The thesis statement usually appears near the beginning of a paper. It can be the first sentence of an essay, but that often feels like a simplistic, unexciting beginning. It more frequently appears at or near the end of the first paragraph or two. Here is the first paragraph of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s essay The Crisis of American Masculinity. Notice how everything drives the reader toward the last sentence and how that last sentence clearly signals what the rest of this essay is going to do.
Sometimes you will not be able to identify these elements in your early drafts, but as you consider how your argument is developing and how your evidence supports your main idea, ask yourself, "What is the main point that I want to prove/discuss?" and "How will I convince the reader that this is true?" When you can answer these questions, then you can begin to refine the thesis statement.
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