Techniques for Writing Topic Sentences
A topic sentence identifies the main idea of any paragraph that you write. It may also state the main point or argument that you will be making in the paragraph. While it often appears at the very beginning of the paragraph, it can appear elsewhere, especially in a creative writing piece. But the important concept is this: the topic sentence lets the reader knows exactly what will be covered in the paragraph. With this topic sentence definition, let’s look at an example. Here is a topic sentence you might write for a paragraph that is part of a persuasive essay on the elimination of the Electoral College:
“The Electoral College was created at a time when it could take months to count every vote and get the results to Washington, D.C.”
The Process for Writing a Good Topic Sentence
First, let’s understand what a paragraph is. It is a collection of sentences that are all connected to the support of a main point or idea. The main point or idea is the basis for writing a topic sentence. Here are the clear steps in the process.
- Identify your general topic idea for a paragraph. This will be broad and much too large for a single paragraph.
- Within that broad topic idea, identify a smaller, focused topic that will be appropriate for a paragraph of several sentences.
- Craft a topic sentence that will “cover” all of the points of that focused topic.
General Topic Idea: Hurricane Andrew
Focused Topic: The devastation left by Hurricane Andrew
Topic Sentence: Hurricane Andrew left a huge swath of destruction in its path.
(NOTE: Writing a topic sentence means that you construct a complete sentence, not just a title or a phrase. The general topic Idea is a title; the smaller topic is a phrase; the topic sentence is just that – a complete sentence.)
Below are a two exercises that will help you understand what a topic sentence is and is not. Each of the following groups of sentences contain examples of topic sentences. See if you can identify it.
Focused Topic: Planning a Party
- Choose decorations that will match the occasion
- Preparing for a party takes a lot organization
- Showing how to plan for a party
- Here is a checklist for planning party, step-by-step
- Be certain to have an accurate number of guests before buying the food and drink
Focused Topic: Writing a Cover Letter
- Try to find the name of the person to whom you should address the letter
- Be certain that there are no grammatical or spelling errors
- Cover letters are important because they are the first impression an employer has of you.
- You cover letter style should match the company “culture.”
- A cover letter should be brief but address the highlights of your accomplishments
Topic 1: 2, 4
Topic 2: 3, 5
Choosing a Topic Sentence from a Focused Topic Can Further Narrow Your Focus
If we return to the “smaller topic” of the devastation of Hurricane Andrew, the writer still has choices for a topic sentence that may narrow the focus of his/her paragraph even further. Here are some potential topic sentences other than the one chosen:
- Hurricane Andrew’s destruction was so severe that people lived in “tent cities” for months
- Hurricane Andrew destroyed people’s livelihoods for months afterwards
- The destruction of Hurricane Andrew brought out the best in people
Each of these sentences speaks to a different result from the devastation caused by the hurricane, and the supporting details for each topic sentence will differ too. As you can see, then, the topic sentence will really serve to organize the remainder of your paragraph.
Exercise: Below are three sets of details for a paragraph on “Things I learned from my mother about money.” Here are three topic sentences. Match the topic sentence, A, B, or C with the correct set of details.
- A. My mother taught me how to set up a budget
- B. My mother taught me how to be frugal
- C. My mother taught me how to save
- Compare prices and only shop sales
- Never go over the amount you have budgeted for any item
- Turn off lights, turn down thermostat, and use fans
- Make birthday cakes rather than buy them
- Throw loose change in a jar
- Put an amount for savings in the budget
- Never go over a budgeted amount for any expense
- Set aside money in the monthly budget for large expenses like Christmas
- Keep track of every expense
- Make a list of all income and all expenses then subtract expenses from income and put the remainder aside for big purchases in the future
- Set amounts to be spent on normal needs
- Divide expenses into necessities, near necessities and luxuries
Set 1: B
Set 2: C
Set 3: A
The Final Exercise for Learning How to Write a Topic Sentence
- Pick a topic – a person, an event, an experience, a personal belief
- Identify 3 focused topics within that larger topic
- Write three topic sentences – one of each of your focused topics
- List the supporting details for each of those topic sentences.