Writing Tip Wednesday: Topic Sentences (Part 2)

Dear Master’s Programs student,

As a continuation from the previous writing tip on topic sentences, this week’s entry will focus on two more ways to help cue your paragraphs.

Cue the entire paragraph
A topic sentence must effectively summarize the entire paragraph that it leads. If any part of the paragraph isn’t covered by your topic sentence, then the topic sentence has been too narrowly constructed.

Ask yourself whether all parts of the paragraph are mentioned in the topic sentence. If not, you can rewrite the topic sentence as a broader statement that encapsulates all the ideas of the paragraph it leads. Alternatively, if you have enough content, take the ideas that don’t fit under your existing topic sentence, and put them in their own separate paragraph.

Cue only what’s in the paragraph
The opposite problem of a topic sentence that is too narrow is a topic sentence that promises more than it can deliver. A paragraph should at least touch on—if not fully develop—all aspects of a topic sentence.

If your topic sentence includes ideas that aren’t covered in the paragraph it leads, make an inventory of items not covered within the paragraph. Then reframe your topic sentence more narrowly so that it excludes these “missing” parts. Or, if you can amplify the existing paragraph to include the missing material (without creating a large, unwieldy paragraph), extend the body of the paragraph to include everything mentioned in the topic sentence.

Planning & Analyzing Your Paragraph
Below is a sample of our “rough plan” graphic organizer. For each paragraph you write, fill out the four boxes. When you consider the purpose of a paragraph, consider what it will do (e.g. define key terms, give historical background, introduce a counter-argument, summarize key points already mentioned). Then, consider the type of topic sentence you’ll need to cue the ideas.

rough

This graphic organizer can also be used as a reverse outline: once you’ve already written your paper, go back and fill in the rough plan boxes for each paragraph. Does the topic sentence accurately cue the reader about its paragraph? If not, look at your “purpose” and “evidence” sections to determine what needs to be added to or removed from the topic sentence to make it more accurate.

 

(To print a full rough plan for your paper, click here, then select “Rough Plan.”)

The key question to consider is this: would a reader have a clear idea about my paragraph’s main idea from its topic sentence?

Happy writing!

James

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