Definition to Remember:
- Topic Sentence + Evidence = Paragraph
Rules to Remember:
“As a social change-agent, I ended up writing and editing policies for a startup charter school. These policies codified our commitment to being a healthy civic partner, protected public assets, and helped clarify – in a time of rapid change and growth – our community expectations.” Kirsten Rayhawk, Board Member, Portland Village School
- Once you have decided what claim you will make about your topic, you must decide what supporting material will best demonstrate to your readers that you have good reason to believe what you do about your subject. Without evidence, you will find yourself merely repeating your ideas.
- The more specific your evidence is, the more persuasive and memorable your claim will be. The key here – regardless of the kind of writing you are doing, whether an anthropology term paper or an email to your boss – is to show your readers, rather than merely tell them.
Consider, for example, the following paragraph. It begins with a clear topic sentence, followed by very specific evidence. Take note that the author does not bother to explain and re-explain the ideas (telling), but instead offers specific, visual details (showing) so we readers can better identify with the claims at hand:
- My oldest son was a daredevil as a child. When he was in second-grade, he was called to the principal’s office for encouraging a crowd of boys to toss rocks over the school yard fence at passing cars. When he was in fourth grade, he built a jump for his bike at the neighborhood park and gained so much air that he nearly fractured his spine when he landed. When he as a sophomore in high school, I grounded him for an entire summer after he organized a drag race at the beach and ran our family Jeep directly into oncoming waves. Indeed, life with my spirited oldest son has never been dull.
- Evidence can mean a number of different kinds of support. Examples are just one option. To develop a topic sentence into a full paragraph, you might also include any of the following: examples, reasons, facts, details, statistics, anecdotes, or quotations from experts.
- Your evidence should always be (1) relevant and unified, (2) specific, (3) adequate, (4) accurate, (5) representative, and (6) if borrowed, properly documented.
- Repeating the topic sentence rather than moving directly into evidence. If you need to repeat or clarify your topic sentence in order to ensure that your readers understand, rewrite your topic sentence until it is sufficient on its own and you are able to move on to your specific evidence. Consider the person you know who repeats a certain conviction over and over but never offers any evidence. Most of us eventually stop listening, right? Instead offer your readers solid evidence to support your assertions and see what changes you are able to bring about.
- Including general always evidence rather than specific single-moment evidence. If your topic sentence states that a particular author offers an effective new approach to global warming, would it be more effective to wax on about how he always writes the most interesting arguments, or would it make more sense to reference specific sources, showing your readers what you have witnessed rather than merely telling them?
- Saving evidence for a later paragraph without remembering that every paragraph must adhere to the simple math of topic sentence + evidence = paragraph. If you are writing an academic essay, an email to your boss at work, or a letter to a client, this equation applies to every new paragraph you write.
If you were to write a paragraph about each of the following topics from Exercise 7.1, what would your evidence be? How can you ensure that you evidence is clear and specific? How can you learn to think of potential evidence 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.
Example Evidence: (1) a free Math 150 textbook versus $140 for a paper copy, (2) the ease of accessing the Math 150 textbook online rather than carrying a heavy paper copy, (3) the cost savings of 30 students x $140 in a single fall course listing.
- My family
- Medical care
Find a paragraph you have written in the past week, whether for work, school, or personal use. Was there clear evidence to support your topic sentence? If so, what was the evidence? Are you confident that your evidence clearly supported your purpose for the paragraph? Was the evidence as single-moment specific as possible? If not, what changes would you make? How will the addition of clear, specific evidence aid your readers?
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 8.1, name the topic, and then list one to three elements of specific evidence for each topic that could serve well once you are ready to write your full paragraph.