What Is a Topic Sentence?
- An Introduction to Punctuation
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
A topic sentence is a sentence , sometimes at the beginning of a paragraph , that states or suggests the main idea (or topic ) of a paragraph.
Not all paragraphs begin with topic sentences. In some, the topic sentence appears in the middle or at the end. In others, the topic sentence is implied or absent altogether.
Examples and Observations
- " Salva and the other boys made cows out of clay. The more cows you made, the richer you were. But they had to be fine, healthy animals. It took time to make a lump of clay look like a good cow. The boys would challenge each other to see who could make the most and best cows." (Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water . Clarion, 2010)
- " Momma bought two bolts of cloth each year for winter and summer clothes. She made my school dresses, underslips, bloomers, handkerchiefs, Bailey's shirts, shorts, her aprons, house dresses and waists from the rolls shipped to Stamps by Sears and Roebuck. . . ." (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings . Random House, 1969)
- " You discover what it is like to be hungry. With bread and margarine in your belly, you go out and look into the shop windows. Everywhere there is food insulting you in huge, wasteful piles; whole dead pigs, baskets of hot loaves, great yellow blocks of butter, strings of sausages, mountains of potatoes, vast Gruyère cheeses like grindstones. A snivelling self-pity comes over you at the sight of so much food. You plan to grab a loaf and run, swallowing it before they catch you; and you refrain, from pure funk." (George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London . Victor Gollancz, 1933)
- " The flavor that salt imparts to food is just one of the attributes that manufacturers rely on. For them, salt is nothing less than a miracle worker in processed foods. It makes sugar taste sweeter. It adds crunch to crackers and frozen waffles. It delays spoilage so that the products can sit longer on the shelf. And, just as importantly, it masks the otherwise bitter or dull taste that hounds so many processed foods before salt is added." (Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us . Random House, 2013)
- " The very idea of retirement is a relatively new invention. For most of human history, people worked until they died or were too infirm to lift a finger (at which point they died pretty fast anyway). It was the German statesman Otto von Bismarck who first floated the concept, in 1883, when he proposed that his unemployed countrymen over the age of 65 be given a pension. This move was designed to fend off Marxist agitation—and to do so on the cheap, since few Germans survived to that ripe old age." (Jessica Bruder, "The End of Retirement." Harper's , August 2014)
- " Grandma's room I regarded as a dark den of primitive rites and practices. On Friday evenings whoever was home gathered at her door while she lit her Sabbath candles. . . ." (E.L. Doctorow, World's Fair . Random House, 1985)
- " Genealogy is an ancient human preoccupation. The God of Hebrew Scripture promised Abraham descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. The apostles Matthew and Luke claim that Abraham's lineage went on to include King David and eventually Jesus, though the specifics of their accounts are contradictory. Muslims trace Mohammed's line back through Abraham, to Adam and Eve." (Maud Newton, "America's Ancestry Craze." Harper's , June 2014)
- " O nce, in a restaurant in Italy with my family, I occasioned enormous merriment, as a nineteenth-century humorist would have put it, by confusing two Italian words. I thought I had, very suavely, ordered for dessert fragoline —those lovely little wild strawberries. Instead, I seem to have asked for fagiolini —green beans. The waiter ceremoniously brought me a plate of green beans with my coffee, along with the flan and the gelato for the kids. The significant insight the mistake provided—arriving mere microseconds after the laughter of those kids, who for some reason still bring up the occasion, often—was about the arbitrary nature of language: the single 'r' rolled right makes one a master of the trattoria, an 'r' unrolled the family fool. . . ." (Adam Gopnik, "Word Magic." The New Yorker , May 26, 2014)
- " In seventeenth-century Europe, the transformation of man into soldier took on a new form, more concerted and disciplined, and far less pleasant, than wine. New recruits and even seasoned veterans were endlessly drilled, hour after hour, until each man began to feel himself part of a single, giant fighting machine. . . ." (Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War . Henry Holt and Company, 1997)
- " What is the appeal of train travel? Ask almost any foamer, and he or she will invariably answer, 'The romance of it!' But just what this means, they cannot really say. It's tempting to think that we are simply equating romance with pleasure, with the superior comfort of a train, especially seated up high in the observation cars. . . ." (Kevin Baker, "21st Century Limited: The Lost Glory of America's Railroads." Harper's , July 2014)
- " Because science fiction spans the spectrum from the plausible to the fanciful, its relationship with science has been both nurturing and contentious. For every author who meticulously examines the latest developments in physics or computing, there are other authors who invent 'impossible' technology to serve as a plot device (like Le Guin’s faster-than-light communicator, the ansible) or to enable social commentary, the way H. G. Wells uses his time machine to take the reader to the far future to witness the calamitous destiny of the human race." (Eileen Gunn, "Brave New Words." Smithsonian , May 2014)
- " I passed all the other courses that I took at my university, but I could never pass botany. . . ." (James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times . Harper & Row, 1933)
- " What is there about this wonderful woman? From next door, she comes striding, down the lawn, beneath the clothesline, laden with cookies she has just baked, or with baby togs she no longer needs, and one's heart goes out. Pops out. The clothesline, the rusted swing set, the limbs of the dying elm, the lilacs past bloom are lit up like rods of neon by her casual washday energy and cheer, a cheer one has done nothing to infuse." (John Updike, "One's Neighbor's Wife." Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism . Knopf, 1983)
- " Television. Why do I watch it? The parade of politicians every evening: I have only to see the heavy, blank faces so familiar since childhood to feel gloom and nausea. . . ." (J.M. Coetzee, Age of Iron . Random House, 1990)
- " Anyone who has made the coast-to-coast journey across America, whether by train or by car, has probably passed through Garden City, but it is reasonable to assume that few travelers remember the event. It seems just another fair-sized town in the middle--almost the exact middle--of the continental United States. . . ." (Truman Capote, In Cold Blood . Random House, 1966)
- " Rodeo, like baseball, is an American sport and has been around almost as long. . . ." (Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces . Viking Penguin, 1985)
- " What a piece of work is a book! I am not talking about writing or printing. I am talking about the codex we may leaf through, that may be put away on a shelf for whole centuries and will remain there, unchanged and handy. . . ." (William Golding, A Moving Target . Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982)
Characteristics of an Effective Topic Sentence
- "A good topic sentence is concise and emphatic . It is no longer than the idea requires, and it stresses the important word or phrase. Here, for instance, is the topic sentence which opens a paragraph about the collapse of the stock market in 1929: "The Bull Market was dead."(Frederick Lewis Allen) Notice several things. (1) Allen's sentence is brief . Not all topics can be explained in six words, but whether they take six or sixty, they should be phrased in no more words than are absolutely necessary. (2) The sentence is clear and strong: you understand exactly what Allen means. (3) It places the keyword—'dead'—at the end, where it gets heavy stress and leads naturally into what will follow. . . . (4) The sentence stands first in the paragraph. This is where topic sentences generally belong: at or near the beginning." (Thomas S. Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing . Oxford Univ. Press, 1988)
Positioning a Topic Sentence
"If you want readers to see your point immediately, open with the topic sentence . This strategy can be particularly useful in letters of application or in argumentative writing. . . . "When specific details lead up to a generalization, putting the topic sentence at the end of the paragraph makes sense. . . . "Occasionally a paragraph's main idea is so obvious that it does not need to be stated explicitly in a topic sentence." (Andrea Lunsford, The St. Martin's Handbook . Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008)
Guidelines for Composing Topic Sentences
"The topic sentence is the most important sentence in your paragraph. Carefully worded and restricted, it helps you generate and control your information. An effective topic sentence also helps readers grasp your main idea quickly. As you draft your paragraphs, pay close attention to the following three guidelines:
- Make sure you provide a topic sentence. . . .
- Put your topic sentence first.
- Be sure your topic sentence is focused. If restricted, a topic sentence discusses only one central idea. A broad or unrestricted topic sentence leads to a shaky, incomplete paragraph for two reasons:
- The paragraph will not contain enough information to support the topic sentence .
- A broad topic sentence will not summarize or forecast specific information in the paragraph."
(Philip C. Kolin, Successful Writing at Work , 9th ed. Wadsworth, 2010)
Testing for Topic Sentences
"When testing your article for topic sentences , you should be able to look at each paragraph and say what the topic sentence is. Having said it, look at all the other sentences in the paragraph and test them to make sure they support it. . . .
"If you find that you have come up with the same topic sentence more than once, you have two paragraphs doing the same work. Cut one of them out.
"If you find a paragraph that has several sentences that don't support the topic sentence, see if all the outlaw sentences support some other topic sentence and turn the one paragraph into two." (Gary Provost, "How to Test Your Articles for the 8 Essentials of Nonfiction." Handbook of Magazine Article Writing , ed. by Jean M. Fredette. Writer's Digest Books, 1988)
Frequency of Topic Sentences
"Teachers and textbook writers should exercise caution in making statements about the frequency with which contemporary professional writers use simple or even explicit topic sentences in expository paragraphs. It is abundantly clear that students should not be told that professional writers usually begin their paragraphs with topic sentences." (Richard Braddock, "The Frequency and Placement of Topic Sentences in Expository Prose." Research in the Teaching of English . Winter 1974)
- How to Teach Topic Sentences Using Models
- Practice in Supporting a Topic Sentence with Specific Details
- Unity in Composition
- What Is Expository Writing?
- Paragraph Writing
- Development in Composition: Building an Essay
- Definition and Examples of Body Paragraphs in Composition
- How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph
- Understanding Organization in Composition and Speech
- Best Practices for the Most Effective Use of Paragraphs
- Writers on Writing: The Art of Paragraphing
- Definition and Examples of Analysis in Composition
- Supporting Detail in Composition and Speech
- How to Structure an Essay
- Definition and Examples of Paragraphing in Essays
- Topic In Composition and Speech
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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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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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Definition of topic sentence
Examples of topic sentence in a sentence.
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'topic sentence.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
1885, in the meaning defined above
Dictionary Entries Near topic sentence
topic of discussion
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“Topic sentence.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/topic%20sentence. Accessed 13 Nov. 2023.
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Topic sentence definition.
Like the thesis, topic sentences themselves have topics and angles. The topic may be the same as the thesis’ topic, but the angle differs depending on the part of the thesis angle the topic sentence is offering. Think of topic sentences in this way: The thesis sentence offers the main idea or insight for the whole essay; a topic sentence offers the main idea or insight for a section of the essay. To use another metaphor, a thesis sentence illuminates the whole space; a topic sentence illuminates one portion of the space.
Here’s an example
Thesis sentence : Trends in home lighting change as aesthetic values respond to social experience; this is most noticeable if you compare lighting trends of the 1960s, 1990s, and today.
Topic Sentence : Lighting in the 1960s was ebullient, in-your-face lighting, with big glass globes and colorful “mod” desk lamps, characterizing both the optimism and rebellion of the decade.
Topic Sentence : 1990s lighting trends focused on both technology, reflecting the new importance of technical advances during that decade, and ornate metallic accents, reflecting wealth and stability, as seen in the trends for track lighting and brass lamps and chandeliers.
Topic Sentence : Today’s lighting trends focus on cleaner lines and softer metallics, characterizing a need for simplicity and calm in an increasingly complex and anxious world.
For example, consider the following topic sentence and supporting paragraph from an essay whose thesis deals (humorously) with ways in which fast-food chains make profits.
Thesis : Fun can be all-consuming, and we’re fond of consuming “fun.” Fast-food chains are known for clowning around, adding a dollop for a dollar, including special “forget sauce” in their meals, and playing games with portions, all of which create profits as hefty as our waistlines may become.
Topic sentence and supporting paragraph :
Many fast-food chains make their profits from adding a special ingredient called “forget sauce” to their foods. ( This topic sentence extracts one of the ideas from the thesis. It also controls the paragraph that follows, so that all sentences in the paragraph or unit of support must relate in some way to fast food, profit, and “forget sauce.”) Made largely from edible oil products, this condiment is never listed on the menu. ( This sentence fits in with the topic sentence because it is a description of the composition of “forget sauce.” ) In addition, this well-kept industry secret is the reason why ingredients are never listed on the packaging of victuals sold by these restaurants. ( The transitional phrase “In addition” relates the composition of “forget sauce” to secret fast-food industry practices. ) “Forget sauce” has a chemical property which causes temporary amnesia in consumers. ( This sentence states the short-term effect on 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. ( This sentence describes its longer-term effects and relates back to the thesis sentence, as it discusses profits made from “forget sauce.”)
The following brief video provides a simple way of explaining an important concept about topic sentences, that they link supporting ideas and examples to the thesis throughout an essay and create a logical flow of ideas within an essay.
Note: The content in this video is presented visually. You may listen to this video with audio description .
- Topic Sentence Definition. Revision and adaptation of the page Writing Topic Sentences at https://courses.lumenlearning.com/englishcomp21xmaster/chapter/read-writing-topic-sentences/ which is a revision and adaptation of Writing Topic Sentences at https://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Writing-Topic-Sentences.pdf. Authored by : Susan Oaks. Provided by : Empire State College, SUNY OER Services. Project : College Writing. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
- Writing Topic Sentences. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : https://courses.lumenlearning.com/englishcomp21xmaster/chapter/read-writing-topic-sentences/ . Project : English Composition 2. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
- Writing Topic Sentences. Authored by : Dorothy Turner. Provided by : Saylor Academy. Located at : http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Writing-Topic-Sentences.pdf . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
- image of road signs. Authored by : Merio. Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : https://pixabay.com/en/a-buy-me-a-coffee-ad-advert-990314/ . License : CC0: No Rights Reserved
- image of chandelier illuminating a whole space. Authored by : RondellMelling. Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : https://pixabay.com/en/light-chandelier-lighting-lamp-1773753/ . License : CC0: No Rights Reserved
- image of row of light bulbs with only one lit. Authored by : ColiN00B. Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : https://pixabay.com/en/light-bulbs-light-bulb-light-energy-1125016/ . License : CC0: No Rights Reserved
- image of road signs pointing opposite directions. Authored by : geralt. Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : https://pixabay.com/en/shield-directory-right-next-490808/ . License : CC0: No Rights Reserved
- video Thesis Statements, Topic Sentences, and Conclusion. Authored by : Sam Tabbakh. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS_uxp0vKqQ . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
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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