- Last Edited: February 13, 2018
A topic sentence is the most important part of a paragraph.
It acts as the signpost for your writing, alerting the reader of his whereabouts. The topic sentence yells out, “Hey! You! Over here! This is where we’re at and where we’re going! If you don’t like this path, better turn back around!”
In other words, the topic sentence announces—yep, that’s right—the topic!
Every paragraph has its own—or at least should have its own—topic.
(No doubt you’ve probably read a paragraph that rambles all over the place and never seems to make a point. Surely, you’ve come across a paragraph that had no main idea or topic sentence.)
The main idea of every paragraph should be expressed by its topic sentence.
Topic Sentence Structure
There is no one-size-fits-all structure for a topic sentence.
They can range in size and shape.
The main goal, however, should be the same no matter what the sentence looks like.
Typically, the topic sentence will introduce the paragraph. That means it is most commonly found at the start of every new paragraph.
The sentences that follow the topic sentence should relate to the topic sentence somehow and act as support. In other words, they should work to develop the idea presented in the topic sentence.
If, for instance, your topic sentence discusses the magazine rack in a dentist’s office, the following sentences should also relate to this magazine rack (perhaps by describing the magazines or the rack itself).
If the following sentences, however, go on to describe the woman sitting by the magazine rack, or the poster on the wall opposite the room, or the nurse behind the counter, something is off.
There should be alignment between the topic sentence and the sentences that follow: those that follow should expand on the idea introduced in the topic.
If you want to describe the entire dentist’s office then make your topic sentence focus on the office rather than on a single article within the office.
The forms of a topic sentence can vary, depending on how you want to use your sentence within the context of the larger essay structure.
For instance, your topic sentence can act as a bridge, linking the topic of the previous paragraph to the topic of the new paragraph.
It can act as a pivot, and be buried in the middle of the paragraph (in this case, the topic sentence creates a shift in the main idea of the paragraph).
It can act as a question, which introduces the main idea, or it can be a complex sentence (with an independent and a dependent clause).
We’ll give some examples of each of these forms below.
As a general rule, the topic sentence should give a macro perspective—and the rest of the paragraph can give the micro. In this way, the topic sentence will reflect on the sentences that follow. What does this mean?
Well, let’s look at some basic rules to follow when writing a topic sentence to understand a little better:
A. A topic sentence should…
1. Identify the main idea of the paragraph;
2. Be clear and show where the paragraph is heading.
B. A topic sentence should NOT…
1. Just state the topic. Instead, it should state the topic AND give an idea of how it is supported in the paragraph—i.e., the direction in which the paragraph will go.
C. A topic sentence should…
1. Be balanced—neither too specific nor too vague.
D. A topic sentence should…
1. Hook the reader by:
a. Raising a question;
b. Introducing a person, place or thing;
c. Using a bit of relevant dialogue;
d. Portraying a relevant emotion;
e. Providing details to make your reader more interested.
E. A topic sentence should NOT…
1. Start off a paragraph by raising a rhetorical question! (Too vague)
2. Mention something that is not the main point of the paragraph;
3. Be formulaic or dry.
F. A topic sentence may…
1. Bridge two paragraphs.
2. Act as a transition between the last paragraph and the one you are just now beginning.
G. A topic sentence should…
1. Relate to the thesis statement of the essay.
2. Connect back to the main point of the paper.
H. A topic sentence should NOT…
1. Introduce an idea that is not connected to the overall aim of the essay;
2. Act as a diversion to some other issue that is not related to the main purpose of the paper.
Writing a topic sentence is as important to composing an overall essay as any other element of essay construction.
Whether you are writing a research paper, an informative essay or a personal narrative, you’ll need to know how to craft a topic sentence to make your paper effective.
(By the way, see here for how to write a research paper an informative essay, or a personal narrative essay.)
No matter what type of paper you are tasked with writing, knowing the fundamentals are essential.
That is why understanding how to craft a topic sentence and comprehending what it does in a paragraph are so important.
They are part of the tool set that you will use to strengthen you essay writing.
The most important points to remember when writing a topic sentence are:
1) To communicate the main idea of the paragraph in which it occurs AND
2) To relate that paragraph to the overall thesis of the paper.
Helpful Hints and Reminders
- Give your topic sentence a neat hook to keep your reader interested.
- Use the topic sentence to relate a new paragraph back to the thesis of the paper.
- Put the topic sentence in the form of a question to break up monotony of style.
- Use transitions in your topic sentence to bridge two paragraphs.