I. What is a Topic Sentence?
A topic sentence in a paragraph is like the GPS in a car. It shows you (and others) where you are going and explains the point of the paragraph. Everything else is used as supporting details. The topic sentence contains two parts: the topic and a controlling idea. The topic is WHAT the paragraph is going to be about, and the controlling idea explains WHY the paragraph is being written. The topic sentence helps your reader understand the purpose of your paragraph.
II. Examples of a Topic Sentence
The purpose of your paragraph will be made clear in your topic sentence. The most common reasons for writing are to persuade, to inform, and to entertain. It is also possible that a sentence could do more than one of these.
You will often use a persuasive topic sentence when writing for school, such as in literary essays.
The character Pip in the novel Great Expectations learns the importance of loyalty through his interactions with the convict Abel Magwitch.
An informative topic sentence is often found in scientific articles.
White blood cells help fight infections by attacking bacteria, viruses and germs that invade the body.
Topic sentences that entertain are sometimes found in magazines or other less formal writing.
It’s not hard to raise a bad child if you follow these simple instructions.
III. Parts of a Topic Sentence
There are just two parts in a topic sentence, the topic and the controlling idea. The topic is WHAT the paragraph is about, and the controlling idea explains WHY you are writing the paragraph. In the examples below, the topic is in orange and the controlling idea is in green.
Joseph loves to spend time with his friends.
What/who is this paragraph about? Joseph. Why is this paragraph being written? To explain something that Joseph loves to do.
Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth.
What/who is this paragraph about? Disneyland. Why is it being written? To show why Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth.
IV. Placement of Topic Sentences
a. Initial Placement
The most common place for a topic sentence is at the beginning of the paragraph because it explains what the paragraph is going to discuss. The initial placement helps the writer organize the paragraph and tells the reader what to expect right in the beginning.
The best things in life are free. Although most people work hard to buy a good home or a nice car, those are not the things that they care about the most. At the end of their lives, they don’t want to hug their cars, or the walls of their fine houses. They want to be surrounded by the people they care about and who care about them. Kindness is free. Love is free. Friendship is free (or at least it should be!). Of course it is important to make money to survive, but love is important to live happily.
b. Final Placement
Sometimes the topic sentence is at the end of the paragraph, especially when the paragraph is a narrative or a mysterious story. Placing it at the end creates suspense or sometimes works to tell the point of the story.
The wealthy man was dying. He called for his friends and family to be near him and placed a hand on each one’s shoulder. They cried because they would miss him, and he cried because he had no more time to share with them. The beautiful things that he’d purchased over the years held no meaning. He didn’t care about his diamonds or his yacht or his large home. He cared for his children and the love they shared. They were here with him now and held his hands. He was glad he’d learned the most important lesson in life: the best things in life are free.
c. Medial Placement
The last place, the least common place for a topic sentence, is in the middle of the paragraph. The medial topic sentence usually functions as a transition between two ideas or details. This works when you want to show that there are two (sometimes opposite) points to an issue, but the one you are arguing, the second point, is stronger, more specific, or more important. This topic sentence is generally introduced with a transition signal.
You can’t survive on love alone. People need money for basic necessities: food, shelter and clothing. Without money, life would be uncomfortable and difficult. However, time and energy should not be completely spent on making money because the best things in life are free. Having fun with friends and family is more important and more satisfying than buying a new car or nice clothes. People provide warmth, affection, understanding, and most of all, love. Money can’t love you back, and it does not guarantee happiness. Some of the richest people in the world are miserable, while some of the poorest people in the world are happy because they have the simple joy of loving people in their lives.
V. How to Write a Topic Sentence
a. The best way to write your topic sentence is to consider why you are writing the paragraph
- Decide on your reason for writing the paragraph
- After you have figured that out, write down the important details you want to include and see what they all have in common.
- Summarize the details into one sentence.
For example, if you want to write about your favorite movie, think about all the reasons that you like it. Is it funny? Exciting? Dramatic? Romantic? Be sure not to include too many things or else you will end up with an essay instead of a simple sentence. Once you have decided on your details, you are ready to write the topic sentence.
Here’s an example, the topic will be in orange and the controlling idea will be in green:
The best movie ever made was “Star Wars: the Force Awakens” because it was exciting and surprising.
An important point to remember is that the topic sentence should contain all relevant information that’s going to be in the paragraph. There should be no information about romance or comedy. It should only talk about what made the movie exciting.
b. Mistakes to Avoid
One of the biggest problems students face is keeping a paragraph or essay on topic. Sometimes they will write a good topic sentence but halfway through the paragraph, they think of another good idea and follow that. Without revision and editing, the topic sentence will not serve its purpose in the paragraph.
The best vacation I ever had was in Hawaii. The beaches were so beautiful and clean that swimming in them was like a dream. I especially loved the Waikiki beach. At night, there were free shows with dancers and live music. The music was so good that it made me want to dance. Dancing is my favorite thing to do in the world. When I was young, I studied ballet and tap dance. I’m thinking about taking it back up again. I might even study hip-hop!
The paragraph started out with Hawaii and end up with hip-hop dancing. You can see how the writer’s train of thought began to wander in the seventh sentence. With a different topic sentence, it would be possible to save this paragraph. Consider how different the direction would be with the following topic sentence.
The best vacation I ever had was in Hawaii. I especially loved the Waikiki beach. At night, there were free shows with dancers and live music. The music was so good that it made me want to dance and reminded me that dancing is my favorite activity in the world. In fact, when I was young, I studied ballet and tap dance. The dancing that I saw in Hawaii inspired me to get back into dancing. I might even study hip-hop!
With this new topic sentence, the second sentence would have to be eliminated or changed a bit. You can see how easy it is to get off-topic, but with a good topic sentence, and constant reference back to it, you are less likely to have that problem.
VI. So remember
- A topic sentence needs to contain the topic of your paragraph and a controlling idea.
- Everything in the paragraph should be connected to the topic sentence.
- The placement of the topic sentence depends on the type of paragraph.
Each of the paragraphs in this exercise has three possible topic sentences following it. Choose the best one and make sure that it includes the main idea of the paragraph.