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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 November 29, 2022.
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 with 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.
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?
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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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- Topic Sentences and Signposting
Topic sentences and signposts make an essay's claims clear to a reader. Good essays contain both. Topic sentences reveal the main point of a paragraph. They show the relationship of each paragraph to the essay's thesis, telegraph the point of a paragraph, and tell your reader what to expect in the paragraph that follows. Topic sentences also establish their relevance right away, making clear why the points they're making are important to the essay's main ideas. They argue rather than report. Signposts , as their name suggests, prepare the reader for a change in the argument's direction. They show how far the essay's argument has progressed vis-ˆ-vis the claims of the thesis.
Topic sentences and signposts occupy a middle ground in the writing process. They are neither the first thing a writer needs to address (thesis and the broad strokes of an essay's structure are); nor are they the last (that's when you attend to sentence-level editing and polishing). Topic sentences and signposts deliver an essay's structure and meaning to a reader, so they are useful diagnostic tools to the writer—they let you know if your thesis is arguable—and essential guides to the reader
Forms of Topic Sentences
Sometimes topic sentences are actually two or even three sentences long. If the first makes a claim, the second might reflect on that claim, explaining it further. Think of these sentences as asking and answering two critical questions: How does the phenomenon you're discussing operate? Why does it operate as it does?
There's no set formula for writing a topic sentence. Rather, you should work to vary the form your topic sentences take. Repeated too often, any method grows wearisome. Here are a few approaches.
Complex sentences. Topic sentences at the beginning of a paragraph frequently combine with a transition from the previous paragraph. This might be done by writing a sentence that contains both subordinate and independent clauses, as in the example below.
Although Young Woman with a Water Pitcher depicts an unknown, middle-class woman at an ordinary task, the image is more than "realistic"; the painter [Vermeer] has imposed his own order upon it to strengthen it.
This sentence employs a useful principle of transitions: always move from old to new information. The subordinate clause (from "although" to "task") recaps information from previous paragraphs; the independent clauses (starting with "the image" and "the painter") introduce the new information—a claim about how the image works ("more than Ôrealistic'") and why it works as it does (Vermeer "strengthens" the image by "imposing order").
Questions. Questions, sometimes in pairs, also make good topic sentences (and signposts). Consider the following: "Does the promise of stability justify this unchanging hierarchy?" We may fairly assume that the paragraph or section that follows will answer the question. Questions are by definition a form of inquiry, and thus demand an answer. Good essays strive for this forward momentum.
Bridge sentences. Like questions, "bridge sentences" (the term is John Trimble's) make an excellent substitute for more formal topic sentences. Bridge sentences indicate both what came before and what comes next (they "bridge" paragraphs) without the formal trappings of multiple clauses: "But there is a clue to this puzzle."
Pivots. Topic sentences don't always appear at the beginning of a paragraph. When they come in the middle, they indicate that the paragraph will change direction, or "pivot." This strategy is particularly useful for dealing with counter-evidence: a paragraph starts out conceding a point or stating a fact ("Psychologist Sharon Hymer uses the term Ônarcissistic friendship' to describe the early stage of a friendship like the one between Celie and Shug"); after following up on this initial statement with evidence, it then reverses direction and establishes a claim ("Yet ... this narcissistic stage of Celie and Shug's relationship is merely a transitory one. Hymer herself concedes . . . "). The pivot always needs a signal, a word like "but," "yet," or "however," or a longer phrase or sentence that indicates an about-face. It often needs more than one sentence to make its point.
Signposts operate as topic sentences for whole sections in an essay. (In longer essays, sections often contain more than a single paragraph.) They inform a reader that the essay is taking a turn in its argument: delving into a related topic such as a counter-argument, stepping up its claims with a complication, or pausing to give essential historical or scholarly background. Because they reveal the architecture of the essay itself, signposts remind readers of what the essay's stakes are: what it's about, and why it's being written.
Signposting can be accomplished in a sentence or two at the beginning of a paragraph or in whole paragraphs that serve as transitions between one part of the argument and the next. The following example comes from an essay examining how a painting by Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train, challenges Zola's declarations about Impressionist art. The student writer wonders whether Monet's Impressionism is really as devoted to avoiding "ideas" in favor of direct sense impressions as Zola's claims would seem to suggest. This is the start of the essay's third section:
It is evident in this painting that Monet found his Gare Saint-Lazare motif fascinating at the most fundamental level of the play of light as well as the loftiest level of social relevance. Arrival of a Train explores both extremes of expression. At the fundamental extreme, Monet satisfies the Impressionist objective of capturing the full-spectrum effects of light on a scene.
The writer signposts this section in the first sentence, reminding readers of the stakes of the essay itself with the simultaneous references to sense impression ("play of light") and intellectual content ("social relevance"). The second sentence follows up on this idea, while the third serves as a topic sentence for the paragraph. The paragraph after that starts off with a topic sentence about the "cultural message" of the painting, something that the signposting sentence predicts by not only reminding readers of the essay's stakes but also, and quite clearly, indicating what the section itself will contain.
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
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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.
Writing Topic Sentences — Purpose, Structure, and Examples
What is a topic sentence?
A topic sentence in academic writing identifies how a body paragraph relates to the overall purpose of an essay stated in the thesis statement . Topic sentences are usually at the beginning of a paragraph and identify the paragraph’s controlling idea.
While an essay’s thesis statement identifies the point of the essay in its entirety, the topic sentence has a much narrower focus, as it relates only to the paragraph in which it is located.
What is the purpose of a topic sentence?
The purpose of a topic sentence is to inform the reader of the main idea of the paragraph and how it connects to the overall objective of the essay. An effective topic sentence accomplishes one or more of the following:
Makes a claim
Supports other claims made in the paper
Identifies the purpose of the rest of the paragraph
Relates the paragraph to the purpose of the paper
Precedes information that defends a claim
How to write a topic sentence
To write a topic sentence, incorporate the following guidelines:
Determine the thesis of the essay.
Identify the main supports that help prove the thesis.
Use each main support to structure a topic sentence for each paragraph.
Compose a sentence that answers the following questions:
What will the paragraph prove?
How does the paragraph connect to the thesis?
Where is the topic sentence in a paragraph?
Topic sentences can be placed at the beginning or end of a paragraph.
Although it does not need to be the first sentence, the topic sentence should be placed at the beginning of the paragraph so the reader can quickly identify the purpose of the paragraph.
While not a common placement for a topic sentence, some writers use topic sentences at the end of a paragraph. Writers who choose this method want the reader to deduce the main point of the paragraph by presenting the evidence first.
Topic sentence examples
The following list identifies topic sentences based on the provided thesis statements for five-paragraph essays:
Thesis Statement: Capital punishment should be banned because it is inhumane, unconstitutional, and ineffective at deterring crime.
Support Paragraph 1 Topic Sentence: The inhumane nature of the death penalty proves it should be abolished.
Support Paragraph 2 Topic Sentence: Capital punishment should be outlawed because it violates the Constitution.
Support Paragraph 3 Topic Sentence: Because the death penalty does not effectively deter criminal behavior, states should not continue to use it.
Thesis Statement: College athletes should be financially compensated because they sacrifice their minds and bodies, cannot hold an outside job, and increase the school’s revenue.
Support Paragraph 1 Topic Sentence: Student athletes should be paid for their performance because of sports’ impact on their minds and bodies.
Support Paragraph 2 Topic Sentence: Because most college athletes cannot play their sport and hold a job, colleges should give them a living wage.
Support Paragraph 3 Topic Sentence: Student-athletes’ ability to increase their college’s revenue proves they should be awarded financial compensation.
Thesis Statement: Using alternative energy sources can help lessen the impact of global climate change.
Support Paragraph 1 Topic Sentence: Through the widespread use of solar power, countries can limit the environmental impact of other energy sources.
Support Paragraph 2 Topic Sentence: Utilizing more wind turbines as a power source can help mitigate the effects of climate change.
Support Paragraph 3 Topic Sentence: Using geothermal power will effectively decrease the world's reliance on fossil fuels.
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 with evidence and examples.
Topic sentences reveal the main point of a paragraph. They show the relationship of each paragraph to the essay's thesis, telegraph the point of a paragraph, and tell your reader what to expect in the paragraph that follows.
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.
A topic sentence is the opening sentence to a paragraph that gives the general idea (topic) of what the writing will be about. It needs to give broad enough information to allow for multiple subtopics and examples without being so general that it makes the purpose of the writing unclear.
Topic sentence vs. thesis statement What is the purpose of a topic sentence? The purpose of a topic sentence is to inform the reader of the main idea of the paragraph and how it connects to the overall objective of the essay. An effective topic sentence accomplishes one or more of the following: Makes a claim. Supports other claims made in the ...