A topic sentence is a sentence that introduces a paragraph by presenting the one topic that will be the focus of that paragraph.
The structure of a paragraph should imitate the organization of a paper. Just like the thesis statement gives the main idea of the paper at the essay level, the topic sentence gives the main idea at the paragraph level. The rest of the paragraph then supports that topic.
Topic sentences should:
- Be specific and have a narrower focus than your thesis statement.
- Appear in or near the first sentence of the paragraph.
- Introduce the topic of the paragraph.
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|“||By the grammar of a language is meant either the relations born by the words of a sentence and by sentences themselves one to another, or the systematized exposition of these.||”|
|— Topic sentence of the Grammar article, Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 Edition|
In expository writing, a topic sentence is a sentence that summarizes the main idea of a paragraph. It is usually the first sentence in a paragraph.
Also known as a focus sentence, it encapsulates or organizes an entire paragraph. Although topic sentences may appear anywhere in a paragraph, in academic essays they often appear at the beginning. The topic sentence acts as a kind of summary, and offers the reader an insightful view of the writer’s main ideas for the following paragraph. More than just being a mere summary, however, a topic sentence often provides a claim or an insight directly or indirectly related to the thesis. It adds cohesion to a paper and helps organize ideas both within the paragraph and the whole body of work at large. As the topic sentence encapsulates the idea of the paragraph, serving as a sub-thesis, it remains general enough to cover the support given in the body paragraph while being more direct than the thesis of the paper.
By definition a complex sentence is one that has a main clause which could stand alone and a dependent clause which cannot by itself be a sentence. Using a complex sentence is a great way to refer to the content of the paragraph above (dependent clause) and then bring in the content of the new paragraph (the independent clause). Here is a typical example:
While the ant generally works for the benefit of the community, he also carries out duties for his own needs.
The beginning, dependent, clause probably refers to the content of a preceding paragraph that presented the ant as a community-focused worker. As suggested by the main clause, which is the second within the sentence, the new paragraph will address how the ant works to benefit himself as well.
Questions at the beginning of new paragraphs can make topic sentences which both remind the reader of what was in the previous paragraph and signal the introduction of something new. Consider this example of a question for a topic sentence:
But will the current budget cuts be enough to balance the school district’s budget?
This question refers to the content of the previous paragraph, but it introduces the content for the new one – how the budget cuts may not in fact be enough to balance the budget.
A "bridge sentence" reminds the reader of what went before and does not signal what is to come. It merely hints that something new is about to be introduced. Example:
But there may be more to this issue than first thought.
Pivot topic sentences will come somewhere in the middle of a paragraph, and usually announce that the content will be changing in a different direction. These are often used when there are two differing opinions about something or when two "experts" are being quoted or referred to that may have a different opinion or approach to something. A paragraph may begin something like this:
Kubler and Kessler have identified 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And they have provided a detailed explanation of the symptoms and behaviors of each of these stages, so that those experiencing grief may identify which stage they are in at any given time and develop strategies with the help of their therapists, to move through those stages more effectively. Since their original work, however, a number of other psychologists have developed different models of the grieving process that call into question some of Kubler and Kessler’s contentions….
The first part of this paragraph addresses Kubler and Kessler; the second part will obviously address another opinion. The topic sentence is underlined, to show the pivot point in the paragraph. Pivot topic sentences will always have some clue word, such as "yet," "sometimes," or "however."
- ^"On Paragraphs", Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University.
- ^"Writing Paragraphs", The Writing Centre, University of Ottawa.
- ^William Strunk, Jr, "Elementary principles of composition", The Elements of Style, 1918.
- ^"Paragraphs and Topic Sentences", Writing Tutorial Services, Indiana University.
- ^"Lesson Plan: Writing a Good Topic Sentence" ("written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth"), Bright Hub Education.
- ^"Techniques for writing topic sentences", Trust My Paper.
- ^"Paragraphs: Topic Sentences", Writing Center, Walden University.
- ^Maureen Auman, "The Heart of Your Paper: 11 Methods for Writing a Topic Sentence (or a Thesis Statement)", Step Up to Writing, Middle Link (Middle School Literacy Support), Anchorage School District. Retrieved 2015-10-22.
- ^Marsha Ford, "Can Either the Topic Sentence or the Thesis Statement Be a Question?", The Pen and the Pad, Leaf Group Ltd.
- ^"Bridge Sentences", Exploring US History, the University of Oklahoma. Retrieved 2015-10-22
- ^Richard Feldstein, "Paragraph Exercise #4: Placement of the Topic Sentence" Rhode Island College. Retrieved 2015-10-22