Building an argument: thesis statement

time to complete: 15 minutes

So, you’ve analysed your essay title/question and you made sure you understand it. What’s next?

The next step is to type a one/two-sentence answer to your question. This answer explains what your argument will be. It’s often called your thesis or thesis statement.

It does not need to be perfect – you can improve it and add to it later. In the planning stage, it does not even need to be in complete sentences.

Below is the applied linguistics essay title we saw earlier and the thesis statement for this essay (note & final version). Read them and then complete the task that follows.

Essay title

Discuss how a person’s cultural background can impact on their conversational style (for example, speech act modification, patterns of turn-taking, silence, politeness, overlapping talk etc.) and discuss the possible implications of this for intercultural (mis)communication and/or for language teaching.

Thesis statement

Note version
Final version
  • Cultural background affects turn-taking
  • East Asian cultures (focus on Korea?): pausing is common, social hierarchy important, titles & verbs show social status
  • English language teachers – don’t expect students to reply immediately in class.
  • Teach students what is normal in spoken interactions in English.


Cultural background makes turn-taking challenging. In many East Asian cultures, pausing as a ‘thinking pause’ is common, turn taking is closely influenced by social hierarchy, and social status is reflected in language use. English language teachers need to not expect students to reply immediately in class and explicitly teach them what is normal in spoken interactions in English.

Task: Answer the questions to check whether you understood how the thesis statement above matches the essay title.

Do I always need a thesis statement?

Thesis statements are common in essays, but essays are just one type of academic writing. You might have to write other academic genres e.g. a case study, a literature survey, a critique, a report, etc., so your thesis statement might look more like a statement that introduces the purposescope or structure of your assignment.

Let’s look at examples of introductions from different disciplines and examine the ‘thesis’ statement.

[1] Literature Survey from Biochemistry

Assignment title/question: What are we learning from comparative microbial genomics?

As well as outlining studies involved in the identification of genes that are conserved between species to allow clarification of their phylogeny, this essay will discuss the uses of comparative microbial genomics to improve our current understanding of the genetics behind virulence of important pathogens.

[2] Methodology Recount from Engineering

Assignment title/question: Use of the M16C/62 Microcontroller Analogue-to-Digital-Converter to Measure & Control Temperature

The purpose of this assignment is to demonstrate the use of an Analogue-to-Digital-Converter on the development board and the use of a temperature transducer/heater on the teaching rig.

[3] Narrative Recount from Social Work

Assignment title/question: Responding to Others Interview

This essay will describe and critically assess the methods used to construct the “Responding to Others” interview. It will highlight any strengths and weaknesses that became apparent during the interview and look at ways of developing better interviewing skills.


The extracts in this webpage come from the British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, which was developed at the Universities of Warwick, Reading and Oxford Brookes under the directorship of Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner (formerly of the Centre for Applied Linguistics [previously called CELTE], Warwick), Paul Thompson (formerly of the Department of Applied Linguistics, Reading) and Paul Wickens (Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes), with funding from the ESRC (RES000-23-0800).”