A well-written topic sentence has the following characteristics:
- It is one sentence long
- It is a declarative sentence (makes a claim for which evidence can be provided; it is not a fact or an opinion concerning personal taste)
- It is explicit (directly stated)
- It is specific (not vague or general)
- It is concise (not needlessly wordy)
- It is clear (easily understood)
- It is significant (important for and appropriate to the intended audience)
- It can be expanded with evidence (for example, analyses, classifications, comparisons, contrasts, definitions, descriptions, examples, explanations, facts, process analyses [step-by-step explanations as to how something happens or is produced] reasons, quotations, statistics)
- It usually appears as the first sentence of its body paragraph. To make sure you don't forget to include a topic sentence for your paragraph, underline it.
For each of the sentences that are effective topic sentences, place an “X” in the blank before it. If a sentence is NOT an effective topic sentence, explain why it is not.
_____ Chocolate is better than vanilla.
_____ Champagne is more expensive than most other types of wine.
_____ Imported beer tastes better than domestic beer.
_____ Smoking is hazardous to one's health.
_____ Miley Cyrus is a poor role model for young girls.
_____ Justin Bieber should be deported.
_____ Surfing the web can become addictive.
_____ Hillary Clinton will make a better president than Barack Obama.
_____ Is it true that blondes have more fun than either redheads or brunettes?
_____ Canada's healthcare system is better than that of the United States.
_____ Buddhism is easier to practice than Christianity.
_____ Atheism is true, religion false.
_____ Soccer is harder to learn than baseball. Football is harder to learn than either soccer or baseball.
_____ Tiger Woods is the best athlete of all time.
_____ Computer-generated imagery sometimes helps make impossible acts seem likely.
_____ Sean Connery is more believable as James Bond than other actors who have played this character.
To develop a topic sentence, follow these steps:
- Select a broad, general subject of personal interest: for example, recycling
- Narrow the broad, general subject to a specific, manageable topic: for example, encouraging children to recycle
- Write a tentative topic sentence that has all the characteristics mentioned (above): for example: “To encourage children to recycle, explain why recycling is important and give the children a personal stake in the recycling process.”
- Decide what genre or genres of essay is most appropriate to your topic: for example, how-to (process analysis and persuasion): how-to (process analysis) and persuasion
One way to accomplish these four steps is to—
- Ask, “In general, what do I want to write about?” (Answer: recycling)
- Ask, “What do I want to say about recycling?” (Answer: how to encourage children to recycle).
- Ask, “How would I get children to recycle?” (Answer: (educate them as to why recycling is important and (2) give them a personal stake in recycling
- Ask, “Which essay genre or genres would best help me to express my idea (topic sentence)? (Answer: how-to [process analysis] and persuasion).
Now, you have your topic sentence: “To encourage children to recycle, explain why recycling is important and give the children a personal stake in the recycling process” AND the essay genres (process analysis and persuasion) you plan to use to develop your topic sentence.
Remember the question technique:
Who or what are you writing about? What do you have to say about your topic: what is your point (claim)? What evidence or support will you provide for your topic? What genre or genres will you use?
When and where did the incidents related to your topic take place?
How are you going to write about your topic? How do you plan to get your readers to agree with you or to gain their respect if they disagree with your point of view?
Why should your readers believe you? If you ask them to take some sort of action, why should they? What's in it for them? Why is your topic important?
Also ask yourself whether your topic sentence meets ALL the qualifications of a well-written topic sentence:
Richard Norquist's Grammar & Composition provides practice in generating topic sentences: