing a topic to write about can be tricky.  You should always keep three things in mind:

1) Previous Knowledge-- Is this a topic you already know something about? It is acceptable if the answer is "no," but in that case, you will need to do more basic searching to understand your topic fully.

2) Course Content-- Does this topic reflect an idea that you are learning about in the course you're writing for?  If it doesn't directly relate, is there an angle you could take that would? 

3) Personal experience or interest-- Is this a topic that will keep your interest long enough for you to write an effective paper about it?  If you're not interested in writing it, it won't be that interesting to read.

Also, remember to think about multiple facets and angles for your topic.  If your paper is meant to be argumentative- is there an argument to prove here?  In other words, are there two or more sides to the issue? 

If you need help with this, or any other part of the writing process, please click to contact the Student Learning Center at The College at Brockport. 

Subject= Big Picture

Keyword= Details

Examples:  I search for "horcrux."  This is my subject.  My keywords would be things like "cup," "ring," "diary," diadem," "necklace," and "snake." 


I search for "cars" online. This is my subject, but my keywords could be makes or models, or features like "four door" or "coupe." 

To use that idea in academic research: I am writing a paper about "Abraham Lincoln." He is my subject.  My keywords might be things like "law career," "presidency," "Mary Todd Lincoln," "American Civil War," "Gettysburg Address," or the "Emancipation Proclaimation."

Keywords can help you narrow a topic that is too broad, so keep that in mind if you are getting too many results. 


Using Google & Wikipedia to Create Search Terms

How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned

Even if your assignment doesn’t ask a specific question, your thesis statement still needs to answer a question about the issue you’d like to explore. In this situation, your job is to figure out what question you’d like to write about.

A good thesis statement will usually include the following four attributes:

  • take on a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree
  • deal with a subject that can be adequately treated given the nature of the assignment
  • express one main idea
  • assert your conclusions about a subject

Let’s see how to generate a thesis statement for a social policy paper.

Brainstorm the topic.
Let’s say that your class focuses upon the problems posed by changes in the dietary habits of Americans. You find that you are interested in the amount of sugar Americans consume.

You start out with a thesis statement like this:

Sugar consumption.

This fragment isn’t a thesis statement. Instead, it simply indicates a general subject. Furthermore, your reader doesn’t know what you want to say about sugar consumption.

Narrow the topic.
Your readings about the topic, however, have led you to the conclusion that elementary school children are consuming far more sugar than is healthy.

You change your thesis to look like this:

Reducing sugar consumption by elementary school children.

This fragment not only announces your subject, but it focuses on one segment of the population: elementary school children. Furthermore, it raises a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree, because while most people might agree that children consume more sugar than they used to, not everyone would agree on what should be done or who should do it. You should note that this fragment is not a thesis statement because your reader doesn’t know your conclusions on the topic.

Take a position on the topic.
After reflecting on the topic a little while longer, you decide that what you really want to say about this topic is that something should be done to reduce the amount of sugar these children consume.

You revise your thesis statement to look like this:

More attention should be paid to the food and beverage choices available to elementary school children.

This statement asserts your position, but the terms more attention and food and beverage choices are vague.

Use specific language.
You decide to explain what you mean about food and beverage choices, so you write:

Experts estimate that half of elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar.

This statement is specific, but it isn’t a thesis. It merely reports a statistic instead of making an assertion.

Make an assertion based on clearly stated support.
You finally revise your thesis statement one more time to look like this:

Because half of all American elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar, schools should be required to replace the beverages in soda machines with healthy alternatives.

Notice how the thesis answers the question, “What should be done to reduce sugar consumption by children, and who should do it?” When you started thinking about the paper, you may not have had a specific question in mind, but as you became more involved in the topic, your ideas became more specific. Your thesis changed to reflect your new insights.

This information can be found in its original form at the University of Indiana at Bloomington's Writing Tutorial Services webpage:

Last Updated: Mar 26, 2019 12:36 PM
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