The Writing Center's Top 10 Tips for Writing Useful Topic Sentences
We've spent a lot of time lately discussing topic sentences on this blog lately because this concept is one of the most important elements of writing sound, coherent paragraphs in your academic writing. So to add a few layers to our discussion, check out these top 10 tips for writing useful topic sentences.
In academic writing, as well as most other forms, well-developed topic sentences will ensure that your reader understands the exact focus of that specific section or paragraph. In understanding the importance of their placement, as well as the detail needed to make them targeted and specific, you have the ability to frame your argument in a way that is more easily understood and retained by your reader. These short but important sentences also provide a structure to your writing that makes revising and editing much easier and less time consuming. So without further introduction, I would like to invite you to read of my 10 quick and dirty tips and tricks for writing strong topic sentences!
Tip #1: Make sure each topic sentence works hand-in-hand with your thesis statement.
The topic sentence will inform the reader of the main point of the paragraph and essay, which should easily connect with the thesis statement of the overall essay. As the thesis provides detailed information about the overall argument of the paper, the topic sentence gives the reader a more focused understanding of this material. A good way to see if this connection is made successfully is to read only the thesis statement in your introduction and the topic sentences of your body paragraphs. If you are able to connect the broad idea of the paper with each topic sentence through the thesis statement, then you have written a well-crafted topic sentence and a detailed thesis!
Tip #2: Avoid using a direct quote or paraphrase for your topic sentence.
In academic writing you want to avoid using direct quotes in the first sentence of your paragraph. Instead, the material in this position should be your contribution to the argument. In using your own original thoughts and ideas for these instances you are showing the reader that you fully understand the materials, and you are using the research of others to supplement the reader’s understanding of the materials you are presenting. This way the reader understands that you are an expert on this material, and are providing them research from other sources to further their understanding.
Tip #3: Read your topic sentence out loud to make sure that it transitions smoothly into the next sentence.
Reading out loud is one of the most powerful ways writers can revise their work, and it is especially important for topic sentences! It allows you to make sure that your writing is attention grabbing, fluid, and that it transitions into the rest of your writing smoothly.
Tip #4: Avoid introducing multiple authors or topics within a single topic sentence.
Often when we include too many authors or topics in a first sentence, the reader will become confused and lose focus on the important ideas you are presenting to them in your paragraph.
Tip #5: Read the last sentence of the previous paragraph to make sure you have included enough information to make a seamless transition into your next paragraph.
Think of the topic sentence of your body paragraph as the chorus of a catchy song. If you don’t have good lyrics leading into the chorus it isn’t as effective, and you might night start humming along when you get to it. With a strong conclusive statement in the paragraph before you can set up your next topic sentence to be even more powerful— just as powerful as a chorus or jingle that gets stuck in your head!
Tip #6: Read the topic sentences of an author or professor you admire.
One of the best ways to become a stronger writer is to read, read, read! Reading the work of respected scholars in your field allows you to absorb different writing techniques and apply them to your own work!
Tip #7: Read the topic sentences in the publications to which you plan to submit your academic writing.
Often times you are able to see, and mimic, the expectations of the publication by reading through previously published work. Not only will this make your writing stronger, but it will increase your chances of a submission getting accepted by that publication.
Tip #8: Avoid repeating phrases, subject-specific terms, author’s names, articles or any key concepts more than once in a topic sentence.
Have you ever started to read a book or story where the author introduced so many characters you lost track of who they were and gave up on reading it? Me too! The same thing can happen with academic writing, so you want to be sure that you introduce terms, articles and names with purpose.
Tip #9: Make sure the establishing sentence that you use for your conclusion sets up the closing remark you make in the last sentence of your assignment.
The first sentence for your conclusion will need to support the last sentence, or conclusive statement of your paper. A strong first sentence will reaffirm the importance of your topic, and when paired with a strong conclusive statement you will be able to make a valid and poignant argument that will stick with your reader long after they have finished your paper!
Tip #10: Have fun!
Writing doesn’t have to seem like work! Use your passion and excitement for the topic you are writing about to craft topic sentences that get the reader just as excited as you are!
Meghan Barnes is an instructor and writer based in the South. She has two dogs, and a handful of composting worms that she enjoys feeding scraps to. When she is not writing, editing, or reading, she enjoys playing kickball, softball, and other active sports.
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