Thesis and Purpose Statements
Use the guidelines below to learn the differences between thesis and purpose statements
In the first stages of writing, thesis or purpose statements are usually rough or ill-formed and are useful primarily as planning tools.
A thesis statement or purpose statement will emerge as you think and write about a topic. The statement can be restricted or clarified and eventually worked into an introduction.
As you revise your paper, try to phrase your thesis or purpose statement in a precise way so that it matches the content and organization of your paper.
A thesis statement is a sentence that makes an assertion about a topic and predicts how the topic will be developed. It does not simply announce a topic: it says something about the topic.
Good: X has made a significant impact on the teenage population due to its . . .
Bad: In this paper, I will discuss X.
A thesis statement makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of the paper. It summarizes the conclusions that the writer has reached about the topic.
A thesis statement is generally located near the end of the introduction. Sometimes in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or an entire paragraph.
A thesis statement is focused and specific enough to be proven within the boundaries of the paper. Key words (nouns and verbs) should be specific, accurate, and indicative of the range of research, thrust of the argument or analysis, and the organization of supporting information.
A purpose statement announces the purpose, scope, and direction of the paper. It tells the reader what to expect in a paper and what the specific focus will be.
Common beginnings include:
"This paper examines . . .," "The aim of this paper is to . . .," and "The purpose of this essay is to . . ."
A purpose statement makes a promise to the reader about the development of the argument but does not preview the particular conclusions that the writer has drawn.
A purpose statement usually appears toward the end of the introduction. The purpose statement may be expressed in several sentences or even an entire paragraph.
A purpose statement is specific enough to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. Purpose statements are common in research papers in some academic disciplines, while in other disciplines they are considered too blunt or direct. If you are unsure about using a purpose statement, ask your instructor.
This paper will examine the ecological destruction of the Sahel preceding the drought and the causes of this disintegration of the land. The focus will be on the economic, political, and social relationships which brought about the environmental problems in the Sahel.
Sample purpose and thesis statements
The following example combines a purpose statement and a thesis statement (bold).
The goal of this paper is to examine the effects of Chile's agrarian reform on the lives of rural peasants. The nature of the topic dictates the use of both a chronological and a comparative analysis of peasant lives at various points during the reform period. . . The Chilean reform example provides evidence that land distribution is an essential component of both the improvement of peasant conditions and the development of a democratic society. More extensive and enduring reforms would likely have allowed Chile the opportunity to further expand these horizons.
For more tips about writing thesis statements, take a look at our new handout on Developing a Thesis Statement.
The purpose statement
The purpose statement is made up of three major components: (1) the motivation driving your dissertation; (2) the significance of the research you plan to carry out; and (3) the research questions you are going to address. Starting the first major chapter of your dissertation (usually Chapter One: Introduction), the purpose statement establishes the intent of your entire dissertation. Just like a great song that needs a great "hook", the purpose statement needs to draw the reader in and keep their attention. This article explains the purpose of each of these three components that make up the purpose statement.
The "motivation" driving your dissertation
Your choice of dissertation topic should be driven by some kind of motivation. This motivation is usually a problem or issue that you feel needs to be addressed or solved. This part of the purpose statement aims to answer the question: Why should we care? In other words, why should we be interested in the research problem or issue that you want to address?
The types of motivation that may drive your dissertation will vary depending on the subject area you are studying, as well as the specific dissertation topic you are interested in. However, some of the broad types of motivation that undergraduate and master's level dissertation students try to address are based around (a) individuals, (b) organisations, and/or (c) society.
Individuals face many problems and issues ranging from those associated with welfare, to health, prosperity, freedoms, security, and so on. From a health perspective, you may be concerned with the rise in childhood obesity and the potential need for regulation to combat the advertising of fast food to children. In terms of welfare and freedoms, you may be interested in the introduction of new legislation that aims to protect discrimination in the workplace, and its implications for small businesses.
Organisations also have a wide range of problems and issues that need to be addressed, whether relating to people, finances, operations, competition, regulations, and so forth. From a people perspective, you may be interested in how organisations use flexible working options to alleviate employee stress and burnout. In terms of regulations, you may be concerned with the growth in Internet piracy and the ways that organisations are dealing with such a threat.
Society is another lens through which you can view problems and issues that need to be addressed. These may relate to a wide range of societal risks or other problems and issues such as factory farming, the potential legalisation of marijuana, the health-related effects of talking on cell phones, and so forth. You may be interested in understanding individuals? views towards the potential legalisation of marijuana; or how these views are influenced by individuals? knowledge of the side-effects of marijuana use.
When communicating the motivation driving your dissertation to the reader, it is important to explain why the problem or issue you are addressing is interesting: that is, why should the reader care? It is not sufficient to simply state what the problem or issue is.
The "significance" of the research you plan to carry out
Whilst the motivation component of your purpose statement explains why the reader should care about your dissertation, the significance component justifies the value of the dissertation. In other words: What contribution will the dissertation make to the literature? Why should anyone bother to perform this research? What is its value?
Even though dissertations are rarely "ground-breaking" at the undergraduate or master's level (and are not expected to be), they should still be significant in some way. This component of the Introduction chapter, which follows the motivation section, should explain what this significance is. In this respect, your research may be significant in one of a number of ways. It may:
Capitalise on a recent event
Reflect a break from the past
Target a new audience
Address a flaw in a previous study
Expand a particular field of study
Help an individual, group, organisation, or community
When writing your purpose statement, you will need to explain the relationship between the motivation driving your dissertation and the significance of the research you plan to carry out. These two factors - motivation and significance - must be intrinsically linked; that is, you cannot have one without the other. The key point is that you must be able to explain the relationship between the motivation driving your dissertation and one (or more) of the types of significance highlighted in the bullets above.
The "research questions" you are going to address
The motivation and significance components of your Introduction chapter should signal to the reader the general intent of your dissertation. However, the research questions that you set out indicate the specific intent of your dissertation. In other words, your research questions tell the reader exactly what you intend to try and address (or answer) throughout the dissertation process.
In addition, since there are different types of research question (i.e., quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods research questions), it should be obvious from the significance component of your purpose statement which of these types of research question you intend to tackle [see the section, Research Questions, to learn more].
Having established the research questions you are going to address, this completes the purpose statement. At this point, the reader should be clear about the overall intent of your dissertation. If you are in the process of writing up your dissertation, we would recommend including a Chapter Summaries section after the Research Questions section of your Introduction chapter. This helps to let the reader know what to expect next from your dissertation.