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Writing Effective Topic Sentences What’s a Topic Sentence Anyway? The best way to understand the role of the topic sentence in paragraph development is to imagine that any given paragraph is a sort of ‘mini-essay’ that has its own mini-thesis, mini-support, and mini-conclusion. In fact, the parts of a paragraph correspond to the parts of an essay as follows: Essay Level Paragraph Level Thesis statement* Topic sentence Body paragraphs Supporting details, explanations, analysis Conclusion Wrap-up/transition sentence Just as an effective essay starts off with an introduction that presents the paper’s thesis statement and indicates the specific claim or argument that the essay will develop, so too each paragraph begins with a topic sentence that indicates the focus of that paragraph, alerting the reader to the particular subtopic that the paragraph will illustrate, analyze and/or explain. The topic sentence does not have to be the first sentence in the paragraph; however, it should come early in the paragraph in order to orient the reader to the paragraph’s focus right away. For instance, some paragraphs may begin with a transition sentence that serves to ease continuity from the previous paragraph’s topic onto the current paragraph’s topic (See http://writingcenter.waldenu.edu/502.htm for more information about transitions). In the case of the first sentence being a transition, the topic sentence is usually the second sentence in the paragraph. What makes an effective topic sentence? Just as an effective thesis statement defines the paper’s focus as specifically as possible, an effective topic sentence states the focus of the paragraph clearly and concisely. The remainder of the paragraph then functions to develop the point stated in the topic sentence. Consider my previous paragraph as an example: The topic sentence does not have to be the first sentence in the paragraph; however, it should come early in the paragraph in order to orient the reader to the paragraph’s focus right away. For instance, some paragraphs may begin with a transition sentence that serves to ease continuity from the previous paragraph’s topic onto the current paragraph’s topic. In the case of the first sentence being a transition, the topic sentence is usually the second sentence in the paragraph. Notice how the topic sentence (italicized above) lets the reader know exactly what he or she can expect to read about in the paragraph: it’s going to be a paragraph about the location of topic sentences. Moreover, every sentence within the paragraph connects back to the topic sentence through illustration, explanation or analysis; every sentence in the sample paragraph tells us something about the placement of topic sentences. Although it may be tempting to begin a paragraph with a compelling quote, as a general rule topic sentences should state the main idea of the paragraph in your own words. Direct quotes have a place later in the paragraph where they may be incorporated to support the topic sentence’s point. Where can I get more information? If you are finding it challenging to create nice, focused topic sentences, you might consider outlining before beginning to write a paper. The points and subpoints of an outline—especially if you put together a formal outline written in full sentences—can then become the topic sentences for the paper’s paragraphs. To learn more about full sentence outlines, see our out handout titled Outlining a Paper at http://writingcenter.edu/318.htm. To learn more about the thesis statement (the main point of the essay as stated in the essay’s introductory paragraph), see our Thesis Construction handout at http://writingcenter.waldenu.edu/405.htm.
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