Transition metal oxides are capable of a wide range of work functions. This quality allows them to be used in many applications that involve charge transfer with adsorbed molecules, for example as heterogeneous catalysts, as charge-injection layers in organic electronics, and as electrodes in fuel cells. Chemical and structural factors can alter transition-metal oxide work functions, often making their work functions difficult to control. Little is known about the effects of the cation oxidation state and point defects on the oxide work function. It is necessary to understand how such chemical and structural factors affect work functions in order to controllably tune transition metal oxides for desired applications. Here, a correlation between the oxide work function and cation oxidation state is demonstrated. This correlation is attributed to the change in cation electronegativity with oxidation state. A model is presented that relates the work function to the oxygen deficiency for d0 oxides in the limit of dilute oxygen vacancies. It is proposed that the rapid initial decrease in work function, observed for d0 oxides, is caused by an increase in the density of donor-like defect states. It is also shown that oxides tend to have decreased work functions near a metal/metal-oxide interface as a consequence of the relationship between defects and work function. These insights provide guidelines for tuning transition metal oxide work functions.