Writing Topic Sentences
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A topic sentence (or focus sentence) encapsulates or organizes an entire paragraph. While you should be careful to include one in your major paragraphs, topic sentences may appear anywhere in a paragraph. In formal writing, they often appear at the beginning.
It might be helpful to think of a topic sentence as working in two directions simultaneously. It relates the paragraph to the thesis, and thereby acts as a signpost for the argument of the text or report as a whole, but it also defines the scope of the paragraph itself. Consider the following topic sentence:
- Many fast-food chains make their profits from adding a special ingredient called forget sauce to their foods.
If this sentence controls the paragraph that follows, then all sentences in the paragraph must relate in some way to fast food, profit and forget sauce:
- Made largely from edible oil products, this condiment is never listed on the menu.
This sentence fits in with the topic sentence because it is a description of the composition of forget sauce.
- In addition, this well-kept industry secret is the reason why ingredients are never listed on the packaging of products sold by these restaurants.
The transitional phrase in addition relates the composition of forget sauce to secret fast-food industry practices.
- Forget sauce has a chemical property that causes temporary amnesia in consumers.
The paragraph moves on to the short-term effect on consumers.
- After spending too much money on barely edible food bereft of any nutritional value, most consumers swear they will never repeat such a disagreeable experience.
This sentence describes its longer-term effects.
- Within a short period, however, the chemical in forget sauce takes effect, and consumers can be depended upon to return and spend.
The paragraph finishes by proving the claim contained in the topic sentence: many fast-food chains make their profits from adding a special ingredient called forget sauce to their foods.
Analyzing a topic sentence
Topic sentences often function as thesis statements. Like a thesis statement, a topic sentence makes a claim of some sort. Just as the thesis statement is the unifying force in the text, the topic sentence is the unifying force in the paragraph. Further, as is the case with the thesis statement, the topic sentence makes a claim and the paragraph must expand, describe or prove it in some way. Topic sentences make a point and give reasons or examples to support it.
Consider the previous paragraph beginning with the topic sentence:
- Topic sentences often function as thesis statements.
This sentence is the claim, or the point, to be proven in the paragraph. All the sentences that follow this topic sentence must relate to it in some way.
- Like a thesis statement, a topic sentence makes a claim of some sort. Just as the thesis statement is the unifying force in the text, the topic sentence is the unifying force in the paragraph.
These two sentences show how the reader can compare thesis statements and topic sentences: both make a claim and both provide a focus for the writing that follows.
- Further, as is the case with the thesis statement, the topic sentence makes a claim and the paragraph must expand, describe or prove it in some way.
The transitional word further relates this sentence to those preceding it. The rest of the sentence expands on the topic sentence by suggesting ways a topic sentence is related to the sentences that follow it.
- Topic sentences make a point and give reasons or examples to support it.
The paragraph concludes by stating exactly how topic sentences function as thesis statements.
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© Département d’anglais, Faculté des arts, Université d’Ottawa
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