Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!
At the beginning.
In blogs, videos, and my courses, I have often mentioned that the topic sentence of a paragraph 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 made 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!
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.
This week’s video: Topic Sentences
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