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Placement of the thesis statement

The thesis statement usually belongs near the start of the essay. However, the exact placement can vary.

For a relatively simple, short essay, you could put the thesis statement as the first sentence. Then, the rest of the first paragraph discusses what you’re going to talk about in the rest of the essay. By the time you get to the second paragraph, you’re already into the first part of the essay - you’ve finished the introduction. This is OK for simple, straight to the point essays.

Thesis statement placement in a simple essay

Thesis statement. Blah blah blah - rest of introductory paragraph describing what we’re going to talk about in the essay.

Second paragraph - straight into the discussion of the first topic.

However, putting the thesis statement as the very first sentence in the essay doesn’t work as well once your essays get a little longer and more complex. Reading the thesis statement in the first sentence can be a bit of a put off for the reader - there’s no warm-up for the reader before the statement is introduced.

More sophisticated writing (and face it, that’s what you’re usually trying to do, or at least appear to do) prepares the reader for the thesis statement. It’s sort of like trying to get someone to do something for you. You’re usually better off gradually working your way to the request, rather than asking straight out:

Handy Hint - How not to ask for something

James: Can you lend me $20?

Sally: No!

James: Please?

Sally: No!

I’m sure you’ve heard people asking something straight out. Unless the person they’re asking owes them a favour, they’re not that likely to get what they ask for. Most people (even if they don’t admit it) can be manipulated just a little to be in a more receptive state of mind for a request. Watch!

Handy Hint - How to ask for something

James:           I’ve got to go to soccer training tonight.

Sally:            That should be lots of fun.

James:          Yeah, it will be exhausting.

Sally:            I hope you don’t collapse.

James:          Yeah, well if I get some food into me now I should be alright.

Sally:            Yeah, what are you planning to eat?

James:          I don’t know ... (looks into wallet) Oh man, I don’t have any money.

Sally:            What’d you do with it?

James:           Oh, that’s right, I had to lend it to Mum. I don’t suppose you’ve got $20 I could borrow, please, just to get some food?

Sally:            Oh, OK. Here you go (gives James a twenty dollar note).

James has set up some background information - he’s got to go to soccer training tonight. To get through soccer training he’s going to need lots of energy, which means he’d better eat well. Then he ‘discovers’ he has no money, so he won’t be able to buy lunch. On top of that, the reason he doesn’t have any money isn’t his fault - he’s ‘lent’ the money to his Mum (sure he has!) Now that Sally has the background information, she would feel a lot worse about saying no to him, than she would if he’d just asked straight out.

The same goes for a thesis statement - you’re trying to sell something to your audience. It helps if you ‘butter up’ your audience first, especially if it’s a potentially hostile audience that might disagree with your thesis statement.

So use your first paragraph to work into your thesis statement - to focus the reader’s attention on the general topic (and in a direction that you want the reader to focus). That way, they’ll be warmed-up when you introduce the thesis statement itself, which can happen somewhere near the end of the first paragraph, or even in a second paragraph if you want an extended ‘lead-in’ to the thesis statement.

Thesis statement placement in a good essay

Introductory sentence. Background / lead in sentence. Background / lead in sentence. Background / lead in sentence. Thesis statement.

Second paragraph - straight into the discussion of the first topic.