How to Write Great Topic Sentences (with Examples)
In an academic essay, the first sentence of each new paragraph is called the topic sentence. Topic sentences are often considered “mini-thesis statements,” offering a subsection of the paper’s main argument. In fact, if you read the thesis statement and topic sentences alone, you should have an outline detailing exactly what the paper is about and the relationships between paragraphs and supporting evidence. To write good topic sentences in your next paper, remember these four tips:
1. Give the reader an idea of what the paragraph is about—and be specific.
Say you are writing an essay about Romeo & Juliet, and your argument is that the play is not the great romance people think it is. Your topic sentences should reinforce this idea but offer something a little more specific than just restating the main argument. For example, you might have a topic sentence that states, “Romeo is not romantic because at the beginning of the play, his love interest is Rosaline, not Juliet.” The rest of the paragraph would provide evidence showing how Romeo is in love with another woman until he quickly “falls in love” with Juliet and forgets his former flame. This topic sentence introduces an example and gives just the right amount of detail for the reader.
2. Avoid using lists.
Each paragraph in your essay should have one solid idea backed up with supporting evidence from the text or outside research. Therefore, a topic sentence should never have the format, “In this paragraph, I will discuss x, y, and z.” To use our Romeo & Juliet example, the topic sentence should not state, “Romeo & Juliet is a bad example of romance because the lovers have only known each other for three days, are too young for love, and are too immature.” A better tactic would be to break each of these three ideas (“known each other for three days,” “too young for love,” and “too immature”) into three paragraphs, with a topic sentence for each one.
3. Provide a transition between paragraphs.
While a topic sentence is meant to advance an argument and add new evidence, it should also reach back to the previous paragraph and ensure a smooth transition between ideas. There are four main types of transitions:
- Compare: Likewise, similar
Example: “Like Romeo’s constant praises of Juliet’s beauty, Juliet’s conversations with her Nurse suggest that physical attraction is the main motivation for Romeo and Juliet’s relationship.”
- Contrast: On the other hand, conversely, although, while, though, however, unlike
Example: “Unlike Romeo, who once courted Rosaline, Juliet has a lack of experience with men and is immature in matters of love.”
- Addition: Additionally, in addition, moreover, also, furthermore
Example: “Furthermore, Juliet’s lack of interest in Paris suggests that she is predisposed to ‘fall in love’ with a man who she thinks is a better alternative.”
- Passage of time: At the beginning, at the end, then, next, after, finally
Example: “At the end of the play, Romeo kills himself not only because of his love for Juliet, but because of his combined grief brought about by her supposed death, his exile, and the murders of Mercutio, Tybalt, and Paris.”
4. Avoid overuse of rhetorical questions or quotes.
Student writers are tempted to start new paragraphs by posing a question, such as “Why is Romeo & Juliet considered a great romance?” However, in most academic essays, these questions tend to waste valuable space and do not add much to the paper. Using strong, declarative statements better supports an argument than asking a question for readers to interpret for themselves.
In addition, quotes should be used sparingly or not at all in topic sentences. For example, a poor topic sentence is, “In Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare writes, ‘A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.” This sentence does not add any analysis or any of the writer’s own thoughts; it only quotes from the text. For writers who like to use quotes often, a better method is to integrate a snippet of a quote into a topic sentence. For example, “Shakespeare’s ‘star-crossed lovers’ are neither star-crossed nor lovers: they are two immature teenagers whose poor decisions lead to too many deaths throughout the play.” This sentence borrows from one of the play’s most famous lines (“star-crossed lovers”), but the argument is entirely the writer’s own and is much more compelling.
What are some of your best topic sentences? Let us know in the comments below.
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