How do you find the thesis of an essay?

A high school English teacher emailed me with a problem.

She said that the textbook she was using included essays with questions for understanding that the students were supposed to answer. One of the questions was, “In a sentence, what is the thesis of this essay?”

The teacher said the thesis statement the publisher provided in the teachers’ materials didn’t appear anywhere in the essay.

“How the hell am I supposed to find the thesis of an essay if it isn’t written anywhere in the essay?”

I have a feeling that saying, “by the preponderance of the evidence” will not help her.

4 thoughts on “How do you find the thesis of an essay?

    1. You’re right, of course, Cecelia.
      What I find baffling is that someone who had been through 12 years of public school, four years of college, a master’s program, and had taught English for eight years didn’t know that. There’s a problem somewhere.


      1. My impression was that she didn’t actually understand how to identify the point of an article in practice, though she might have been able to spit out conventional definitions of what “thesis of an essay” means.
        Those of us who figure out patterns without actually stopping to figure out how we knew what elements made up the pattern have a gift that the less fortunate have to earn by concentrated effort. Some folks understand the idea of the thesis unless someone drags them at least once through “this is how I figured out what the writer’s thesis is.”
        The older I grow, the more I believe that anything that “goes without saying” should be taught explicitly.


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