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 objective of your dissertation explains why you are undertaking your research. It should describe what you specifically want to achieve through your investigation and what you will study. You should identify this objective as part of your problem definition.
Formulating a dissertation objective
The key here is to remember that your goal is not to solve a problem, as this goes beyond your capacity as a researcher. Your objective should instead identify what your study itself will achieve.
For example, a company where you are interning may ask you to investigate why its Facebook page is receiving a declining number of “likes.” It’s likely that the company believes that understanding these causes will help it to solve the problem.
In this case, however, your goal is to focus on just the “why”; the company itself will use the results of your analysis to decide the “how” on its own.
If your work is more theoretical, your objective may be to explore if a particular model is relevant for a specific situation or to identify the attitudes that members of a sample population have on a given topic.
Remember, your objectives need to be grounded in your preliminary research and problem definition.
Example of a problem definition
Example dissertation objectives
The aim of the research is to determine how the teachers’ skills can be improved so that they are able to better recognize and assist gifted students.
The objective of the research is to use quantitative and qualitative research methods to gain insight into why the number of “likes” on the Facebook page is dropping among company X’s target audience.
Why do you need to set an objective for dissertation?
By setting an objective, you demonstrate the relevance of your research and ensure that everyone involved in it has the same expectations.
The objective reveals the relevance of your research, which may vary.
In theoretical research, the goal is often to expand existing knowledge on a particular subject. If your research is more practical, the objective may be more socially relevant. For instance, the above example about understanding the skills that would help teachers to better identify and guide gifted students has social relevance.
Create appropriate expectations
A good objective creates clear expectations and avoids problems later in the research process.
If you are writing your dissertation on a topic requested by a particular organization, it’s especially important to ensure that you and that “client” have the same expectations. Remember that your aim is to not to find a ready-made solution to a problem, as solving the problem is not your job.
Tips for identifying a good dissertation objective
Step 1: Define your problem
Your problem definition should serve as the basis for setting the objective of your dissertation.
Step 2: Identify the components of your dissertation objective
- The type of research you will undertake
- The relevance of the research
- The client’s needs/desires (if relevant)
Step 3: Formulate the objective using a standard structure
Examples of structures for an objective
This research aims to obtain knowledge and insight concerning… and to …
The objective of the study is to … by ….
You also need to create a problem statement
In addition to setting an objective, you also need to formulate a problem statement that describes the problem or issue that needs to be resolved.
On to your main research question!
Once you have established your objective and problem statement, it’s time to move on to formulating your main research question and associated sub-questions.