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- How to Write Topic Sentences | 4 Steps, Examples & Purpose
How to Write Topic Sentences | 4 Steps, Examples & Purpose
Published on July 21, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on June 5, 2023.
Every paragraph in your paper needs a topic sentence . The topic sentence expresses what the paragraph is about. It should include two key things:
- The topic of the paragraph
- The central point of the paragraph.
After the topic sentence, you expand on the point zwith evidence and examples.
To build a well-structured argument, you can also use your topic sentences to transition smoothly between paragraphs and show the connections between your points.
Table of contents
Writing strong topic sentences, topic sentences as transitions between paragraphs, topic sentences that introduce more than one paragraph, where does the topic sentence go, frequently asked questions about topic sentences.
Topic sentences aren’t the first or the last thing you write—you’ll develop them throughout the writing process. To make sure every topic sentence and paragraph serves your argument, follow these steps.
Step 1: Write a thesis statement
The first step to developing your topic sentences is to make sure you have a strong thesis statement . The thesis statement sums up the purpose and argument of the whole paper.
Thesis statement example
Food is an increasingly urgent environmental issue, and to reduce humans’ impact on the planet, it is necessary to change global patterns of food production and consumption.
Step 2: Make an essay outline and draft topic sentences
Next, you should make an outline of your essay’s structure , planning what you want to say in each paragraph and what evidence you’ll use.
At this stage, you can draft a topic sentence that sums up the main point you want to make in each paragraph. The topic sentences should be more specific than the thesis statement, but always clearly related to it.
Topic sentence example
Research has consistently shown that the meat industry has a significant environmental impact .
Step 3: Expand with evidence
The rest of the paragraph should flow logically from the topic sentence, expanding on the point with evidence, examples, or argumentation. This helps keep your paragraphs focused: everything you write should relate to the central idea expressed in the topic sentence.
In our example, you might mention specific research studies and statistics that support your point about the overall impact of the meat industry.
Step 4: Refine your topic sentences
Topic sentences usually start out as simple statements. But it’s important to revise them as you write, making sure they match the content of each paragraph.
A good topic sentence is specific enough to give a clear sense of what to expect from the paragraph, but general enough that it doesn’t give everything away. You can think of it like a signpost: it should tell the reader which direction your argument is going in.
To make your writing stronger and ensure the connections between your paragraphs are clear and logical, you can also use topic sentences to create smooth transitions. To improve sentence flow even more, you can also utilize the paraphrase tool .
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As you write each topic sentence, ask yourself: how does this point relate to what you wrote in the preceding paragraph? It’s often helpful to use transition words in your topic sentences to show the connections between your ideas.
Emphasize and expand
If the paragraph goes into more detail or gives another example to make the same point, the topic sentence can use words that imply emphasis or similarity (for example, furthermore , indeed , in fact , also ).
Indeed , cattle farming alone is responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions.
Summarize and anticipate
If the paragraph turns to a different aspect of the same subject, the topic sentence can briefly sum up the previous paragraph and anticipate the new information that will appear in this one.
While beef clearly has the most dramatic footprint, other animal products also have serious impacts in terms of emissions, water and land use.
Compare and contrast
If the paragraph makes a comparison or introduces contrasting information, the topic sentence can use words that highlight difference or conflict (for example, in contrast , however , yet , on the other hand ).
However , the environmental costs of dietary choices are not always clear-cut; in some cases, small-scale livestock farming is more sustainable than plant-based food production.
You can also imply contrast or complicate your argument by formulating the topic sentence as a question.
Is veganism the only solution, or are there more sustainable ways of producing meat and dairy?
Sometimes you can use a topic sentence to introduce several paragraphs at once.
All of the examples above address the environmental impact of meat-eating versus veganism. Together, they make up one coherent part of a larger argument, so the first paragraph could use a topic sentence to introduce the whole section.
In countries with high levels of meat consumption, a move towards plant-based diets is the most obvious route to making food more sustainable. Research has consistently shown that the meat industry has significant environmental impacts.
The topic sentence usually goes at the very start of a paragraph, but sometimes it can come later to indicate a change of direction in the paragraph’s argument.
Given this evidence of the meat industry’s impact on the planet, veganism seems like the only environmentally responsible option for consumers. However, the environmental costs of dietary choices are not always clear-cut; in some cases, small-scale livestock farming is more sustainable than plant-based food production.
In this example, the first sentence summarizes the main point that has been made so far. Then the topic sentence indicates that this paragraph will address evidence that complicates or contradicts that point.
In more advanced or creative forms of academic writing , you can play with the placement of topic sentences to build suspense and give your arguments more force. But if in doubt, to keep your research paper clear and focused, the easiest method is to place the topic sentence at the start of the paragraph.
View topic sentences in an example essay
A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.
Topic sentences help keep your writing focused and guide the reader through your argument.
In an essay or paper , each paragraph should focus on a single idea. By stating the main idea in the topic sentence, you clarify what the paragraph is about for both yourself and your reader.
The topic sentence usually comes at the very start of the paragraph .
However, sometimes you might start with a transition sentence to summarize what was discussed in previous paragraphs, followed by the topic sentence that expresses the focus of the current paragraph.
Let’s say you’re writing a five-paragraph essay about the environmental impacts of dietary choices. Here are three examples of topic sentences you could use for each of the three body paragraphs :
- Research has shown that the meat industry has severe environmental impacts.
- However, many plant-based foods are also produced in environmentally damaging ways.
- It’s important to consider not only what type of diet we eat, but where our food comes from and how it is produced.
Each of these sentences expresses one main idea – by listing them in order, we can see the overall structure of the essay at a glance. Each paragraph will expand on the topic sentence with relevant detail, evidence, and arguments.
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How to Write Masterful Topic Sentences for Essays
A topic sentence, usually the first sentence in a paragraph, introduces the main idea of that paragraph and sets its tone. A topic sentence is especially important in essays , where topics change from paragraph to paragraph. This makes knowing how to write a topic sentence crucial for any student or writer.
Of course, writing a topic sentence yourself isn’t always easy. How do you start one? What details should you include—or not include? This quick guide explains everything you need about how to write a topic sentence, with plenty of examples sprinkled throughout.
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Purpose of a topic sentence
On the surface, the purpose of a topic sentence is merely to present the main idea of the paragraph so that the reader knows what to expect. However, the best topic sentences do a little more.
First, topic sentences string together paragraphs in a way that progresses nicely and facilitates reading. Moving from one paragraph to another can feel jarring and abrupt, so topic sentences help maintain the flow of the overall piece of writing—and readers’ focus as a result.
Moreover, topic sentences also “preview” what the reader can expect from the rest of the paragraph. Based on the topic sentence, the reader can figure out if the paragraph will contain a list, statistical data, anecdotal evidence, persuasive opinions, a narrative, or something else.
If the same paragraph covers opposing points of view, you may need two or more topic sentences to show the reader the main idea has changed. The most common example of this is in paragraphs that compare or contrast positions, in which case each perspective needs its own introduction .
For these types of paragraphs , you could introduce your first idea with the opening topic sentence, then provide one or two sentences of support, and afterward introduce a second topic sentence known as a pivot (explained below). The pivot topic sentence introduces the paragraph’s second main idea or contradicting point of view, also followed by one or two sentences of support.
Different types of essays use topic sentences differently as well. Argumentative essays and persuasive essays may have more opinionated topic sentences, whereas those in expository essays would stick to facts. Compare-and-contrast essays , which alternate between opposite sides of a topic, rely on topic sentences to ease those transitions, on top of everything else.
This is true not just for different essay types, but also different paragraph types as well. Even within the same essay, the author may switch up paragraph styles between expository, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative —in that case, each requires a slightly different style of topic sentence.
Topic sentence vs. thesis statement
If you’re also learning about how to write a thesis paper , you may get topic sentences confused with thesis statements. Basically, topic sentences introduce the main idea of a paragraph, whereas thesis statements introduce the main idea of the entire paper or essay. Both serve the same function—preparing the reader with a preview—but in different capacities.
Topic sentence types and examples
Before you learn how to write a topic sentence, it helps to see what different forms they can take. Here we explain the different types, along with some topic sentence examples.
This is the most basic type of topic sentence, in which the author makes a general statement that the rest of the paragraph elaborates on.
New research indicates a link between a person’s cognitive style and the type of content they post on Twitter.
Those weeks at the farmhouse gave me some of the best memories of my life.
To break up the monotony of using the same sentence types over and over again, you can phrase your topic sentences as direct commands or requests to your readers.
Take a look at the data to see what I mean.
Now let’s consider the alternative.
Opening a paragraph with a question is a great way to get the reader interested and involved, as long as you stay on topic.
What would you do if you became a millionaire overnight?
How many countries are prepared for a change in sea levels?
If you have a complicated topic that covers multiple ideas, you may want to use a complex topic sentence. Even though these would still qualify as “statements,” they address more than one main idea.
Although the majority of people still believe in alpha wolf theory, the truth is that wolf packs in nature don’t necessarily have a designated leader.
As appealing as Ayn Rand’s ideas may seem to some, the logical and evidential support just isn’t there.
While all topic sentences have to deal with transitions to a degree, in some cases they can be purely transitional. These work best in circumstances when the topic changes drastically by drawing attention to the switch.
However, not everyone agrees.
This was just the way the world was, and perhaps always would have been, if a random apple had not fallen onto the head of a young Isaac Newton.
Similar to purely transitional sentences, pivot sentences are embedded within a paragraph— not at the beginning—to indicate a shift from one topic to another. They often include conjunctive adverbs such as however , meanwhile , furthermore , etc.
By contrast, Nikola Tesla saw alternating current as a better solution.
However, the Bears’ winning streak could not last forever.
How to write a good topic sentence
Topic sentences follow many of the usual guidelines for writing sentences , but there are a few particular tips just for them.
1 Get the reader interested with a hook
Good topic sentences usually include a “hook,” or something that makes people want to read more. While some are more common than others, you can hook your readers in a variety of ways:
- Shocking revelations , like surprising facts or impressive data
Despite the record-breaking turnouts, only one percent of the teams managed to complete the first challenge.
- Mystery , which is especially useful with interrogative topic sentences
What finally changed the senator’s mind?
- Emotion , or encouraging the reader to form a personal connection with the topic
Living with a dog has its difficulties, but not as many as living without one.
2 Find a middle ground between general and specific
One of the biggest challenges in writing topic sentences is learning how much to include and how much to save for the rest of the paragraph. In short, you want to say just enough so that the reader knows what the paragraph is about, and ideally gets interested. Everything else should wait until the supporting sentences.
For example, let’s look at a topic sentence for a paragraph about an apartment, from Meghan Daum’s essay “ My Misspent Youth ”:
There was nothing particularly fancy about the place.
The remaining paragraph is full of specific details about the apartment, but Daum doesn’t mention them in the opening sentence. Likewise, she doesn’t ignore the description altogether, giving a glimpse to the reader to pique their curiosity and prepare them for a paragraph describing the place.
3 Be clear above all
The most important part of topic sentences is clarity. Even if you get the reader excited and eager to read more, it won’t matter if they don’t know what they’re reading about.
This may be easy enough when just writing a single topic sentence, but it gets harder when writing sentence after sentence for hours on end. After a while, you get bogged down by your own thoughts and concerns about the essay and may momentarily forget about the reader’s perspective.
If that writing process sounds familiar, try Grammarly. Our product not only catches typos and grammar mistakes, but also points out mismatched tone , weak word choice , and even assesses clarity.
You have enough things to worry about when writing an essay; don’t let the high-priority concerns like clarity fall through the cracks. Try Grammarly for free to see for yourself.
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The Topic Sentence
The "topic sentence" is the sentence in which the main idea of the paragraph is stated. It is unquestionably the most important sentence in the paragraph. The topic sentence generally is composed of two parts: (a) the topic itself and (b) the controlling idea.
The topic is the subject of the paragraph. It is what the paragraph is all about. The following are topics suitable for a paragraph:
The SLR camera Vegetarianism Tokyo Pottery A wedding cake
Writing effective topic sentences, however, involves more than merely stating the subject of the paragraph. A good topic sentence is specific and well focused, guiding the entire paragraph. A good topic sentence:
Has new information. It is not a fact that everyone already knows to be true (for example, A dictionary has meanings for words. ). Is specific. If the topic is too general (for example, I like camping. ), the reader will not know what to expect in the paragraph. Is general enough to invite exploration of the topic. If the topic sentence is too specific (for example, Webster's New World Dictionary has more than 40,000 words. ), there will be nothing else to say on the subject. Is strong. Starting a topic sentence with there is/are (as in There are several ways to cook rice. ) is a weak opener. Is stated in positive language. Negative language (for example, You might hate to do it, but you should keep your room clean. ) should not be part of the topic sentence. Is not an announcement. A topic sentence should draw the reader into the paragraph. Announcements (like This paragraph will discuss how to build a bird house. ) hold little attraction for readers.
The Controlling Idea
Even if all of the above conditions for a topic sentence are met, an effective topic sentence needs one additional element, the "controlling idea." The controlling idea is the point of the paragraph. It guides the ideas that provide support for the paragraph and limits the scope of the paragraph. Here is an example of a topic sentence with a controlling idea that guides the support for the paragraph:
Running provides many healthful benefits.
The topic of this topic sentence is running . The controlling idea is healthful benefits . That is, the reader knows from this sentence that the paragraph is generally about running. And the reader also knows that the point of the paragraph will be to enumerate the healthful benefits of running. Limiting the scope of the paragraph through the controlling idea may happen in one of two ways.
1. The controlling idea may reveal the writer's opinion, point of view, or attitude toward the subject of the paragraph, which automatically will set parameters for discussion of the topic. OR…
2. The controlling idea itself may provide specific limitation. In either case, this limited scope, then, serves to unify the paragraph, since any discussion must be within the parameters of the controlling idea.
Here is an example of a topic sentence with a controlling idea that states the writer's opinion-the first way to limit the scope of the paragraph:
The basics of using an SLR camera can be mastered with considerable practice.
The topic of this sentence is an SLR camera . The controlling idea is mastered with considerable practice . From this single sentence the reader knows that the topic of the paragraph is the SLR camera and that the paragraph will discuss mastering the basics of using this camera. Additionally, the reader knows that such mastery comes with practice, the writer's opinion or perspective.
Here is an example of a topic sentence with a controlling idea that specifically sets limitations for the scope of the paragraph.
When writing a laboratory report, you must complete four sections.
The topic of this sentence is a laboratory report . In this sentence, the controlling idea specifically states the limitation- four sections . Thus, the reader can predict that the writer will list and describe the four sections in order.
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Every paragraph should include a topic sentence that identifies the main idea of the paragraph. A topic sentence also states the point the writer wishes to make about that subject. Generally, the topic sentence appears at the beginning of the paragraph. It is often the paragraph’s very first sentence. A paragraph’s topic sentence must be general enough to express the paragraph’s overall subject. However, it should be specific enough that the reader can understand the paragraph’s main subject and point.
- The topic sentence should identify the main idea and point of the paragraph. To choose an appropriate topic sentence, read the paragraph and think about its main idea and point.
- The supporting details in the paragraph (the sentences other than the topic sentence) will develop or explain the topic sentence. Read all the supporting details in the paragraph and think about the ideas they discuss.
- The topic sentence should not be too general or too specific. When considering the options, look for a topic sentence that is general enough to show the paragraph’s main idea instead of just one of its details. The answer should be specific enough that the reader understands the main idea of the paragraph.
More About the Topic Sentence
A topic sentence is the most important sentence in a paragraph. Sometimes referred to as a focus sentence, the topic sentence helps organize the paragraph by summarizing the information in the paragraph. In academic writing, the topic sentence is usually the first sentence in a paragraph (although it does not have to be).
Purpose of the Topic Sentence
A topic sentence essentially tells readers about the rest of the paragraph. All sentences after it have to give more information about that sentence, prove it by offering facts about it, or describe it in more detail. For example, if the topic sentence concerns the types of endangered species that live in the ocean, then every sentence after that needs to expands on that subject.
Topic sentences also need to relate back to the thesis of the essay. The thesis statement is like a road map that will tell the reader or listener where you are going with this information or how you are treating it.
Topic Sentences and Controlling Ideas
Every topic sentence will have a topic and a controlling idea. The controlling idea shows the direction the paragraph will take.
Examples of a Topic Sentence
Topic Sentence: There are many reasons why pollution in ABC Town is the worst in the world.
The topic is "pollution in ABC Town is the worst in the world" and the controlling idea is "many reasons."
Topic Sentence: To be an effective CEO requires certain characteristics.
The topic is "To be an effective CEO" and the controlling idea is "certain charactristics."
Topic Sentence: There are many possible contributing factors to global warming.
The topic is "global warming" and the controlling idea is "contributing factors."
Topic Sentence: Fortune hunters encounter many difficulties when exploring a shipwreck.
The topic is "exploring a shipwreck" and the controlling idea is "many difficulties."
Topic Sentence: Dogs make wonderful pets because they help you to live longer.
The topic is "dogs make wonderful pets" and the controlling idea is "because they help you
to live longer."
Topic Sentence: Crime in poverty-stricken areas occurs because of a systemic discrimination.
The topic is "crime in poverty stricken areas" and the controlling idea is "systemic discrimination."
Topic Sentence: Teen pregnancy may be prevented by improved education.
The topic is "teen pregnancy may be prevented" and the controlling idea is "improved education."
Topic Sentence: Cooking requires a number of different skills.
The topic is "cooking" and the controlling idea is "many different skills."
Topic Sentence: It is important to be ready before buying a house.
The topic is "buying a house" and the controlling idea is “it is important to be ready."
Topic Sentence: Graduating from high school is important for many different reasons.
The topic is "graduating from high school" and the controlling idea is "many different reasons."
Topic Sentence: Having a first child is difficult because of the significant adjustments in your life.
The topic is "having a first child" and the controlling idea is "significant adjustments in your life."
Topic Sentence: Remodeling a kitchen successfully requires research and a good eye.
The topic is "remodeling a kitchen" and the controlling idea is "requires research and a good eye."
Topic Sentence Exercise
Write a topic sentence for the following paragraph. During the 1990s, I really enjoyed watching Friends on television every Thursday night. I really wanted Rachel’s haircut—I think every girl wanted Rachel’s haircut back then! Rachel’s haircut went really well with the Guess Jeans that were so popular in the 1990s. I remember all the advertisements for Guess and Calvin Klein Jeans that were in each month’s Sassy magazine. I do not think Sassy magazine exists anymore, but it was one of the most popular magazines for young women in the 1990s.
Topic Sentences Exercise Answer
The bold sentence is one possible topic sentence for the example paragraph.
Note: This is just one possible topic sentence—you may have thought of others that are also appropriate.
Thinking about the 1990s brings back fond memories for me about fashion and popular culture. During the 1990s, I really enjoyed watching Friends on television every Thursday night. I really wanted Rachel’s haircut—I think every girl wanted Rachel’s haircut back then! Rachel’s haircut went really well with the Guess Jeans that were so popular in the 1990s. I remember all the advertisements for Guess and Calvin Klein Jeans that were in each month’s Sassy magazine. I do not think Sassy magazine exists anymore, but it was one of the most popular magazines for young women in the 1990s.
*Source: Purdue OWL
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Paragraphs & topic sentences.
A paragraph is a series of sentences that are organized and coherent, and are all related to a single topic. Almost every piece of writing you do that is longer than a few sentences should be organized into paragraphs. This is because paragraphs show a reader where the subdivisions of an essay begin and end, and thus help the reader see the organization of the essay and grasp its main points.
Paragraphs can contain many different kinds of information. A paragraph could contain a series of brief examples or a single long illustration of a general point. It might describe a place, character, or process; narrate a series of events; compare or contrast two or more things; classify items into categories; or describe causes and effects. Regardless of the kind of information they contain, all paragraphs share certain characteristics. One of the most important of these is a topic sentence.
A well-organized paragraph supports or develops a single controlling idea, which is expressed in a sentence called the topic sentence. A topic sentence has several important functions: it substantiates or supports an essay’s thesis statement; it unifies the content of a paragraph and directs the order of the sentences; and it advises the reader of the subject to be discussed and how the paragraph will discuss it. Readers generally look to the first few sentences in a paragraph to determine the subject and perspective of the paragraph. That’s why it’s often best to put the topic sentence at the very beginning of the paragraph. In some cases, however, it’s more effective to place another sentence before the topic sentence—for example, a sentence linking the current paragraph to the previous one, or one providing background information.
Although most paragraphs should have a topic sentence, there are a few situations when a paragraph might not need a topic sentence. For example, you might be able to omit a topic sentence in a paragraph that narrates a series of events, if a paragraph continues developing an idea that you introduced (with a topic sentence) in the previous paragraph, or if all the sentences and details in a paragraph clearly refer—perhaps indirectly—to a main point. The vast majority of your paragraphs, however, should have a topic sentence.
Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structure—introduction, body, and conclusion. You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating your meaning to your reader.
Introduction : the first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition.
Body : follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis, examples, and other information.
Conclusion : the final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraph’s controlling idea.
The following paragraph illustrates this pattern of organization. In this paragraph the topic sentence and concluding sentence (CAPITALIZED) both help the reader keep the paragraph’s main point in mind.
SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED TO SUPPLEMENT THE SENSE OF SIGHT IN NUMEROUS WAYS. In front of the tiny pupil of the eye they put , on Mount Palomar, a great monocle 200 inches in diameter, and with it see 2000 times farther into the depths of space. Or they look through a small pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of water or blood, and magnify by as much as 2000 diameters the living creatures there, many of which are among man’s most dangerous enemies. Or , if we want to see distant happenings on earth, they use some of the previously wasted electromagnetic waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by whipping tiny crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. Or they can bring happenings of long ago and far away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and color-absorbing molecules to force light waves into the patterns of original reality. Or if we want to see into the center of a steel casting or the chest of an injured child, they send the information on a beam of penetrating short-wave X rays, and then convert it back into images we can see on a screen or photograph. THUS ALMOST EVERY TYPE OF ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION YET DISCOVERED HAS BEEN USED TO EXTEND OUR SENSE OF SIGHT IN SOME WAY. George Harrison, “Faith and the Scientist”
In a coherent paragraph, each sentence relates clearly to the topic sentence or controlling idea, but there is more to coherence than this. If a paragraph is coherent, each sentence flows smoothly into the next without obvious shifts or jumps. A coherent paragraph also highlights the ties between old information and new information to make the structure of ideas or arguments clear to the reader.
Along with the smooth flow of sentences, a paragraph’s coherence may also be related to its length. If you have written a very long paragraph, one that fills a double-spaced typed page, for example, you should check it carefully to see if it should start a new paragraph where the original paragraph wanders from its controlling idea. On the other hand, if a paragraph is very short (only one or two sentences, perhaps), you may need to develop its controlling idea more thoroughly, or combine it with another paragraph.
A number of other techniques that you can use to establish coherence in paragraphs are described below.
Repeat key words or phrases. Particularly in paragraphs in which you define or identify an important idea or theory, be consistent in how you refer to it. This consistency and repetition will bind the paragraph together and help your reader understand your definition or description.
Create parallel structures. Parallel structures are created by constructing two or more phrases or sentences that have the same grammatical structure and use the same parts of speech. By creating parallel structures you make your sentences clearer and easier to read. In addition, repeating a pattern in a series of consecutive sentences helps your reader see the connections between ideas. In the paragraph above about scientists and the sense of sight, several sentences in the body of the paragraph have been constructed in a parallel way. The parallel structures (which have been emphasized ) help the reader see that the paragraph is organized as a set of examples of a general statement.
Be consistent in point of view, verb tense, and number. Consistency in point of view, verb tense, and number is a subtle but important aspect of coherence. If you shift from the more personal "you" to the impersonal “one,” from past to present tense, or from “a man” to “they,” for example, you make your paragraph less coherent. Such inconsistencies can also confuse your reader and make your argument more difficult to follow.
Use transition words or phrases between sentences and between paragraphs. Transitional expressions emphasize the relationships between ideas, so they help readers follow your train of thought or see connections that they might otherwise miss or misunderstand. The following paragraph shows how carefully chosen transitions (CAPITALIZED) lead the reader smoothly from the introduction to the conclusion of the paragraph.
I don’t wish to deny that the flattened, minuscule head of the large-bodied "stegosaurus" houses little brain from our subjective, top-heavy perspective, BUT I do wish to assert that we should not expect more of the beast. FIRST OF ALL, large animals have relatively smaller brains than related, small animals. The correlation of brain size with body size among kindred animals (all reptiles, all mammals, FOR EXAMPLE) is remarkably regular. AS we move from small to large animals, from mice to elephants or small lizards to Komodo dragons, brain size increases, BUT not so fast as body size. IN OTHER WORDS, bodies grow faster than brains, AND large animals have low ratios of brain weight to body weight. IN FACT, brains grow only about two-thirds as fast as bodies. SINCE we have no reason to believe that large animals are consistently stupider than their smaller relatives, we must conclude that large animals require relatively less brain to do as well as smaller animals. IF we do not recognize this relationship, we are likely to underestimate the mental power of very large animals, dinosaurs in particular. Stephen Jay Gould, “Were Dinosaurs Dumb?”
SOME USEFUL TRANSITIONS
(modified from Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference )
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How to Write a Good Topic Sentence
Last Updated: November 8, 2023 Fact Checked
This article was co-authored by Megan Morgan, PhD . Megan Morgan is a Graduate Program Academic Advisor in the School of Public & International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Georgia in 2015. There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 2,239,521 times.
Perfecting the skill of writing topic sentences is essential to successful writing. A topic sentence usually comes at the beginning of a paragraph and lets your reader know what to expect from each paragraph. Think of it as the preview for a movie or a headline in a newspaper, highlighting the “main point” that’s to come in that paragraph.  X Research source Make sure your topic sentences are up to par, and the rest of your writing will feel like a breeze.
Writing a Successful Topic Sentence
- Keep in mind that this is not an invitation to simply announce your topic. “Today I’m going to discuss the benefits of gardening” is not an effective topic sentence. You should be able to make your intentions clear without stating them explicitly.
- The topic sentence in this example states a clear direction (“health benefits of gardening”) that you can then elaborate on in your paragraph.
- Don’t write too vague or general an idea or you will never be able to discuss it in a single paragraph. This is too general: “The United States suffered a lot during the Civil War.”
- Don’t write too narrow of a statement. There’s nothing much to talk about then, because it’s probably a fact. This is too narrow: “Christmas trees are either cedars or firs."
- Instead, aim for a good balance: “Sherman’s destruction in the South during the Civil War also caused incredible suffering.” This is big enough to relate to the broader idea of an essay, but not so narrow that there’s nothing left to discuss.
- Describe a character. This can be a physical or emotional description.
- Use dialogue. If there is a relevant conversation that will attract your reader’s attention, consider using part of it to start your paragraph.
- Portray an emotion. Use the opening sentence to portray an emotion to your reader.
- Use detail. While you don’t want to write a run on sentence by creating too much detail, it’s a good idea to create interest using sensory language in your topic sentence.
- Avoid rhetorical questions. While you want your reader to formulate questions in his or her mind, you do not want to formulate the questions yourself.
- Avoid presenting only facts in your topic sentence. While facts may be interesting, they do not introduce the reader to your paragraph nor do they draw the reader in. If you wish to include a fact, also include your own input. For example, instead of writing “All dogs need food,” try “All dogs need regular care, including healthy food, and children are the best ones to do it.” Alternatively, save your facts to use as evidence in the body of your paragraph.
- Using transitional elements, such as “In addition” or “In contrast,” is a good way to show the relationship between your ideas.
- For example: “Although gardening has many health benefits, people still need to exercise caution when outside.” This topic sentence establishes a connection to the main idea of the previous paragraph (“health benefits of gardening”) and points to the direction of the new paragraph (“things to be cautious of”).
Planning Your Topic Sentences
- You don’t have to write a formal outline using Roman numerals and the like. Even a loose, idea-based outline can help you know what you want to discuss.
- A topic sentence, unlike a thesis statement, doesn’t have to present an argument. It can present a “preview” of what the paragraph will argue or discuss.
- For example, a topic sentence could look like this: “In addition, increasing funding for public roads in Jackson County will improve local residents’ quality of life.” The rest of the sentences in this paragraph would relate to the main idea of public roads and how they will help benefit local residents.
- This is not as successful a topic sentence: “Increased funding for public roads in Jackson County has decreased traffic by 20%.” While this is probably an interesting fact for your argument, it’s too narrow for a topic sentence. The topic sentence has to direct the whole paragraph.
Avoiding Common Problems
- Unless it is an opinion piece, avoid using ‘I’ in your topic sentences.
- Rather than stating something like “In the story, Amelia did many good things such as help out her friends, talk to her parents, and support her team at school” say something like “As a result of the many activities Amelia participated in, she was recognized for her positive influence on the community.”
Sample Topic Sentences
- Avoid using words like you or we because it implies you know the reader, which you don’t. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- In formal writing, avoid contractions such as “don’t,” “can’t,” and “isn’t.” Also avoid other common contractions like “would’ve” and “could’ve” which are commonly used. Instead type them out to look like “do not,” “can not”, “is not”, “would have”, and “could have.” Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Type out all numbers under a ten. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
You Might Also Like
- ↑ http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/planning-and-organizing/topic-sentences
- ↑ https://wts.indiana.edu/writing-guides/paragraphs-and-topic-sentences.html
- ↑ http://arts.uottawa.ca/writingcentre/en/hypergrammar/writing-paragraphs
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/paragraphs_and_paragraphing/index.html
- ↑ https://stlcc.edu/student-support/academic-success-and-tutoring/writing-center/writing-resources/topic-sentence-paragraph.aspx
- ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/paragraphs/topicsentences
- ↑ https://www.rit.edu/ntid/sea/processes/paragraph/process/sentence
- ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/outlining
- ↑ https://www.touro.edu/departments/writing-center/tutorials/topic-sentence/
- ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/engagement/2/2/57/
- ↑ http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/paragraphs/
- ↑ http://www.writingcentre.uottawa.ca/hypergrammar/partopic.html
About This Article
If you’re trying to write a good topic sentence, start by clearly stating your main idea, which should include the topic and the position you’re taking on it. Aim to write a sentence that’s broad enough for discussion but narrow enough to be covered in a single paragraph. If you can, start with a hook, like a detail, character, or emotion that would draw in your readers. For more advice from our reviewer on writing a good topic sentence, like how to make it effective while keeping it short and sweet, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Using Topic Sentences
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What is a topic sentence?
A topic sentence states the main point of a paragraph: it serves as a mini-thesis for the paragraph. You might think of it as a signpost for your readers—or a headline—something that alerts them to the most important, interpretive points in your essay. When read in sequence, your essay’s topic sentences will provide a sketch of the essay’s argument. Thus topics sentences help protect your readers from confusion by guiding them through the argument. But topic sentences can also help you to improve your essay by making it easier for you to recognize gaps or weaknesses in your argument.
Where do topic sentences go?
Topic sentences usually appear at the very beginning of paragraphs. In the following example from Anatomy of Criticism , Northrop Frye establishes the figure of the tragic hero as someone more than human, but less than divine. He backs up his claim with examples of characters from literature, religion and mythology whose tragic stature is a function of their ability to mediate between their fellow human beings and a power that transcends the merely human:
The tragic hero is typically on top of the wheel of fortune, half-way between human society on the ground and the something greater in the sky. Prometheus, Adam, and Christ hang between heaven and earth, between a world of paradisal freedom and a world of bondage. Tragic heroes are so much the highest points in their human landscape that they seem the inevitable conductors of the power about them, great trees more likely to be struck by lightning than a clump of grass. Conductors may of course be instruments as well as victims of the divine lightning: Milton’s Samson destroys the Philistine temple with himself, and Hamlet nearly exterminates the Danish court in his own fall.
The structure of Frye’s paragraph is simple yet powerful: the topic sentence makes an abstract point, and the rest of the paragraph elaborates on that point using concrete examples as evidence.
Does a topic sentence have to be at the beginning of a paragraph?
No, though this is usually the most logical place for it. Sometimes a transitional sentence or two will come before a topic sentence:
We found in comedy that the term bomolochos or buffoon need not be restricted to farce, but could be extended to cover comic characters who are primarily entertainers, with the function of increasing or focusing the comic mood. The corresponding contrasting type is the suppliant, the character, often female, who presents a picture of unmitigated helplessness and destitution. Such a figure is pathetic, and pathos, though it seems a gentler and more relaxed mood than tragedy, is even more terrifying. Its basis is the exclusion of an individual from the group; hence it attacks the deepest fear in ourselves that we possess—a fear much deeper than the relatively cosy and sociable bogey of hell. In the suppliant pity and terror are brought to the highest possible pitch of intensity, and the awful consequences of rejecting the suppliant for all concerned is a central theme of Greek tragedy.
The context for this passage is an extended discussion of the characteristics of tragedy. In this paragraph, Frye begins by drawing a parallel between the figure of the buffoon in comedy and that of the suppliant in tragedy. His discussion of the buffoon occurred in a earlier section of the chapter, a section devoted to comedy. The first sentence of the current paragraph is transitional: it prepares the way for the topic sentence. The delayed topic sentence contributes to the coherence of Frye’s discussion by drawing an explicit connection between key ideas in the book. In essays, the connection is usually between the last paragraph and the current one.
Sometimes writers save a topic sentence for the end of a paragraph. You may, for example, occasionally find that giving away your point at the beginning of a paragraph does not allow you to build your argument toward an effective climax.
How do I come up with a topic sentence? And what makes a good one?
Ask yourself what’s going on in your paragraph. Why have you chosen to include the information you have? Why is the paragraph important in the context of your argument? What point are you trying to make?
Relating your topic sentences to your thesis can help strengthen the coherence of your essay. If you include a thesis statement in your introduction, then think of incorporating a keyword from that statement into the topic sentence. But you need not be overly explicit when you echo the thesis statement. Better to be subtle rather than heavy-handed. Do not forget that your topic sentence should do more than just establish a connection between your paragraph and your thesis. Use a topic sentence to show how your paragraph contributes to the development of your argument by moving it that one extra step forward. If your topic sentence merely restates your thesis, then either your paragraph is redundant or your topic sentence needs to be reformulated. If several of your topic sentences restate your thesis, even if they do so in different words, then your essay is probably repetitive.
Does every paragraph need one?
No, but most do. Sometimes a paragraph helps to develop the same point as in the previous paragraph, and so a new topic sentence would be redundant. And sometimes the evidence in your paragraph makes your point so effectively that your topic sentence can remain implicit. But if you are in doubt, it’s best to use one.