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Humanities Libertexts

2.1: Topic Sentences

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    15235
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    Every paragraph must have a topic sentence that clearly states your purpose for that paragraph. [Image: Diego PH | Unsplash]

     

    Definition to Remember:

    • Topic Sentence = the purpose of your paragraph

    Every paragraph must have a topic sentence that states clearly for your readers the purpose of that specific paragraph. If you do not have a topic sentence, how will your readers understand your intent? If you are unsure what your topic sentence should be, how can you expect your readers to dig through to locate your meaning? If you aren’t clear on the purpose of a single paragraph, why have you bothered to include it?

    As we move from the sentence equation to the paragraph equation, it is important to recognize that the simple math is equally important at the paragraph level. Just as subject + verb = sentence, your readers will expect this equation of each paragraph you write: topic sentence + evidence = paragraph.

    The easiest place to situate the topic sentence is as the first line of each new paragraph, followed by direct evidence. But you are free to place the topic sentence anywhere that is most effective for your meaning, as long as you have one.

    “Keep the main thing, the main thing. Use the best words to make your point, rather than the most words. Clear, concise writing is a gift for the reader.” Heather Rainey, Administrative Assistant, Doctor of Ministry Program

    To write an effective topic sentence, picture your audience sitting beside your desk. If you had to state the purpose of your paragraph in a single sentence to your audience, whether it is a single person or a convention center full of thousands, what would you say? If you are not used to including a topic sentence with each new paragraph you write, save this step for your revision work. Often the topic sentence can be fine-tuned or even added after you have finished writing the draft.

    Rules to Remember:

    1. Every paragraph must have a clear topic sentence.
    2. The topic sentence must clearly state your purpose for that paragraph.
    3. If you have more than one paragraph, the topic sentence must be a single sentence (subject + verb = sentence) that both presents your topic for the paragraph and builds on the ideas you have presented already. If you line up your topic sentences, one after the other, are they repetitive of one another? Do the ideas drift forward and back, or does your line of thinking move clear forward to a single main point? Remember, too, that each new topic sentence should relate directly to your overall thesis statement if you are writing an essay.

    Common Errors:

    • Skipping the topic sentence because the meaning is self-evident or implied. Never assume that your readers are heading in the same direction you are. Instead offer them the simple math necessary to keep your communication clear, concise, and meaningful.
    • Combining the topic sentence with other information, with an assumption that the readers will understand which is which. Instead include a single clear topic sentence in each new paragraph you write.

    Exercises:

    Exercise 7.1

    If you were to write a paragraph about each of the following topics, what would your topic sentence be? How can you ensure that you topic sentence is a clear statement that presents both your topic and your claim about your topic? How can you learn to write topic sentences quickly and efficiently, so it becomes second nature for you?

    Example Topic: Books
    Example Topic Sentence: Because of cost and convenience, online open textbooks will one day replace standard print textbooks.

    1. Cooking
    2. Sports
    3. My family
    4. Medical care
    5. Government
    6. Computers
    7. Children
    8. Pets
    9. Travel
    10. Technology

    Exercise 7.2

    Find a paragraph you have written in the past week, whether for work, school, or personal use. Was there a topic sentence? If so, what was the topic sentence? Are you confident that your topic sentence clearly presents your purpose for the paragraph? If not, what should your topic sentence be? How will the addition of a clear topic sentence aid your readers?

    Exercise 7.3

    Consider at least five potential paragraphs that you will need to write in the next week, whether for work, school, or personal use. As in Exercise 7.1, name the topic, and then write a topic sentence that could serve well once you are ready to write your full paragraph.

    1.

    2.

    3.

    4.

    5.

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