Online Writing Lab

Topic Sentences

Since body paragraphs for an essay should be centered around one main idea that relates the thesis, creating a clear topic sentence is helpful for both the writer and the reader.  For the writer, a topic sentence makes it easier to stay on topic and develop the main idea without getting off track.  For the reader, topic sentences announce what the paragraph will be about and demonstrate how different paragraphs and ideas are connected to each other. 

A topic sentence generally appears early in a body paragraph (often the first or second sentence) and controls the paragraph.  A topic sentence is like a mini thesis sentence for each paragraph and serves to unify the contents of the paragraph.  Everything that follows in the paragraph needs to relate to the topic sentence.   Not all essays call for explicit topic sentences, but most beginning writers should learn how to write effective topic sentences early on in order to achieve paragraph unity.

It is also important that all topic sentences relate to the thesis statement.  This allows for the essay to have greater unity and focus.

Examples of Topic Sentences:
Let’s use the following thesis statement as an example to see how topic sentences work:  In order to succeed in the classroom, college students need to utilize the resources available to them throughout their academic careers.

Because this thesis statement is clear, we know that the essay will be about the various resources that college students need to use to succeed.  Thus, each one of these resources becomes a main point that will be written about in the essay, and, in turn, each of these needs a topic sentence.  Here are some examples of topic sentences that can be used for this essay:

One important resource that all college students should utilize for success is tutorial services.

Another important resource for student success is frequent use of the library.

In addition to using tutoring services and the library, college students should consult with their advisor on a regular basis to monitor success and make necessary changes when needed. 

Notice how these topic sentences not only help the reader know what will be written about in each paragraph, they also help the writer organize the main ideas of the essay.  If a writer creates clear topic sentences early in the writing process, he/she can use these to organize the essay and create unity in each of the paragraphs. 

As writers become more advanced, topic sentences are not always needed.  However, all beginning college level writers should know how to create and use them when constructing an essay.