The Topic Sentence

A good topic sentence is concise and emphatic. It is no longer than the idea requires, and it stresses the important word or phrase. Here, for instance, is the topic statement which opens a paragraph about the collapse of the stock market in 1929:

The Big Bull Market was dead. Frederick Lewis Allen

Notice several things. (1) Allen's sentence is brief. Not all topics can be explained in six words, but whether they take six or sixty, they should be phrased in no more words than are absolutely necessary. (2) The sentence is clear and strong: you understand exactly what Allen means. (3) It places the key the end, where it gets heavy stress and leads naturally into what will follow. Of course, if a topic sentence ends on a key term, it must do so naturally, without violating any rules of word order or idiom. (4) The sentence stands in the paragraph. This is where topic statements generally belong: at or near the beginning.

To attract attention topic sentences sometimes appear in the form of rhetorical questions:

What then is the modern view of Joan's voices and messages from

God? George Bernard Shaw

What did Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation accomplish?

Rhetorical questions are easy ways of generating paragraphs. Perhaps too easy; so use them with restraint. Once is probably enough in a short piece of writing.

Another eye-catching form of topic statement is the fragment, the grammatically incomplete sentence, as in the second paragraph of this passage (italics added):

Approaching the lake from the south, spread out, high up in a great V, was a flock of Canada geese. They did not land but continued on their way, trailed by the brass notes of their honking.

Spring. How perfect its fanfare. No trumpets or drums could ever have so triumphantly announced the presence of royalty. ! stood marveling in their wake until, cold, I returned to the firs to see what else I Could summon up. Ruth Rudner

But fragments, too, are effective only if they are used with restraint. Most of the time the best topic statement is a strong, clear, grammatically complete, declarative sentence.

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Responses

  • adelbert
    How to write a eye catching topic sentence?
    8 years ago

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