A topic sentence gives the main topic and purpose of a paragraph. This is followed by supporting evidence, that is, explanations and examples. Topic sentences form the framework of your argument. In fact, one reading strategy is to get an overview of the passage by just reading the topic sentences. But let’s go back a step.
The first sentence of the body paragraph consists of two parts: the topic and the specific idea. There is the general topic, and the specific idea about the topic. In an opinion essay, topic sentences clearly support your position (even while offering a counter-argument). In a problem/solution essay, one body paragraph addresses problems, the other body paragraph addresses solutions.
Consider the topic sentences below:
Social media has two positive effects on society.
Social media has two negative effects on society.
Note how the specific idea changes the direction that the paragraph about social media will go?
Writing Task II Topic
“Home ownership should be encouraged.
To what extent do you agree or disagree?”
Introduction to catch the reader’s interest about rates of home ownership around the world.
There are social and economic benefits to home ownership. The general part is ‘encouraging home ownership’ and the specific part is the ‘social and economic benefits’. Clearly this paragraph will go on to give us more information about the benefits of owning a home.
However, the economic crash of 2008 showed the challenges of encouraging people to buy homes.
The topic is still home ownership, but the specific part is the challenges.
The topic sentences form a brief outline of your essay. This makes it much easier to read and understand and increases your Coherence and Cohesion score.
Here is an example paragraph:
“There are social and economic benefits to home ownership. Compared to renters, homeowners are thought to be more stable members of the community who contribute more to local affairs. Neighbourhoods of home-owners tend to have less crime and better schools. In addition, ownership encourages saving and allows families to build wealth. Having a home is the single best investment in a family’s future”.
Note how the topic sentence is supported by the points and examples that follow.
What not to do
1. Put the topic sentence too late
Sometimes students start with an example, and the topic gets lost in the middle of a paragraph. Be clear from the beginning. Start with your topic and the specific aspect you will explore. Then go on to explain it and add supporting examples.
2. Be too vague
Look at the difference between these sentences:
a) Home ownership is good for society.
b) There are social and economic benefits to home ownership.
In the former, “good” could refer to so many things. In the latter, the writer mentions that the specific advantages of owning a home are social and economic and therefore, the reader knows exactly what to expect in the paragraph.
3. Go off topic
These are easy to spot because they do not in any way relate to the essay question. In other words, there is a danger that the whole paragraph will be irrelevant, costing you marks.
4. Start too specific
The topic sentence should be specific enough to preview what’s coming, but general enough to leave room for examples and explanations.
It is so important to plan your essay before you start writing. You shouldn’t get to the second paragraph and then be thinking, ooh what shall I write about now? The topic sentences are the backbone of the essay and show the reader your clear, logical mind.
Check out my blog on planning an essay.
By Christelle van Niekerk.