Topic Sentences

27 Nov

Last week, we took a look at thesis statements. Just as the thesis statement establishes the main idea and focus for the complete essay, topic sentences establish the main idea and focus for the individual body paragraphs within the essay. Topic sentences also provide a place for the writer to connect that body paragraph back to the thesis statement; utilizing these components effectively can help to produce a cohesive piece of writing.

In academic writing, the topic sentence is typically the very first sentence in the body paragraph. Readers look to this first sentence to establish the focus of the paragraph, and every sentence that follows should connect back to the topic sentence. As each body paragraph should develop one point or idea, writers need to make sure that they first provide a strong topic sentence to start off the body paragraph, and that they do not deviate from the topic identified in their topic sentence by introducing new ideas or information as they develop the body paragraph. If a writer uncovers a new idea or point while constructing the body paragraph, they can revise the topic sentence (if appropriate) or develop a new paragraph (complete with a new topic sentence) to address that new point/idea.

Tips & Tricks for Topic Sentences:

  • Topic sentences should identify a claim. Thesis statements need to be defensible, and it is through body paragraphs that writers can begin to defend the thesis. Beginning each body paragraph with the claim or point that it is developing in support of the thesis statement allows writers to clearly show their argument.
  • Think of topic sentences as minature thesis statements. Try to capture the main idea of that paragraph, and its relevance to the essay as a whole, within the topic sentence.    
  • Start each body paragraph off with a strong topic sentence and follow it with reasons or examples that illustrate or develop the point or claim. An example, from The University of Ottawa’s Writing Center:  
    • Topic Sentence: Many fast food chains make their profits from adding a special ingredient called “forget sauce” to their foods.
      • This topic sentence identifies the overall focus or claim of the paragraph – “forget sauce”. Every sentence that follows will connect back to this main idea in some way.
    • Supporting Sentences: Made largely from edible oil products, this condiment is never listed on the menu. In addition, this well-kept industry secret is the reason why ingredients are never listed on the packaging of victuals sold by these restaurants. “Forget sauce” has a chemical property which causes temporary amnesia in consumers. After spending too much money on barely edible food bereft of any nutritional value, most consumers swear they will never repeat such a disagreeable experience. Within a short period, however, the chemical in “forget sauce” takes effect, and they can be depended upon to return and spend, older but no wiser.
      • All of the supporting sentence expand on the idea of “forget sauce” that is introduced in the topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. After effectively detailing and discussing “forget sauce”, the writer wraps up their body paragraph and prepares to transition into the next idea.
  • If you are having trouble constructing sound topic sentences, first determine the main point or claim for the body paragraph. If you notice more than one claim, consider if the two ideas are connected and need to be handled together, or if they should be split up into two separate body paragraphs. Once you have a clear idea of the main idea or claim for the body paragraph, try to capture that main idea in a statement, and tweak that statement until you have a strong topic sentence.
  • As always, feel free to visit the Writing Center or set up an online appointment for assistance! We are always happy to help!
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3 Responses to “Topic Sentences”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Paragraph Construction & Development | The Christ College Writing Center - June 12, 2015

    […] first sentence in your body paragraph is your topic sentence. Remember, your topic sentence should introduce the main point of your body paragraph to your […]

  2. Grammar Tips: Winter Review! | The Christ College Writing Center - December 9, 2015

    […] Topic Sentences […]

  3. Resources for Getting Started | The Christ College Writing Center - March 1, 2016

    […] Topic Sentences […]

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