An effective thesis puts forth an arguable claim about an important problem and hones that claim by gesturing toward the essay’s supporting proofs. It thus has two parts:

  • The Claim. This is the part that puts forth what you think—as opposed to what others might imagine—about your topic. A thesis-claim should not be merely descriptive or conventional. Instead, it should advance a proposition you can imagine others disagreeing with.
  • The Support. This is the part where you indicate why your reader should believe your claim. The support points forward to the body of the essay, weaving together key terms that signal supporting ideas in your body paragraphs.

The following thesis features a challenging claim and specific support. It comes from an essay about a colonial-era story of settlers captured by Native Americans.

Mary Jemison’s story challenged European stereotypes about “savages” by placing her violent kidnapping in context of the Native Americans’ values of family loyalty and warrior honor.

This thesis puts forth a strong claim: despite what you might think about colonial stereotypes of wild “savages,” this story of kidnapping and captivity presented a sympathetic view of Native American culture. It also provides specific support, signaling that the essay will use ideas of “family loyalty” and “warrior honor” to place the violent parts of the story in a more favorable light.

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Take the Thesis Quiz

Important! If you are taking this quiz for HIST 1483 or 1493, complete it on your instructor’s Canvas page instead of clicking the red button.

What To Avoid

All support/no claim: A thesis without a claim leaves one asking, “and your point is?”

This paper will analyze Mary Jemison’s description of family life, morality, and violence in Seneca culture.

All claim/no support: A bold claim with no support leaves one asking, “Why!? How!?”

Though her story includes frightening details of her violent abduction, I still think Jemison challenged European stereotypes about “savages.”

Listing. Strive to connect your supporting points instead of listing them randomly, as in a five-paragraph theme. Emphasizing the causal relations between the parts of your thesis adds to your argumentative edge. What led to what? What explains what?

Listed: The slave owners justified their inhuman cruelty using ideas of religious discipline, of paternalism, and of the supposed “crimes” of the Africans.

Connected: The slave owners justified this inhuman cruelty by using the slaves’ “crimes” to imply they were like children who needed correction with Christian discipline.

Sample Thesis Statements

The thesis statements below come from finalists for the David W. Levy Prize for student writing in the U.S. History Survey. This collection shows that thesis statements can take many forms. Sometimes they are short, bold declarations; sometimes they are encapsulations of the essay’s structure that take two sentences to express! In each of these examples, however, you can discern an arguable claim and some indication of how the essay will support that claim in the body paragraphs.

(We have highlighted the thesis statements for your convenience; you should not underline your thesis in your submitted essay)

Survey of the Marine Corps as a Distinct Branch
Of the United States Military – 1775 to 1805
By Abigail Terselic
Levy Prize Winner, Fall ‘16
[Click Here to Read Full Essay]

When the “shot heard ‘round the world” sparked the American War for Independence in 1775, the emerging American nation was rattled, but only for a moment.1 The iron will of the Colonial forces provided the foundation for unity against the British Crown. Initially, the Colonial militia did not compare to the British forces, which had a thriving mother nation backing them and a rich history in strong, successful warfare. However, as the Colonies matured in resolve, they gained support, personnel, supplies, and unity. In addition to increasing the size of the Continental army, the Continental Congress decided to create a completely new division of the armed forces, one with explicit purpose and manifest strength. Thus, two battalions of Marines originated as an elite arm of the Colonial militia. The Marines faced their first challenge in the War for Independence, as they demonstrated their unique training and abilities, fighting alongside the Continental forces. After the victorious American Revolution, the new nation maintained Marines as part of its general military force. Gradually, they were employed more and more, until they became an official branch of the United States military in 1798. A mere six years later, the Marines gained universal recognition and respect as a powerful, invaluable asset to the rising United States by their famous victory in the First Barbary War in 1805. From its first roots in 1775 to its famous victory in the First Barbary War in 1805, the US Marine Corps became known for selectivity of personnel, discipline within its ranks and the ranks of other forces, and effectiveness in eliminating enemies through amphibious assault and hand-to-hand combat, all of which set the Marine Corps apart in mission and effectiveness from every other branch of the United States armed forces.


Law and Order: Nixon’s Rhetoric and the Southern Strategy
By Audrey Hopewell
Levy Prize Winner, Spring ‘17
[Click Here to Read Full Essay]

Today’s familiar Democratic and Republican party coalitions have not always existed; rather, they began to emerge in the 1960s as demographic and geographic groups shifted party alliances. This paper focuses on one factor in the party realignment: Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. Nixon’s 1968 campaign was characterized by a balance between appeals to conservative, anti-integration Southern white voters and the risk of alienating Northern liberals. To implement this “Southern strategy,” Nixon employed ostensibly race-neutral language that actually had coded racial meaning. This color-blind rhetoric was belied by the actions of the administration and Nixon’s rhetorical shift to the right after taking office.


The Indian Removal Act and Resulting Factions among the Cherokee Nation
By Bridgett L. Talley
Levy Prize Winner, Spring ‘16
[Click Here to Read Full Essay]

On May 28, 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the forcible relocation of southern Indian tribes to the flatlands of America. While this signature only took a moment, consequences of it would change the Cherokee nation forever. Even before the Act was signed into law strong opinions on it were rampant among both American citizens and tribal members. Residents of Georgia wanted the entirety of the land in their state ceded to them; they did not see their native neighbors as friends or equals, though they were considered one of the five “civilized” tribes. The idea of Manifest Destiny aided the American opinion that they were entitled to this land despite the fact it was home to Natives. Following the legislation, many Cherokees were divided on how to proceed. This created factions within the tribe, causing hostilities between them. While a relatively small percentage agreed to make the move, most were insistent on staying in their ancestral lands. Ultimately, the Trail of Tears brought the thousands of Natives who did not agree to move west of the Mississippi involuntarily to new lands, killing many in the process and causing strained relations between the factions that had previously separated. The Indian Removal Act of the 1830s factionalized the Cherokee Nation into the Patriot Party, Treaty Party, and the Old Settlers because of conflicting land disputes in Georgia and Indian Territories.