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Argument Structure and Thesis Statements

Planning an Argument


The first step is deciding on a topic you wish to learn more about or resolving a problem. 


Any topic for which you write will need to be placed in context. The context (or situation) is an important limiter for your argument. Keeping your argument contained within specific boundaries focuses your argument and limits the extent of your search for evidence and support. Thinking deeply and brainstorming about your topic and its context will lead you to the next step in planning and focusing your argument, which is the Problem Statement. Begin with the 5W Questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

Exploration of even more questions arising from your initial questions will help you discover some issues, gaps in service, or problems associated with your topic. The issue you identify as most important is the foundation of your problem statement.

Problem Statement

The issue you identify should be described in a problem statement that is two sentences in length. Your problem statement should respond to the following: 1) What is the problem?  2) Why is it important to solve the problem? 3) Are there any other issues associated with the problem? 

The following is a sample problem statement that effectively describes the context, problem, issues, and solution:

Townsville General Hospital (where) operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As such, patient needs must be addressed all around the clock. For the overnight shift (when), there are currently no cardiology technologists scheduled (what), which can create issues for emergency staff (who). Some patients wait for four hours or more for a medical laboratory assistant to administer an electrocardiogram (ECG), a task better suited for a cardiology technologist to perform and interpret. This results in poorer patient care and worse health outcomes (why).The hospital should always have a cardiology technologist available, even if they are only on call for the overnight shift (how).


Temple University provides a list of questions you can ask to help you develop a problem statement: click here.

Once you have a clearly written and defined problem statement, you can brainstorm possible solutions to the problem. Your proposed solution, becomes the foundation of your thesis statement.

Thesis Statement

Your argument is summed up in a thesis statement of 1-2 sentences. Your thesis statement is the whole point - the main point - of your argument. It is the very starting point of your argument because all claims and all supporting points must be connected to the thesis. Because of its importance as the foundation of your argument, you are advised to spend time developing your thesis before you begin searching for evidence and writing on your assignment. The next tab in this guide provides more resources on the topic of thesis statements.

        Remember this:

  1. The thesis statement is the most important sentence in your paper (discussion).
  2. The thesis statement is the most frequently revised sentence in all writers' papers.

Purpose and Audience

A useful strategy in persuasive communications is clearly defining your purpose and your audience before deciding on how you will advocate for your position. Having a clear vision of your purpose and audience will help you focus as well as purposefully plan your communication strategy. 

Purpose Statement

This one sentence statement is based on "to" + verb, for example, My purpose is to advocate for harm reduction programs in ......

Other verbs you might use in a persuasive argument are to persuade, to convince, to argue, etc.  For the purposes of this particular assignment, purpose statements based on descriptive type actions (e.g., to describe, to show, etc.) are not appropriate.


Your audience is composed of the person or persons you are trying to convince of your position. To whom are you speaking? Who will make the decisions about the topic of your advocacy? Are you educating student colleagues? Are you showing your instructor that you are informed on your topic?  

Your audience will help you decide on your tone (language), types of evidence, and argument.


Additional Resources

"Argumentative Thesis" by  Excelsior Online Writing Lab (OWL): Creative Commons -4.0
"Developing Strong Thesis Statements" by Perdue Online Writing Lab
"Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements" by Perdue Online Writing Lab