How To Write an Effective Theme Statement (Plus Definition)

Updated February 3, 2023

Theme statements provide an explanation of how an author shows their views and values within a text. Writing an effective theme statement helps you explain the universal ideas present in a work of writing and connect those ideas to everyday life. Whether you're analyzing a piece of literature or sharing your ideas through academic writing, learning to craft effective theme statements can improve your writing abilities. 

In this article, we define theme statements, explain how to write a theme statement and offer tips to help you make an impact with your statement.

What is a theme statement?

A theme statement is a brief description of the central idea conveyed in a piece of writing. Theme statements describe the overall ideas shown through the characters, conflict and plot in novels or short stories. In essays, articles or other pieces of writing that incorporate an author's perspective, you can find the theme in the writer's repeated central message or idea. Themes show ideals the author wishes to express and often reflect views about life, human nature and society.

Writers, students and teachers often use theme statements to complete a literary analysis after reading a text. Professionals who work in literature or publishing may also use theme statements to summarize and review books for marketing and publication. Theme statements allow writers to explain the big ideas in a text and make connections to other works and topics. While a thesis statement directly presents an author's intent in a piece of writing, a theme statement is implicit. To determine a theme, the reader makes their own judgment based on how the author presents their ideas throughout a story. 

Related: How To Write a Thesis Statement (With Examples)

How to write a theme statement

Consider the following advice to help you write a comprehensive theme statement:

1. Read the work thoroughly

Before writing your theme statement, it's important that you read and fully understand the material. While reading the text, consider noting and recording the characters, plot, writing style and author's perspective. Use this information to determine the central message of the writing and interpret the author's intended theme. Consider taking notes as you read by tracking important plot events, repeated ideas and character development at the end of each chapter or even as you read. You can also perform a literary analysis after you finish reading to help you interpret the content.

Related: Summary vs. Analysis: What's the Difference?

2. Identify conflicts and central ideas

After thoroughly reading the material, identify the central conflict and ideas recurring throughout the content. Consider the values, motives or interests of characters shown through actions and dialog, especially those that frequently appear throughout the text. Evaluate what caused the main conflict and how the conflict was resolved. Using this information to determine the author's central message can help you organize your thoughts before writing a theme statement.

Related: 7 Types of Internal Conflict in Literature (Plus How To Use Them)

3. Consider the author's perspective

In order to understand an author's motivation for writing a piece of literature, do some research to gain insight into their perspective. Try to develop an understanding of their background, life experiences, beliefs and motivations. It's also important to consider the historical context of the author as their core values are often shaped by the society of their lifetime. This can help you form a better understanding of the intentions behind the text and the message an author wants to send to readers through their writing. 

Related: The Comparative Essay: How To Write One

4. State the theme

Now that you've formed an interpretation of the central theme, write your theme statement. Theme statements typically contain only one or two sentences, making it important to write concise, universal statements that omit specific details about the text. Consider following a template like the one below as you write a theme statement:

In [name of the piece of writing], the author presents the idea that [central message]. 

Related: 14 Creative Writing Tips (Plus 5 Jobs in this Career Field)

5. Edit for clarification

Before finalizing your theme statement, edit your work for clarity. Consider any instances of repetition, complex wording or phrasing or areas that need more clarification. Careful editing can help your theme statement better express the central message of the text.

Related: What Is Developmental Editing? A Definitive Guide

Tips for writing a theme statement

Below are some additional tips to help you write a successful theme statement:

Keep it general

Theme statements function as introductory phrases that introduce the author's perspective as shown through their work. An effective theme statement can also apply to other pieces of literature. When creating a theme statement, use general terms like people, parents or siblings instead of specific character names. Avoid mentioning specific events in the text but make generalizations that you can later explain with specific details from the text. 

For example, instead of writing that Romeo and Juliet's deaths show that prejudice can lead to tragedy, an effective theme statement might state that the outcome of unchecked prejudice can contribute to a tragic ending. 

Related: 5 Basic Writing Skills and How To Improve and Highlight Them

Avoid cliches

A theme statement works as a thought-provoking idea that allows you to share insight about a text. Instead of writing a cliched statement like "love conquers all" or "be true to yourself," think deeply about the author's purpose and share how the plot or central ideas form a unique perspective about reality. This is especially relevant for academic writing where teachers and professors expect original analysis from students. 

Related: The Writing Process: Over 45 Tips on Writing

Remain objective

Theme statements offer observations about the human condition. Compose your theme statement without a moral directive or advice. Instead, share what the author seems to observe about life. Try to portray the author's perspective in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way without suggesting how your readers can respond to the author's ideas or influencing the central message with your own opinions.


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