A key to becoming a better writer is learning how to cover one main idea in each paragraph and write clearly—topic sentences can help you do that by focusing your writing.
Let’s look at what a topic sentence is, how to write a good topic sentence, and topic sentence examples.
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What is a topic sentence in a paragraph?
A topic sentence is a sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph—it tells the reader what the paragraph is about in a clear and concise manner. It organizes an essay, engages the reader, provides a focus for the paragraph, and relates each paragraph back to the thesis.
A topic sentence is generally the first sentence in your body paragraph or at least at the beginning of the paragraph.
The topic sentence is the most important sentence because it organizes the paragraph by summarizing what you will discuss.
Topic sentences provide structure and organization to your essay—this is helpful for both the writer and the reader.
As the writer, writing your thesis statement and then making an outline of your topic sentences gives you a clear framework to work with. It makes it easier to write the essay and ensures that your essay is cohesive, well organized, and continually relates back to your thesis statement. It also helps you stay on topic and cover one idea per paragraph.
For the reader, having an essay that flows is more engaging. It makes it more coherent and cohesive. Topic sentences highlight the important information, which makes it easier to understand.
You have to build on your topic sentence. You make your claim in the topic sentence, which serves as a base to add your supporting details, evidence, and examples that strengthen your argument.
The purpose of a topic sentence is to provide a clear focus for your paragraph and preview what you will discuss in the paragraph.
Is the topic sentence always the first sentence?
In general, the topic sentence is the first sentence in the paragraph, but it does not have to be (though it is typically at the beginning of the paragraph). There are instances when the first sentence(s) may be a transition sentence or provide context about the topic, and the topic sentence is after.
The topic sentence is usually at the beginning to help the reader understand what the paragraph is about. However, a topic sentence can be in the middle or end of the paragraph (though this would be rare for body paragraphs).
It is the best practice to have your topic sentence be the first sentence in the paragraph.
Can a topic sentence be more than one sentence?
A topic sentence is traditionally one sentence—this is recommended to state your point clearly and concisely. However, a topic sentence can be 2 or 3 sentences long if you are explaining the claim.
If you decide you must make your topic sentence longer to express your main idea, make sure to edit and try to remain as concise as possible. Also, do not overly use multiple topic sentences, as this can make your essay lack focus or structure.
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Topic sentences for paragraphs that are not a part of an essay
When writing a paragraph that is not a part of an essay, it is still a good idea to have a topic sentence. If you are answering a question, the topic sentence is the first sentence that restates part of the question and gives your answer.
From there, you use evidence from the text to expand on the answer, give supporting reasons, or provide examples.
What is a good topic sentence?
A good topic sentence is clear and concise. It is general enough to cover what the entire paragraph is about but specific enough to make it easy to understand the main idea of what will be discussed. It should relate back to the thesis or question and help maintain the flow of the essay.
To help the essay be cohesive, a good topic sentence should help transition from the previous paragraph and present a new idea.
How to write a topic sentence for a body paragraph
To write a topic sentence for a body paragraph, students should:
- Write their thesis statement.
- Outline their essay to determine what they will be talking about in each paragraph.
- Identify the main idea of the paragraph and that it relates to the thesis.
- Write a topic sentence general enough to cover what the whole paragraph is about but specific enough to make the main idea clear.
- See if they can connect it to the previous paragraph with a transition.
- Reread for clarity and edit.
Effective strategies for writing a topic sentence include that you pivot between ideas, make sure that you express the topic and what you will talk about in the paragraph, and use transition words—such as although, another example/way/argument, even though, in addition to, likewise, therefore, or however.
Make sure you then expand on the statement and give supporting details and reasons, examples, or sources.
Topic sentences for body paragraphs examples
Every topic sentence should state the main idea of the paragraph.
Let’s look at topic sentences that illustrate your point that you will expand on, provide transitions, compare and contrast topics, show cause and effect relationships, express counterclaims that you will proceed to address, or answer a question.
Example 1: Stating your claim
The most common example of a topic sentence is one that states your claim that you will then expand on.
These could look like:
- The primary goal of a topic sentence is to express the main idea of the paragraph.
- The outline method of note-taking is an easy and effective style.
- Time management skills are important to a student’s success.
If you are writing an essay about the benefits of learning a new language, the paragraph that discusses the cognitive benefits could start with the topic sentence: “Learning a new language offers many cognitive benefits.”
If I only talk about the benefits of learning a new language on your memory, I would make my topic sentence more specific—”Learning a new language can improve a person’s memory.”
Example 2: Transitions
Topic sentences should transition between paragraphs whenever possible.
If your writing an opinion essay about why dogs make the best pets, and your previous paragraph said that they are good companions because they are loyal, your next paragraph could start with the topic sentence: “Another reason why dogs are good companions is that they are affectionate.”
Example 3: Compare and contrast topics
A topic sentence can also compare or contrast your previous point with the point you will cover in that paragraph.
For example: “While in-person classes offer better social interactions, online classes offer more flexibility.”
Example 4: Show cause and effect relationship
You can also show cause-and-effect relationships.
For example: “The unrealistic photos posted on social media lead to many teenagers having body image issues.”
Example 5: Introduce a counterclaim
A topic sentence can also introduce a counterclaim.
For example, if writing about why wooden pencils are better than mechanical pencils, your counterclaim paragraph could start: “Fans of mechanical pencils say they are more convenient to use because you do not have to sharpen them.”
Example 6: Answering a question
Let’s look at an example of a topic sentence that answers a question.
If you were studying Harry Potter and asked the question: “Why do you think some readers dislike Professor Umbridge even more than Voldemort?” then your answer could start with the topic sentence, “I think Professor Umbridge is more disliked because she is a type of villain that readers can identify with.” This clearly answers the question asked.
From there, you can continue your answer by giving examples of how most people can’t relate to dealing with a powerful mass murderer who killed their parents, but they can relate to the person who abuses their authority and hides behind bureaucracy.
You can also answer a question in a topic sentence in an essay if you end the previous paragraph with a question.
For example: if you write an essay on renewable energy sources, one paragraph may talk about the problem with fossil fuels and end by saying, “Once people understand the negative consequences of using fossil fuels, they have to ask—what are the alternatives?”
The next paragraph could start with: “One alternative to fossil fuels is solar energy, which is the most abundant renewable energy source available.” This answers that question and transitions into talking about what solar energy is.
Now that you know how to write a topic sentence and have seen topic sentences for body paragraphs examples, you are well on your way to becoming a better writer.