A topic sentence in an essay—sometimes called a focus sentence—is typically the first sentence in a paragraph that states or suggests the main idea or topic of that paragraph.
In academic and formal writing, a topic sentence aims to introduce the main idea of the body paragraph. It establishes the purpose of the paragraph and creates a focus for the rest of the essay.
It is a topic “sentence,” but it can be more than one sentence long. The first sentence can make a claim, followed by a second one that discusses that claim.
A topic sentence is not the same as a thesis statement: A thesis statement states the main point of the entire paper, whereas a topic sentence states the main point of a single paragraph.
Five Features of an Effective Topic Sentence
There are specific characteristics that a topic sentence must have to be effective:
- It is concise and to the point. It states the paragraph’s main idea without going into too much detail.
- It makes a claim that another person can dispute or argue. In other words, it is not a fact.
- It is specific. It gives the reader a clear idea of the paragraph.
- It is well-organized. It should include all the information the rest of the paragraph will discuss: the topic and the controlling idea.
- It is coherent. It flows smoothly and logically from the previous sentence with the help of transition words.
What’s a controlling idea in a topic sentence?
A controlling idea is a central idea that an essay’s topic sentence expresses. The controlling idea tells the reader what the paragraph is about and to what degree the paragraph will develop.
For example, if you’re writing an essay about the effects of air pollution, one of your topic sentences can be: Air pollution has many harmful effects on human health.
In that case, your topic is “air pollution,” and your controlling idea is “harmful effects on human health.”
The controlling idea limits what you will discuss in the paragraph by directly indicating the scope.
How to Write a Topic Sentence in 4 Steps
When writing topic sentences, you need to know what your paragraphs will be about and what main ideas you want to communicate. Once you have this information, you can craft a well-written topic sentence that will grab your reader’s attention and keep them engaged in the rest of your paper.
Tip: Consider creating an outline of your essay if you have not yet done so. It will help you to structure your essay and point out core ideas for each paragraph.
Here are some steps to help you write a strong topic sentence for a body paragraph.
Step 1: Take a look at your thesis statement.
The thesis statement is the overarching claim or central point of your paper. Every paragraph in your paper should support your thesis in some way. When crafting your topic sentence, ensure it aligns with the thesis statement and communicates the same central idea. Often, your thesis would contain three supporting details. Each of these details can then be unfolded into its own topic sentence.
If you don’t have a thesis statement yet, that’s okay! Just look at the overall main idea you want to communicate in your paper and use that as a guide for crafting your topic sentence.
Step 2: Narrow down your focus.
Once you have your thesis, you must narrow your focus to just one central point. This main point will be the main focus of your paragraph and will be communicated in your topic sentence. Ensure you’re not trying to pack too much information into one paragraph. If you find that you have more than one central point, you may need to split your paragraph into two separate paragraphs.
For example, if your thesis statement is: “The three main reasons why Trump won the presidential election are his policies, his personality, and the fact that he is a celebrity,” then you would want to focus on just one of these reasons in each paragraph. In other words, you would have three body paragraphs, each with its own topic sentence:
- One of the reasons Trump became a president was that Trump’s policies resonated with many voters.
- Another reason that should be mentioned is that Trump’s brash personality was seen as a refreshing change from traditional politics.
- And the last main reason is that Trump’s celebrity status gave him an advantage over other candidates.
Step 3: Keep it concise.
Your topic sentence should be concise and to the point. Avoid unnecessary words or phrases that don’t contribute to your main point. Remember, it should only be one or a few sentences long. If your topic sentence is too long, your paragraph will likely wander off course and include information that isn’t relevant.
Step 4: Make sure it’s grammatically sound.
Of course, you’ll also want to ensure your topic sentence is grammatically sound. This means checking for proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Nothing will turn off a reader more than a topic sentence riddled with errors.
Following these tips, you can write a clear and concise topic sentence that will keep your paper on track and engage your reader.
Can I place a topic sentence at the end or in the middle of the paragraph?
Topic sentences can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of a paragraph. Some argue that placing a topic sentence at the end of a paragraph can confuse readers, as they may not have understood the information in the paragraph until they reach the end. However, others argue that this can be a helpful tool for readers, allowing them to see the paragraph’s main point before delving into the details. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer, and it is up to the writer to decide where to place the topic sentence.
Topic Sentence Examples of Various Types
A topic sentence is often presented in one concise opening sentence. But it can also be a long, complex sentence or a question. Here are some topic sentence examples of different types.
Here are some examples of strong topic sentences that consist of one short sentence:
- I am interested in the way that the media represents violence.
- The media’s portrayal of violence has a negative effect on society.
- The media should be more responsible in its representation of violence.
- Climate change caused by global warming is affecting agriculture worldwide.
You can also introduce your paragraph topic with a question. Here are some examples of such interrogative topic sentences:
- Have you ever wondered why the media represents violence in such a negative light?
- Do you think that the media’s portrayal of violence has a negative effect on society?
- What can be done to reduce the negative effects of violence in the media?
- How is global warming affecting the Arctic region?
You can also use a bridge to introduce your paragraph topic. A bridge is a short sentence that links the previous paragraph to the current paragraph. Here are some examples of such topic sentences:
- Another reason why the media’s portrayal of violence has a negative effect on society is…
- In addition to the media’s responsibility to society to accurately represent violence, the media also has a responsibility to…
- Another way to reduce the negative effects of violence in the media is to…
- Given the urgent need to address the threat of global warming, it is essential that we explore…
Topic sentences don’t always appear at the beginning of a paragraph. They can also be used to “pivot” from one focus of your paper to another. A pivot is a turn from one point to another and usually occurs within a paragraph. It signals to your reader that you are changing gears from one idea to another. Pivots help keep your paper interesting and can make complex topics more accessible to your reader. Pivot topic sentences can occur:
- After the introduction sentence
- In the middle of a paragraph
- At the end of a paragraph
Here are some examples of pivot topic sentences in action:
- Although the media’s portrayal of violence can have a negative effect on society, it is important to remember that…
- The media’s portrayal of violence is not always accurate, which can lead to…
- The media has a responsibility to both society and to those who are affected by violence, and…
- Although the effects of violence in the media can be negative, there are also some positive aspects to consider, such as…
- In order to make the media more responsible in its representation of violence, it is important to…
Topic sentences can also be complex sentences. This means that they can have more than one clause. Complex sentences are often used to introduce new information or ideas. Here are some examples of complex topic sentences:
- The media’s portrayal of violence has a negative effect on society, which is why the media should be more responsible in its representation of violence.
- In order to reduce the negative effects of violence in the media, the media should be more responsible in its representation of violence.
- The media has a responsibility to society to represent violence accurately, which is important because…
As you can see, topic sentences can be used in various ways to keep your paper interesting and engaging. Using this critical sentence effectively ensures your paper flows smoothly and clearly communicates your ideas to your reader.
- Harvard College Writing Center – Topic Sentences and Signposting
- Walden University – Paragraphs: Topic Sentences
- Rochester Institute of Technology – The Topic Sentence