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Sound Writing

Subsection 4.2.2 Writing Topic Sentences

The Compass.

If introductions are the road maps to your argument, topic sentences are the compass coordinates you are using to keep your argument on track with your thesis. For this reason, topic sentences are among the most important components of your paper. Not only do they link each paragraph to your thesis, but they keep your audience (and you) oriented to your argument. Topic sentences should typically be stated at the beginning of each new paragraph and should do two things: 1) introduce the main idea of that paragraph and 2) transition from the previous one. They don’t usually include specific details or pieces of evidence (that’s what the rest of the paragraph is for), but rather preface the claims you will be making. A helpful way to think about topic sentences is if you were to highlight your thesis, topic sentences, and conclusion, you would have a pretty solid outline of your argument (for more on reverse outlining, see Subsection 4.3.1).
There are a few different strategies for writing topic sentences. One way might be to include tentative topic sentences in your outline and start with those as you write the corresponding body paragraphs. Another strategy may be to write the body paragraph first, read it over to determine the main idea, and then write the corresponding topic sentence at the top.
A simple cartoon of an old-fashioned compass with the word "thesis" at the top
Here are some example topic sentences from student papers:

Example 4.2.13. Topic Sentences: Women in the Odyssey.

These topic sentences support the thesis statement from Thesis: Women in the Odyssey.
  • Scholars often hold up Athena and Penelope as portraits of independent and powerful women who were able to triumph over many men.
  • Athena, too, is an example of sexism throughout the Odyssey.
  • Before jumping to grandiose conclusions surrounding the role of women in ancient works, we must first take into consideration their actions and the ways in which they are described.

Example 4.2.14. Topic Sentences: Male Suffrage.

These topic sentences support the thesis statement from Thesis: Male Suffrage.
  • As a result of the increasing majoritarian agitation within American politics, many states began to re-examine their constitutions in order to better incorporate the desires of the common majority. One issue addressed within this field of political reform was the concept of universal male suffrage.
  • On the other side of the debate were men who wished to preserve property qualifications for voters.
  • However, the dispute about universal male suffrage was taking place within a larger political discussion concerning the role of majoritarianism and minority rights within the government.

Example 4.2.15. Topic Sentences: Immigration Act.

These topic sentences support the thesis statement from Thesis: Immigration Act.
  • The Immigration Act placed a cap on the number of immigrants entering the United States from the Eastern or Western hemispheres, and further divided that cap by placing a limit of 20,000 immigrants per annum from any country.
  • The Immigration Act, and thus modern immigration regulations, allows for several classifications of immigrant.
  • While my father’s immediate family remained together during its move to the United States, one of the greatest challenges for him proved to be the great distance that now separated him and his relatives and childhood friends, who still lived in Glasgow.

Example 4.2.16. Topic Sentences: Belief without Evidence.

These topic sentences support the thesis statement from Thesis: Belief without Evidence.
  • Clifford is confident in his conviction that believing anything without proper evidence is immoral.
  • Yet James has more than one convincing counterargument to Clifford’s claim.
  • But James’ disagreement goes beyond objecting to Clifford’s belief.