Topic Sentences

Just like a thesis, topic sentences are key elements in college essays.

Topic Sentences – Points on the Roadmap


Here’s the thesis sentence example from the page on Thesis Sentences, which compared a thesis and topic sentences to towns on a map, on your way to your final destination:

Anne Lamott, in her essay “Shitty First Drafts,” effectively reassures her readers that the writing process is messy and doesn’t need to be perfect in the first drafting stages. She uses her ethos as a writer to convince her readers to shun perfectionism. Her appeal to pathos helps readers connect emotionally through her humor. Finally, Lamott suggests a logical solution to overcoming the fear of writing: simply write a terrible draft.


You and your passengers have all agreed to go to Moab, and they trust you as the driver to take them there. (You should arrive in Moab without delays or detours.)

THESIS (Destination):

Anne Lamott is effective in helping her readers know they don’t have to write perfect drafts. (By the end of the essay, readers should see that Anne Lamott is effective.)


  1. Provo
  2. Spanish Fork to Highway 6
  3. Pass through Helper and Price
  4. Highway 191 to Green River then Moab

OUTLINE (Mapped Route):

  1. She uses ethos (credibility)
  2. She also uses pathos (emotion/humor)
  3. She uses logos (a logical solution)
  4. Final destination: Lamott is effective

Think of each point in your outline as a town on the map. You’ll give your readers a topic sentence, or point sentence, about each of the “towns” listed in the thesis. On your way to Moab you might say to your passenger as you approach Helper, “We’re coming up on Helper. It used to be where the railroad would add an extra engine to help the coal trains make it up the mountain.”

Use topic sentences to signal your discussion of each point in the thesis. The passenger knows to mentally check off one of the points on the map. Topic sentences are signals in the body of the paper to the reader that you are keeping your promise to discuss what’s in the thesis or to help lead the reader logically through your thoughts.

Point one:

Lamott uses ethos as she establishes herself as a writer who knows about writing.

Then you’d give several specific examples from the text and explain (analyze) why they are examples of credibility or ethos. One way to organize your essay is to give each specific example its own paragraph.

Point two:

Appealing to readers’ emotions with humor, Lamott allows the reader to be open to her unconventional idea of writing a terrible draft and being okay with it.

Again, in this section of the analysis, you’d give several specific examples from the text and explain why they are effective examples of pathos or emotion.

Point three:

Lamott uses a logical approach to help her audience overcome the fear of writing: simply write a terrible draft.

Here, as you discuss the last portion of the thesis, you’ll also give several specific examples and quotes from the text and explain why they are appeals to logic or logos.

Notice that each of these sentences mirrors and explains the ideas in the thesis statement.

More About Topic Sentences

As you can see, while you have only one thesis/main idea in an essay, you will have multiple topic sentence ideas, one for each idea you extract from the main thesis idea or assertion.Topic sentences have a topic and an angle, just like thesis sentences. But the angle of topic sentences usually is smaller in range than that of the thesis sentence. Very often the topic remains the same from thesis to topic sentence, while the angle shifts as the writer brings in various types of ideas and research to support the angle in the thesis.

Look at the example in the box below. You’ll see that the topic, “messiness,” remains the same throughout the thesis and topic sentences. However, the thesis’ angle is more inclusive, while the topic sentences each make an assertion on a smaller scale about just one aspect of messiness—one of the four qualities of mind.

Thesis: Although my husband defines “messy” differently than I do, we both agree that “messiness” resides in four qualities of mind, which we both–unfortunately–seem to share.

Thesis sentence:

  • topic = messiness; thesis sentence
  • angle = four qualities constitute messiness

Topic sentences:

  1. First and foremost, messiness results from a mind that does not always think in a linear fashion.
  2. Messiness also results from spontaneity and flexibility, characteristics which we both have.
  3. A tendency to think we can handle more than we actually can also contributes to messiness.
  4. Finally, lack of caring about what “should be,” along with an upbringing that fostered independent thinking, is a big factor in our messiness.

Compare thesis and topic sentences in this way: The thesis sentence offers the main idea or insight for the whole essay; a topic sentence offers the main idea or insight for a section of the essay. To use another metaphor, a thesis sentence illuminates the whole space; a topic sentence illuminates one portion of the space.

Topic sentences are key pieces of an essay because they act as signposts that present and link ideas. They establish the main point for each unit of support. They situate each unit of support within the sequence of the essay’s argument, showing the linkages among the essay’s main supporting ideas. They provide unity to a paragraph or unit of support, to make it clear how all of the supporting ideas, details, examples, and evidence in that unit relate. Topic sentences also help your reader transition from a prior to a new point and unit of support. If you look at just the thesis and topic sentences of an essay, you should see the essay’s complete conceptual or idea structure.

The following brief video provides a simple way of explaining an important concept about topic sentences, that they link supporting ideas and examples to the thesis throughout an essay and create a logical flow of ideas within an essay.


try it

Write topic sentences that would be appropriate to support each sample thesis below (answers will vary).

  • Successful brand marketing relies on a number of factors, including a clear purpose, a focused customer base, creative messaging, and most of all, a public willing to accept the message, which needs to address current public sentiment.

  • The use of fat has fallen out of favor in a health-conscious society; however, there are scientific reasons to use fat in baking as well as to include fats in a human diet, reasons we should be teaching in school so that students can make informed food choices.