Developing Topic Sentences

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Topic sentences can be developed in a number of ways, depending on how you are moving through writing processes for the particular essay. Two useful ways of developing topic sentences deal with analysis:

  1. Analyze your working thesis. This is similar to creating an outline of the main ideas in the essay, as your topic sentences evolve from the ideas in the thesis.
  2. Analyze your prewriting. This approach works well if you are still developing your working thesis.

Analyze Your Working Thesis

One way to create topic sentences is to identify the implied question in the working thesis; the topic sentences will have to answer that question directly.

For example:

Thesis: Adult students should not fear returning to college. (a “why?” question is implied)

  • Topic Sentence: Adults shouldn’t fear returning to college because they have organizational skills that help them in school. (this is one reason why)
  • Topic Sentence: Statistics show that adults generally are more successful than younger college students, despite the obstacles they face. (this is another reason why)
  • Topic Sentence: Adults students generally value learning, which makes them work harder and become more successful learners. (this is another reason why)

Another example:

Thesis: Eldercare experiences are very different in U.S. and Japanese societies, because of different philosophies and social practices with the elderly population.

The following questions are implied:

  • What is the eldercare experience in the U.S.?
  • What is the eldercare experience in Japan?
  • How are these experiences different?
  • Why are these experiences different – what are the philosophies and social practices like in each country?

In this case, although there’s an overall “why” question implied, there are also multiple, specific questions embededded within the thesis sentence. There should be at least a topic sentence for each of these questions, and all of the topic sentences in the essay should answer these questions in some way.

Analyze Your Prewriting

If you have already developed some ideas through prewriting, you may find that your support falls into groups or categories. Analyze your categories to determine how to create both your working thesis and topic sentences, keeping in mind that once you have your working thesis, you still have to analyze the thesis and topic sentences to make sure that their topics and angles coordinate.

For example, your prewriting on the topic of social interaction in the digital age may have generated the following main categories of information.

Categories of support from Prewriting:

  • Allows for a wider scope of potential friends
  • Although the scope is wider, friendships arise out of a narrower range of interests
  • Technical interaction is replacing face to face interaction
  • Technical interaction can be useful
  • Technical interaction can be problematic

From these categories, you might develop the following working thesis:

Social interaction in the digital age has both benefits and detriments; however, the benefits outweigh the detriments in many cases.

As you review your categories and working thesis, you see that you might develop topic sentences in a couple of different ways. You might decide to create a topic sentence per category. Or you might decide to have two main categories in this case (“useful” and “problematic”) and then more specific topic sentences for paragraphs and units of support within those large categories. However you decide to create topic sentences in this case, just by analyzing the prewriting categories, you know that you will need some topic sentences that indicate benefits and some topic sentences that indicate detriments of social interaction in the digital age.

Note that you often combine approaches to creating topic sentences, and note that topic sentences may also evolve as you develop your support. Again, there’s no one way to approach a piece of writing. As a writer, you just need to understand the concept of topic sentences and their value in an essay, as they:

  • identify pieces of the thesis’ main idea/angle
  • help organize your evidence into categories, and
  • cue your reading audience in to a change in supporting idea.
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