Argue Is Not a Dirty Word: Taking a Stand in Your Thesis Statement -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Argue Is Not a Dirty Word: Taking a Stand in Your Thesis Statement

Kayla Skarbakka
By Kayla Skarbakka, Writing Consultant

Like many high schoolers across the country, I was assigned in my junior year to write a paper for the National Peace Essay Contest, a fantastic program that promotes education and conversation about peace and conflict resolution. My year, the contest’s theme was reconstruction. I chose my topic (the Croatian War of Independence), conducted my research (involving a bit too much Wikipedia—hey, I was 16!), drafted my essay, and submitted to my teacher, feeling pretty darn confident.

I got the essay back the next week with a middling grade and a big red X in my introduction, next to my thesis statement, which was something like “Reconstruction is a complicated process that can take years to complete.”

“But it’s true,” I complained after class.

“It also doesn’t say anything,” my teacher told me. “Where do you stand? What do you have to say?”

How, I wondered, could I possibly have anything unique to say on a topic like the Croatian War of Independence? The idea of taking a stand on a topic this important felt ludicrous. Now, I’m not saying that I could have made a well-reasoned argument about reconstruction as a high school junior, but my teacher was right. I played it safe. I was scared to say the wrong thing, so I didn’t say much of anything at all.

Just as many of us struggle to be confident in our language, many of us hesitate to take a stand in our papers, turning our thesis statements into broad observations or even citations of other authors’ ideas. Maybe we feel unqualified to offer our ideas, or maybe we’re nervous that someone will challenge our argument. The problem is that a bland thesis doesn’t offer content to the conversation.

Say that my family is arguing about politics at Thanksgiving dinner. Cousin A criticizes universal healthcare. Cousin B pokes a hole in Cousin A’s logic. They turn to me, and I say, “Universal healthcare sure is a controversial topic.”

Later, we’re arguing about military spending. Uncle X says we need more, Uncle Y says we need less. I say, “Americans have diverse ideas about defense.” A few more observations like that, and they’ll stop asking for my ideas at all.

In the case of a family debate, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but you don’t want to be left out of the debates in your own field. Your thesis statement is your opportunity to engage in vibrant and important scholarly conversations. (And if someone does challenge your argument? Fantastic! Disagreement and counterarguments are how scholars come closer to the truth.)

Here is my own argument: you’ll want to include an arguable thesis statement in every paper that you write here at Walden – even for assignments that don’t explicitly ask you to argue a position. Consider the following:

In this paper, I will discuss what I learned about child development in this course and how I have grown as an early childhood education teacher.

As a reader, I’m wondering, what did you learn? How have you grown? To quote my high school teacher, what do you have to say? A more specific, bolder argument would be stronger. For example:

With my new knowledge of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, I am better prepared to address the needs of my students.

Not a groundbreaking argument, maybe, but this revised sentence takes a clear, specific stand that the author can support throughout the rest of the paper.

Check out our tips for writing strong, arguable thesis statements, and remember that you are an expert whose arguments deserve to be heard – so start sharing them!

Other resources you might like:

WriteCast podcast episode #2: Thesis statements


  1. I love your example about family arguments! I think your point that often people struggle to be confident in their writing helps to illuminate (as you do) that writing thesis statements isn't always easy.

    In addition, it seems to me that students sometimes receive negative feedback if they "come off too strong." This can lead to feedback like "where's your proof?" or "is this really *always* true?" I know I encourage my students to hedge their writing by using terms such as "most," "many," and "often." While I think this is important in writing, I hadn't thought about how it makes the process of writing a thesis statement more difficult sometimes.

    Thanks for your great post. If you have a chance, you can read posts from our tutors at the University of Louisville Writing Center, at

    1. That's an excellent point! The difference between generalization and argument can certainly be fuzzy. One tip that we recommend is that thesis statements should not only be arguable but also specific and capable of advancement. That way, students can clarify the scope of the argument and also lay down the route by which they will support that argument. By meeting these three criteria - arguable, specific, and capable of advancement - students are often able to develop strong central arguments that avoid the trap of unsubstantiated generalizations or claims.

      Thanks again for this great comment, and for the link to your blog - I look forward to checking out your posts!

    2. Kayla always have valuable tips. I am an argumentative person. I argue for good causes. Now, that I am learning how to include that in scholarly writing, I accept who I am by really having something to say. I learned that by having something to say publicly people truly are listening to me. Hence, I want my peers to read my writing; I will say (write) what I mean and be concise.

    3. That's great, Jonica! Thanks for your comment!