Writing a Strong Topic Sentence

Objective

After completing this lesson I can write informative and engaging topic sentences.
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What is a topic sentence?

Every paragraph that you write should have a topic sentence. The topic sentence states the topic and the main point of your paragraph.  It tells what your paragraph is all about.  The paragraph develops around the main point in the topic sentence. The topic sentence is often the first sentence in a paragraph because the reader can easily comprehend what the paragraph will include. The reader can also tell what to expect from that paragraph in view of what he already knows about the subject. Sometimes it is also helpful to put the topic sentence as the last sentence in the paragraph. Notice the topic sentences in the following paragraphs (the topic sentence is underlined in each example). Example 1: "Termites are extremely harmful pests.  Termites can chew through shelves of books in a library.  Sometimes termites ruin farmers' valuable crops.  Telephone poles often need to be replaced because these ravaging insects have weakened them.  Wood from homes can also be completely destroyed by these pests.  The property damage caused by termites can be very frustrating and costly." Example 2: "San Francisco is a great city because of its professional sports teams. The 49ers are the professional football team in San Francisco. Attending a 49ers football game is thrilling. The San Francisco Giants are the city’s professional baseball team. They won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Nothing is more American than enjoying a baseball game with some peanuts and cracker jacks. Many people in the city rally around their teams and make the games enjoyable." Example 3: "Dogs can do many incredible things.  They can learn to locate objects based on their keen sense of smell.  They can also help guide people who can't see.  Dogs are trained to do jobs in the military and police.  Dogs also help humans hunt animals.  Dogs are very amazing animals." Example 4: "As students, our right to express ourselves is important, but in our society none of us has unrestricted freedom to do as we like at all times. We must all learn discipline, respect the feelings of others, and learn how to operate in the real world in order to be successful. Dress codes not only create a better learning environment, but can also help prepare students for our future careers. It would be beneficial for our schools to adopt a dress code." It is a normally good idea to position your topic sentence as the first sentence in the paragraph. As you develop your writing skills, I would encourage you to vary the position of the topic sentence so that it is placed within the paragraph, or at the very end of the paragraph.

Watch this video to see an explanation and example of a topic sentence.

Writing a topic sentence

Let's review what a strong topic sentence does and does NOT do, then go through some practice. Remember, a strong topic sentence explains the topic and the main point of your paragraph. The topic sentence is like the paragraph's backbone, giving your argument a clear support system. It helps guide you as the writer, keeping your arguments on point, and it also helps guide the reader. Now that you know what a topic sentence is, do you think you can write one of your own? First, recognize that topic sentences can come in many shapes and sizes. You won't use the same type of topic sentence every time. It is a good idea to use a variety of different types to keep your writing lively. Here are a few common types of topic sentences:
  • Declarative Statement: State your main point as a fact. Make your main point clearly and authoritatively. For example: "Termites are extremely harmful pests because of the damage they cause."
  • Question/Answer: Questions can be good guides for the reader, who will likely assume you are about to answer the question posed (so make sure you follow through and answer the question!). Using a question at the beginning of your paragraph adds some momentum, driving toward your answer. For example: "Why are dogs the most helpful animals? There are numerous ways that they help make humans' lives easier."
  • Situation Stance: Start with an "If..." and use a situation to explain your main point. For example: "If someone were to ask me what city to visit, I would recommend San Francisco."
  • Bridge/Transition: Like a complex sentence, a bridge acts as a transition from your previous point into the next one. However, the bridge is typically a simpler sentence and can add a little variety to your writing. You might write something as simple as this example: “The new ordinance, however, did not deter bar patrons from smoking.” This is useful in multi-paragraph essays to transition between two different reasons.
Avoid these common mistakes when writing a topic sentence. These are bad habits that lead to sloppy paragraphs. If you find these in your writing, when you are revising you should make edits to get rid of these:
  • Quotations from others: Quotations often only indirectly relate to your main point, or can be moved further down in the paragraph to give evidence that supports your main point. Quotes are normally unnecessary to the main point. For example: "San Francisco is a wonderful tourist destination because there is a wide variety of activities to keep you busy, and Herb Caen once said, "One day if I go to heaven…I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.’" Although it's a nice quote, it's not a main point.
  • Announcement/Writing about your writing: We know you are writing or explaining something, so there is no need to explain that you are writing an essay. For example: “Now, I will cover the events leading up to Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address.” (This is simplistic and unnecessary).
  • Too wordy/Too many details: The topic sentence should avoid getting buried in the details that should come later in the paragraph to support your main point: Here is an example of a wordy topic sentence that mixes the main point with the reasons: "We only live once and young people should visit many places, if you have never been to San Francisco you will like going there because you can go to a 49ers or Giants game, but if you don't like sports you will like the restaurants, or many other people enjoy visiting the beach." This is too wordy and gets buried in the details. The writer just needs to organize the supporting details into separate sentences.

Practice

What is a topic sentence?

Check all that apply

Choose which sentence is the topic sentence in the following paragraph.

(1) A baby Koala has a pretty easy life. (2) After it is born, the baby koala is carried about in its mother’s pouch and is fed by her. (3) When the koala is sixth months old, its eyes are wide open and it is eager to see the outside world. (4) So its mother carries it on her back until the baby koala is almost as big as she is. 

Check all that apply

Choose which sentence is the topic sentence in the following paragraph.

(1) The very first World Cup tournament was played in South America in 1930. (2) According to FIFA up to 2002 Brazil has won the World Cup five times. (3) Germany and Italy are the next highest with three wins apiece.

Check all that apply

Choose which sentence is the topic sentence in the following paragraph.

(1) Beaches are fun in summer and in winter. (2) In summer, you can swim and do many other water sports. (3) If you don’t like water sports, you can play beach games or relax on the warm sand. (4) In winter, beaches are less crowded, so they are good places for solitary walks. (5) Also, on a clear winter night, nothing is more fun than sitting with a group of friends around a big bonfire, talking laughing, and singing.

Check all that apply

Choose which sentence is the topic sentence in the following paragraph.

(1) My son's name is Calvin. (2) His favorite item in our whole house is his Nintendo Switch. (3) Calvin owns 15 games, and has his sights on some new ones coming out soon. (4) His favorite games are Super Mario Odyssey and Super Smash Bros. (5) Calvin is a huge video game lover.

Check all that apply

This paragraph is missing a topic sentence. After reading the paragraph, compose your own topic sentence in the space provided. Make sure that it contains a topic and a makes a main point about the topic.

Just this year our school had to shut down for days at a time as a result of a malfunction of the heating system. The roof of the library also had a leaking problem all winter long. The leaking has actually caused the ceiling tiles to rot to the point where they are having to be removed. It isn’t safe to sit underneath them because, in fact, they have fallen to tables where students had been working only minutes before.

Assignment

Look back at your sample "Getting to Know You" paragraph that you submitted to the drop box. Identify your topic sentence. Using what you have learned about topic sentences, now revise it so that you have a stronger topic sentence. Save this revision and continue working through the lessons in this block.

Remember when writing

Remember when writing