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A Writer's Handbook

Topic Sentences

Most important sentence in each paragraph

  • Will tell the reader the argument and topic of paragraph

Follows a formula – but not necessarily always in this order:

Transition word(s)+ link to thesis argument + topic

From example thesis:

Although many people think of addiction as drug or alcohol related, Jane’s story shows that even “work” can be an addiction because it ruins relationships, creates mental suffering, and causes health problems.

Example First topic sentence:

Jane’s story initially illustrates her addiction to work because of the relationships that have been broken due to her problem.

Subsequent topic sentences will have the link to the thesis argument and the next body paragraph topics, but the transition word or phrase will differ according to what information is being presented.  The transition word/phrase shows the relationship between paragraphs.

  • If information in next paragraph ADDS to the information from the previous one, use transition words or phrases that show addition
    • Examples:  Additionally, Secondly, Another way…, Moreover, etc.
  • If information in next paragraph CHANGES direction or gives opposing information, use transition words or phrases that show change
    • Examples:  However, Nevertheless, On the other hand, In contrast, etc.

Exercise 3

EXERCISE 3:  What would additional topic sentences be for the second and third body paragraphs for this thesis:

Although many people think of addiction as drug or alcohol related, Jane’s story shows that even “work” can be an addiction because it ruins relationships, creates mental suffering, and causes health problems.

Overall Tips on Topic Sentences

  • When discussing literature, reference the name of the literary piece or the author’s name in the topic sentence when appropriate
  • Transitional words or phrases are very important because they show relationships between the information in the paragraph – don’t get stuck in the “First, Second, Last…” use of transitions – decide what the relationship is between the paragraphs and really emphasize that relationship with the use of transition
  • The order in which the topic sentence formula is used is interchangable (meaning you do not have to start each topic sentence with a transition – it just has to be in the sentence somewhere)
  • You don’t have to use the exact same words to relay the message of the thesis argument in each topic sentence
  • When creating topic sentences from a general thesis, use topics that logically flow from one to the next while supporting the idea of the thesis
  • If two different items (usually for compare/contrast) will be discussed within the body paragraph, be sure to mention both items in the topic sentence