Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

At the beginning.

In blogs, videos, and my courses, I have often mentioned that the topic sentence of a sunrise-1756274_640paragraph should be at the beginning of the paragraph – often the first sentence.

While this is true in many cases, it does not HAVE to be the first sentence of a paragraph.  When writing essays for grade school or secondary school, teachers generally expect the topic sentence of body paragraphs to come at the beginning. The concluding paragraph has a restated or modified thesis statement at the beginning, and this serves as its topic sentence. Of course, the introductory paragraph is a bit of an exception.  It often starts with a “grabber” and/or focus statement, and the thesis statement (serving as the overarching topic sentence) comes at the end of the paragraph.

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For most stand-alone paragraph writing exercises in school, the expectation is for a topic sentence at or near the very beginning of the paragraph as well.


Having said all that, topic sentences can come at any point within a paragraph – even in academic writing at times.

At the end.

You can place the central idea at the end after several supporting sentences that have end-812226_640made the case for your argument or point of view. This can be especially useful in argument paragraphs because it leads the reader to your conclusion drawing them in with your amazing proofs and supports.

You knew you were amazing, right?  Of course.

Placing the topic sentence at the end of your paragraph can be effective in expository paragraphs as well. Leaving the central idea until the end can have a dramatic effect that attracts the reader to keep reading.

Of course, even if your topic sentence or central idea is withheld until the end of the paragraph, you still need to ensure that you have unity and coherence.  All the supports that come before the topic sentence need to be relevant and transition from one to another in order for the whole package to have the desired impact on the reader.  Remember that you have to “lead” them to your central idea and convince them with your message.

Nowhere – and everywhere.

Even more bizarre!

Some paragraphs don’t have the central idea explicitly stated at all! nowhere

This is often the case with narrative writing (relating a sequence of events) and sometimes descriptive writing.  This is especially true in fiction writing where many academic rules are “stretched” or broken.  You can imply the central idea with descriptions, action, dialogue, and so on. This is not to say that you never use topic sentences in fiction, but one topic sentence might serve several paragraphs rather than just one.  The continuity is important and, frankly, trying to generate a new topic sentence in the midst of a “flow” of description does not always make sense.

There you have it.  Topic sentences are not as stable as you thought.  They can move around from place to place.  Sometimes there are a couple of introductory sentences before a topic sentence as well.  Generally, I wouldn’t say the topic sentence comes in the middle of a paragraph, but it can be within it.

Still, for most academic writing, I recommend sticking to having the topic sentence at the beginning of most paragraphs.  It will serve you well.

When writing fiction, you have more freedom – but keep in mind that you still need to help the reader find your central idea using whatever techniques you choose.

Do you want to write more?  Do you want to improve your writing? Contact me, and I will set up a personal program for you. reading-86070_1920


This week’s video: Topic Sentences

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Punctuation Made So Easy



Frustrating Punctuation? Here is the solution.

Punctuation Made Easy!

Alert: Check out the awesome offer below.

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Does punctuation sometimes drive you crazy?

Maybe, maybe not; however, a lot of people have difficulty knowing when to use a comma versus a semicolon.

What is a colon, anyway? (No, I’m not talking about the one in your body. Yuck.)

How do you use quotation marks correctly?  Wait! What!  There are double quotation marks and single quotation marks?  Nice way to make things even more difficult.

Writing well includes the proper use of punctuation.  I have read many stories and articles, including essays, speeches, and book reports, that have many great ideas and some excellent development; however, I have to re-read many of the sentences because they are not punctuated properly.

Any teacher, professor, or – for that matter – reader will tell you that he or she prefers to read a sentence only once before moving on.  Nobody wants to have to “decipher” what you meant to write.

If you want to start raising the grade TODAY, then learn to punctuate your sentences correctly, particularly when writing longer articles because they are the most challenging to read when they are not punctuated well.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, keep it simple!  Complicating matters does not help the reader, the teacher, the professor, the editor, or you.

Of course, as you become a better writer, you will use more complex writing, but you will do so with the tools to make it easy to read and to comprehend, regardless of its complexity.  Like any professional, you make it look easy when you really know how to do it.  One of those tools is knowing how to use punctuation.

So, don’t let punctuation drive you crazy any longer. normal_crazy_mean_dog

Here’s the awesome offer!


The Punctuation Made Easy course is in its final stages of development.

It will launch in October, and I have set up a pre-sell price of only $10.00!  (The listed price after launch will be $40.00.)

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Register for the Punctuation Made Easy course and receive the following:


Upon registering:                       Student Survival Guide (32 page downloadable book)

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  • Basic English Writing
  • Paragraph Writing
  • Essay Writing

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Punctuation Made Easy

This course will help you improve your writing. With the right punctuation, your sentences and articles will shine! Step-by-step lessons and quizzes will solidify your knowledge.

Work at your own pace, own space, and own time.

Although the course is asynchronous, I do answer questions.

I also schedule free online question/answer sessions. (Optional)

 Over Twenty Lessons + quizzes

  • Introduction
  • End Punctuation – 3 lessons
  • Comma – 9 lessons
  • Semicolon
  • Colon
  • Apostrophe
  • Quotation Marks – 3 lessons
  • Other punctuation – dash, parenthesis, brackets, ellipsis, slash
  • Concluding bits

Don’t forget to register – the deal only lasts until launch!

This week’s video:    The Punctuation Made Easy course.

Remember, I would love to be your coach.  Check out the website or get in touch for further options and learning experiences.



Master the Compound-Complex Sentence in Your Writing

Master the Compound-Complex Sentence in Your Writing

I have written so far about three different kinds of sentences based on structure: the simple sentence, the compound sentence, and the complex sentence.

Today is for the compound-complex sentence.evan-dennis-75563

What is it?

You might well have guessed by now.  A compound-complex sentence combines the compound sentence and the complex sentence kinds.

It has at least two independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

(Of course, it can include phrases just like all the other sentence kinds.)

These sentences tend to be longer simply because of the number of clauses they contain. But don’t depend on only the length of a sentence to tell you what it is.  A simple sentence with lots of adjectives, adverbs, or phrases can be quite long.

Properly punctuated, the compound-complex structure gives you lots of flexibility. With these sentences, you can manipulate the clauses (& phrases) to create stronger beginnings or endings, to enhance the most important point, or to artistically accentuate a detail or description. The options are nearly endless.

Note of caution:  This is not the “Best.” There is no “Best.”

All four kinds of sentences have equal intrinsic value.  The point is to use a variety of them in your longer writing.  The goal is knowing how to intermingle simple sentences with compound-complex sentences, introducing a few complex sentences with a couple powerful compound sentences so that they all complement each other.


Here are some examples of compound-complex sentences   (independent clauses in green / dependent clauses in blue):


Whenever he hears the train whistle, Bob runs to see the train, and he often takes photographs as well.


Sharon, who is an expert knitter, makes sweaters for her grandchildren and she loves watching the children open the presents at Christmas time.


The building of the bridge was delayed after the workers went on strike, but the end result was still an amazing work of art.


Don’t be afraid to experiment with varying your sentences. Practise, practise, practise!

Reading your text aloud will often signal any changes you might need to make to help with the “rhythm” of your article. It is beneficial to have an article that reads smoothly.  It helps the reader scan and comprehend your message.  Also, it makes the writing process more enjoyable if you take a somewhat artistic approach while still following the technical rules.  While there are lots of rules and conventions in the English language, there is also lots of room to maneuver and create.

When you are ready, don’t hesitate to contact a coach to help you along.

Here are my contact details.  I would love to assist you in your journey.



For more tips, check out this week’s video:

Master the Compound-Complex Sentence

Improve Your Writing with Compound and Complex Sentences

Improve Your Writing with Compound and Complex Sentences

What are they?

I talked about simple sentences in the last blog entry.  Today, I am covering both the compound and complex sentences.

(Both video links are listed below.)

All of these are simply different kinds of sentences based on structure.

Compound sentences are basically two (or more) simple sentences combined in some manner. In other words, a compound sentence has two or more independent clauses. Of course, there are certain rules and conventions that dictate how they can be combined.

Some of the most common and useful methods are to use coordinating conjunctions.

Remember that there are seven of these:  for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. (Use FANBOYS as a mnemonic to remember them.)  Notice the comma before the coordinating conjunction when joining to independent clauses.


The creature was quiet, but it smelled like pizza, so everyone knew where it was.

Julia loves to cook, but she loves eating even more!

Often conjunctive adverbs or transitional expressions can be used to join independent clauses to make compound sentences. There are lots of conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions, but here are a few very useful ones to get you started:  however, therefore, moreover, then, otherwise, furthermore, specifically, instead, as a matter of fact, for example, on the other hand, for instance, as a result, at any rate, at the same time.  Notice the semicolon before and the comma after the conjunctive adverb or transitional expression when joining two independent clauses.


Everyone enjoyed the parade; however, the weather was not pleasant.

One should eat a healthy diet; on the other hand, it is not a sin to have a treat now and again.

Complex sentences contain one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

Reminder:     Independent clause = can stand alone

Dependent clause = cannot stand alone (requires more                                                              information or needs to be attached                                                              to an independent clause).


After the party ended, everyone went home to bed.

The purple elephant loves to dance at night when nobody is watching.

Now you have three of the four kinds of sentences by structure: simple, compound, and complex.

Use each one in your writing to provide variety and a nice flow.  It is always easier to read text that is not stilted or boring.  Mixing it up can solve this problem.

Your writing will be easier to comprehend as well if there is some variety.  There are several ways to achieve this including using longer and shorter sentences, using varied vocabulary, and providing different kinds of sentences by structure.

Also, you will have more fun writing when you incorporate new skills and techniques.

As always, I encourage you to take a few lessons or a writing course.

I would love to be your reading / writing coach!


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For more tips, check out these videos.

Compound sentences

Complex sentences


The Simple Sentence

The Simple Sentence

What is it?

Technically, it is a complete sentence that has only one independent clause.

In other words, it has only one subject-verb combination.

It makes only one statement.

Note: The term “simple” doesn’t mean “easy.”  It is the technical term for having a sentence with one independent clause.

Note:  An independent clause contains at least one subject and one verb (predicate) and can stand (be understood) on its own.

Not always as simple as it seems!funny-2029437_640

The simple sentence should not be disrespected.  It is the clearest and most direct way to convey your thought.

There is a lot to be said for clarity.  In fact, many writers and students would benefit from making their writing more concise and more to the point.

A simple sentence can contain more than one subject and/or more than one verb.  In other words, it can have compound subjects and verbs.

A simple sentence can also have many modifiers.

So you see, “simple sentence” doesn’t have to mean boring or without variety.

(Having said this, you should still use a mixture of simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences in your writing.)

Basic simple sentences

Butterflies fly. (subject – butterflies  & verb – fly)

Damien cried.  (subject – Damien & verb – cried)

Simple sentences with a compound subject

Kyla and Carmen drove to the city.

The boys and girls sang a song.

Simple sentences with a compound predicate

Elias washed and polished the floor.

The ponies ran and jumped the fence.

Simple sentences with a compound subject and compound predicate

Ron and Gay live and work in Guelph.

The car and the truck raced and crashed.

Simple sentences with modifiersfile000532975511

Beyond the darkness, we could see a spotlight, shining like a beacon.

After the torrential rainstorm, the streets and pathways were flooded with water and detritus.

The changes in policy caused many clients to avoid or reduce purchasing from the shop.

Simple but awesome!

You can see that simple sentences don’t need to be too tedious. There are many modifiers, subjects, and verbs that you can add to create more interesting sentences even while still using the one basic structure.

When writing, try to use many sentence structures because this adds interest and makes the text easier to read.  It is never pleasant to read a longer piece of writing in which all sentences are simple or all sentences are compound-complex.  Using the same structure over and over and over and over and over and over – Okay, you get my point!

Experiment with writing simple sentences of your own or including them within your other writing tasks.

Some good, crisp simple sentences can add a lot of impact to your writing.  Don’t ignore simple sentences.  They are just as useful as all the other structures.  They should be an important part of your writing toolbox.

Do you want to improve?

For courses and lessons to improve your writing check out the website.

Reading, Writing, Math, and Online courses.

There are online courses that you can do on your own, or I can create a personalized set of lessons for you.  In this way, we can address any difficulties you are having directly.

Having your own personal coach can make a world of difference in your progress. reading-button


For more tips, check out this week’s video.  Simple Sentences


Sentence Fragment Monsters Coming to Destroy Your Writing!

Don’t let sentence fragments detract from your amazing message!

Avoid                                             stop sign

When writing, try to avoid using sentence fragments.

Now, they are fine for your brainstorming but you don’t want them in your final draft.

Avoiding sentence fragments in your rough draft is also a good idea because you will become accustomed to writing in full sentences and have fewer edits to make on your final copy.


What are they?

What exactly is a sentence fragment?

Basically, a sentence fragment is part of a sentence, but only part, masquerading as a real sentence!

You are missing some essential element.  The following three examples all look like sentences, but they aren’t.  They are all sentence fragments.

  1. You might have a subject but not predicate:

My aged mother from the senior citizen’s green acres retirement centre.

  1. You might have a predicate but no subject:

Invented a new solution to the problem of inner city traffic and pedestrian interaction.

  1. You might have a subordinating word that makes the clause dependent:

After the colourful turtles crossed the road in the morning.

To have a complete sentence, you need at least one independent clause.

When the massive blue bus careened around the rocky curve at the top of Bluebird Hill.

This certainly seems to be a sentence.  It has a capital and a period for end punctuation. It has a series of words that make sense talking about one main idea; however, the thought is not complete.  What happened when the bus careened around the curve?  We don’t know.  The writer forgot to include this information in the main sentence.

You will notice that simply removing the word “When” creates a full sentence.  However, with the subordinating word “When,” the group of words is dependent, and you will need to add something to complete the thought.

When the massive blue bus careened around the rocky curve at the top of Bluebird Hill, we all thought we were doomed.

Help is on the way!

One easy (although not entirely accurate) way to tell whether a sentence is complete or a fragment is to imagine someone saying it to you.  Does it make sense?

After the party at Exhibition Park.

Drawing a line through the sand.

Screamed at the top of his lungs.

When you say these aloud to yourself – you have unanswered questions such as “What happened after the party?” and “Who screamed?”

At times this can be confusing.  For example: I can’t read it.

You might say this is a fragment because we don’t know what “it” is; however, we do have a subject “I” and a predicate “can’t read it,” and we don’t have any subordinating words.  So, although we don’t know everything at this point, the sentence itself is complete. Presumably this would be part of a series of sentences rather than a stand-alone sentence.


  1. Check to see that you have at least one subject and one predicate.
  2. Check that you have at least one independent clause.


Most of these points about sentence fragments apply to formal, academic writing.  There are times when a sentence fragment is helpful – particularly in fiction writing. Writing fiction or poetry breaks many of the formal rules in order to create a more realistic scene or dialogue.  We generally don’t speak or have a conversation with someone using full sentences and formal grammar at all times. Also, when giving an order or command, the subject is “implied” rather than stated.  (My two points under “Technically” are examples.)

Close the window.    (The subject is implied.  Often assumed to be “you.”)


One more point

Don’t worry.  Keep writing.  The important thing is to keep practising and writing what you love to write about.

Getting feedback and direction can be essential if you need to, or want to, improve your technique, style, and final product.

Here is one place to start:

Paragraph Writing Lessons


Video: Sentence Fragments



Writing in English

Keep it simple

When you write, particularly when you are writing a finished product such as an essay, book report, or speech, etc., use the structures you know.

Remember the old adage, “Write about what you know.”  Well, this works with technical aspects as well.

There is no need to artificially complicate your sentences just to seem more academic or “more intelligent.”

To be honest, when writers do this, they tend to reduce the quality of their writing rather than enhance it.

I have seen students who spend a great deal of time trying to “perfect” very weak arguments or assertions with complicated language and massive (and unreadable) sentences.  This method does not work!  But don’t worry, as you learn a wider variety of sentence structures and paragraph structures, you will be able to effectively incorporate them into your finished products.

In the meantime, write well with the tools you have.


Focus on the goal

Keep your mind on your goal.

What do you want the reader to gain from your article?

If it is an essay, you are arguing for a certain point of view or supporting your opinion.

If you are writing a speech, you might be informing the reader or trying to persuade him/her to take a certain action.

(Often written work can have more than one purpose, but there is generally a dominant one.)

If you need to write an essay or report for a grade – again, keeping your mind on the goal is important.  Don’t worry about the grade.  If your writing is well done and you have conveyed the message you intended, then the grade will follow.

Remember that the goal is the whole point of your writing!  Don’t let it slip through the cracks.  Your message is far more important than fancy language and complexity.


But how do you improve?

You might be asking this question, “How do I improve if I don’t try to write in a more complicated manner?”

There are multiple answers, but let’s start with the improvement bit.

With each new article, you can “stretch” yourself.  While working on rough copies or drafts, you can experiment with longer sentences or new structures.  Always read your work aloud to “hear” if it sounds right. You can also ask yourself this question: “If someone walked up to me and said this, would I know what he/she was talking about?”  (If the answer is “no,” then you still have some work to do.)

Of course, reading to someone or having someone else read your efforts can be helpful. If the person has no idea what your sentence means, then it is generally the wrong way to write that sentence.

(I have read many students’ articles for courses or information that I have never studied myself.  Of course, I might not understand very technical details of an obscure course; however, the sentences and language should still be understandable.  Basically, anyone should be able to read your paper and gain some insight from it.)

Another great idea is to record yourself and then listen to your article with your eyes closed.  Does everything make sense to you?  Do the sentences move smoothly from one idea to the next?  Is there a satisfying conclusion that leaves you feeling that your main point has been adequately explored?

Your journal writing is another awesome place to experiment.  It isn’t so important if your sentences fall apart or if they lack the finesse of a finished product if the writing is just for yourself.

Reading back over old journal entries you can see how much you’ve improved but also how much you might still need to improve.  I know people who have read their old writing and have no idea what a particular sentence means!

Of course, you can take courses that specifically address writing skills.

Ron033    Ron – well, a slightly younger version!  🙂

You could hire a tutor to give you some specific direction and help along the way. A good tutor will assess your current abilities and then provide you with a program that will bring you the results you desire.

Here is a great place to start:  Paragraph Writing Lessons


Video: Writing – Keep it simple!


Ronald J. Johnson

Director – L.T.L. Tutoring Central