Hey there! It’s Shelby with the Texas A&M University Writing Center, and today, we are going to be explaining topic sentences in under four minutes. Let’s get started!
Just as a thesis statement states the main claim of a paper, a topic sentence states the main subject (or topic) of a paragraph. Topic sentences are typically found at the beginning of each paragraph and are often the opening sentences.
Like a signpost, topic sentences prepare the reader for what they are about to read in each paragraph. It’s kind of like a label that tells you what’s inside the rest of the paragraph.
They should be broad enough to cover the main idea of each paragraph and not just one detail, but they should be specific enough that the reader can recognize what point that paragraph is trying to make.
The point of your paragraph might be to make a claim, or the point might be to provide evidence, an example, or an illustration to support a claim.
In addition to summarizing what each paragraph is about, topic sentences also help the reader understand how each paragraph relates to the thesis of the paper (overhead shot of a paper where I circle a paragraph with my finger and then point to the thesis of the paper; make sure to have the topic sentence highlighted), as topic sentences should always support the thesis or main idea of the paper.
For example, let’s look at this paragraph.
“Some dogs are trained to be service dogs, assisting individuals with disabilities. Others are trained to be search-and-rescue dogs, serving in crisis situations. Even without a specific job, though, dogs provide mental and physical health benefits that cannot be taken for granted.”
While these examples provide clear supporting details, none of them quite sound like they’re making an overarching point.
The first sentence signals that the main point of the paragraph would be that some dogs are trained to be service dogs. However, when we read the rest of the paragraph, we quickly learn that this is not the main claim because it is not broad enough to encompass all of our supporting details.
Now, take a look at this version.
“Dogs make significant contributions to humanity. Some are trained to be service dogs, assisting individuals with disabilities. Others are trained to be search-and-rescue dogs, serving in crisis situations. Even without a specific job, though, dogs provide mental and physical health benefits that cannot be taken for granted.”
Now, we have added a topic sentence that clearly signals the main point of the paragraph--that dogs make incredible contributions to humanity.
So with that example in mind, let’s take a look at a few tips for writing and revising topic sentences.
First, after you’ve written a draft, always go back and make sure that the details in a paragraph actually support or relate back to that paragraph’s topic sentence.
If the paragraph ended up veering in an unexpected direction, you may need to revise the topic sentence to better summarize the content of the paragraph.
Second, because topic sentences are typically located at the start of each paragraph, they often serve as transition sentences between paragraphs.
Including transition words in your topic sentences can help ease the change in topic between paragraphs and can help the reader see how each paragraph is related to one another.
For example, if one paragraph is about a type of training that search and rescue dogs go through, the next paragraph might start with, “Alternatively,” to introduce a different type of training that service dogs go through.
Finally, remember that your thesis and topic sentences together serve as a sort of outline for the paper, so your reader should be able to get the gist of the paper just by reading these sentences.
So to summarize, topic sentences are key to good paragraph organization.
Sometimes, you may write the topic sentence first, while other times you may write it last after you know what the rest of the paragraph says.
Either way, topic sentences are essentially just signposts, preparing readers for what they are about to read in each paragraph, and they should always relate back to the thesis or main idea.
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