How to Write a Quality Topic Sentence for an Essay

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Topic Sentences for English Papers

The biggest lesson I learned in my time studying for my bachelors in English literature is that the topic sentence for your essay is not your thesis. For some, this may not be a surprise, but, for me, I remember feeling like my lessons for how to write an introductory paragraph had been turned on their heads. All though high school I was told to start my essay with my thesis right at the beginning and now putting it at the end made me feel stuck when it came to coming up with that topic sentence.This practice probably differs based on your professors or area of study, but, when it came to all of the classes I attended and professors I learned from, this was a standard practice.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get started on how to write a quality topic sentence for an essay. Other than the fact that, in the case of my own lesson for you here, your topic sentence is not your thesis statement, it is also important to recognize that the very first words your audience will read are some of the most essential to making a quality essay. Your topic sentence is your first impression and you want to make it a good one so make sure that it grasps your reader immediately so that they are just as interested in what you are about to tell them as you are in what you have to say.

For me personally, writing the introductory and conclusion paragraphs for an essay are the most difficult of all. This is because it's easy to know what to say and just how to say it throughout your paper but summarizing your argument concisely and making it attention-grabbing at the same time at the very beginning and then summarizing it at the end without sounding repetitive and unremarkable takes practice and a lot of work.

You may be surprised to learn that in order to write a quality topic sentence for an essay, you do not necessary want to start your rough draft with your topic sentence, or even a whole introductory paragraph, at all. All you need to start with is your main argument so that you can create a thesis statement and get working on those main points for the rest of your paper.

Remember, your thesis statement goes at the end of your introductory paragraph. It's all about what you want to talk about and enables you to lead into the real juicy parts of your paper where you actually lay out your arguments. Think of it as the center of a web, with all of your arguments branching off of it. This is why it's important to start with the thesis first before coming up with any other parts of your paper, including the topic sentence. Get your thesis, write out your body of your paper, and then go back and come up with a quality topic sentence worthy of presenting your thesis to the world.

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How to Write A Thesis Statement

The best way I learned how to craft a solid thesis statement is to first think of it as a contract between you and your reader. Under this contract, you become obligated to provide solid and specific arguments from the text supporting your thesis. There are three main components of a thesis statement, which are as follows:

  1. What? What is your specific claim about the text?
  2. How? How will you prove your claim? With what literary devices, themes, concepts, etc.?
  3. Why? Why is this important to understanding the text as a whole? Avoided the dreaded "so what" factor, which means that the reader doesn't understand why they should care about your argument.

Now, for those of you who really struggle with thesis statements, there's a magic formula that can help you get that awesome one that you've been striving for in which you really only have to fill in the blanks or put in other tweaks of you own to make it fit what you want to say. The formula is as follows:

By looking at HOW, we can see WHAT, and this is important [in the text] because WHY.

There are a few additional important points to keep in mind when creating a quality thesis statement. Remember:

  • The why part of your thesis should be limited to the text and not to society as a whole. Keep it specific and avoid generalizations.
  • A thesis can be more than one sentence. In fact, it's usually best if it is.
  • A strong thesis usually addresses an opposing viewpoint either explicitly or implicitly.
  • A successful thesis usually provides a logical way to structure the argument.

In addition to keeping all this in mind while crafting your thesis, there are a few things to remember to avoid. There are many different types of thesis statements that are not ideal for a successful essay. The following is a list of these types of statements you want to avoid creating:

  • Plot Summary Thesis: You want to make an argument about something specific within the text, not summarize what you read.
  • Proving the Universal: Avoid generalizations. Keep your argument focused on the text or you may lose your readers interest.
  • Overly General Thesis: Make sure your thesis is specific. If it's too general, you may lose your focus. The best thesis statements are specific and to the point.
  • The Cliché Thesis: Clichés are boring and can make your argument too general.
  • The List Thesis: While lists can be handy in providing a logical structure your argument, they can be overdone and not always provide your reader with all of the information to really understand what you are trying to say.

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What is the most difficult part of essay-writing?

What do you think is the hardest part of writing an essay?

  • The topic sentence/Introduction
  • The thesis statement
  • The body paragraphs/organization
  • The conclusion
  • All of the above
See results without voting

How to Write an Intro Paragraph

How to Write a Quality Topic Sentence

Now that you have your thesis written, you should have an idea of what to talk about. I recommend either coming up with an outline or delving straight into writing the body of your essay before writing your introduction. Once you have that written, you will have a better understanding of just where you go in your essay and what you're thesis is all about. You may even want to go back and edit your thesis if your argument went off in a new direction as you wrote your paper.

Each topic sentence within your paper should lay out a part of your argument, with every sentence afterword that makes up the paragraph itself helping to provide samples to support that argument. This is where outlines can be handy. I recommend writing each topic sentence that makes a point you want to make that supports your thesis. Then make sure you have at least two points you want to make within that paragraph supporting the argument you make in that topic sentence using specific examples from the text. Here is how I usually set up each of my body paragraphs:

  1. Topic sentence: Lays out a point supporting my thesis that I am about to discuss within that paragraph
  2. Example from the text supporting my topic sentence: Usually a quote or a summary of a passage that is cited from the text.
  3. My argument about that example (usually two sentences)
  4. Next example from the text supporting my topic sentence
  5. My argument about that example
  6. Conclusion summarizing the point I just made and how it relates to my thesis with a transition to my text paragraph

Now lets get started on how to write a quality topic sentence for an essay. Remember what I told you about your topic sentence: it is not your thesis and it has to grab your reader's attention. What is something particularly fascinating about the text you are writing about? What is its importance within the time period it was written or the genre it's a part of? Try thinking of why you chose to read this text in the first place. Letting your reader know just why this text itself is important can grab their attention and lead them into your argument about the more important parts of the text itself. There's no set-in-stone way of writing a quality topic sentence for an essay so it's all up to you.

© 2012 LisaKoski

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VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States

Lots of good ideas to help people as they write their essays. I haven't taught thesis or topic sentences quite this way but I do know that many students are taught to keep on coming back to their main point and this is good for in-class essays but not for good formal essays when you have time to develop your point. voted up and pinned.

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