Structuring School Essay: Topic Sentences and Paragraphs

TOPIC SENTENCES

When you write an essay, you follow a standard essay structure to organize your essay. This includes introduction, paper body and conclusion. But there is another way of organization. Not only your essay as a whole, but also each paragraph within your essay, needs to be organized.

So here’s the deal. Every paragraph in your essay will have a topic. You will need to introduce that topic to your reader with a topic sentence. A topic sentence tells your reader what the paragraph is about, but that’s not all the multitalented topic sentence accomplishes. It has to relate simultaneously to your thesis andto the rest of the paragraph. Think of the topic sentence as standing tall on the page, holding hands with both the thesis and the paragraph, so that they never get too far apart.

Parts of a Topic Sentence

Because one of the jobs of a topic sentence is to tell your reader what the paragraph is about, it needs to be composed of two important parts: the topic and the focus.
The topicis what the paragraph is about. The focusis what you think about the topic. Here are some examples of topic sentences with the topic and focus identified.

People get sunburns for a number of reasons. Here, "sunburns" is topic, and "reasons" is focus of your essay.

It is not difficult to write an essay if you follow some simple steps. In this sentence "writing an essay" is topic, and "following simple steps" is the focus.

KINDS OF PARAGRAPHS

Now that you know how to write a topic sentence that clearly identifies the topic and the focus, let’s talk about how to construct the rest of the paragraph. The first decision to make is where to place your topic sentence. Should it be the first sentence, or the last? Or should it be stuck somewhere in the middle? Well, the middle is not an option. Your reader would be very confused to read one of your topic sentences in the middle of a paragraph. The remaining options are putting your topic sentence first or putting it last. Each of these options creates a different type of paragraph. The two types of paragraphs are deductive and inductive.

Deductive Paragraphs

A deductiveparagraph begins with the topic sentence, so the reader knows right away what the rest of the paragraph will be about. Here’s an example.

One way to prevent tooth decay is to make regular visits to your dentist. Even if you take care of your teeth every day at home,
it is still advantageous to get them cleaned by a dentist a couple of times a year. Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash at home can clean your teeth only so much. The dentist uses special tools that are not available to the average person to use every day on his or her teeth.

Inductive Paragraphs

An inductiveparagraph ends with the topic sentence and, therefore, is not as straightforward as a deductive paragraph. Instead of introducing the topic right away, the inductive paragraph builds up to introducing the topic. Here’s an example.

Dentists use special tools to clean your teeth. These tools are not available to most people and clean teeth better than brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash at home. So, in order to supplement your home cleaning, you should visit the dentist a couple times each year. Visiting your dentist regularly is one way to prevent tooth decay.

For now, don’t worry about trying to create inductive paragraphs. Because deductive paragraphs are much more straightforward, they’re a good type to start practicing with. After you’ve had some practice writing essays, you can
experiment with different styles.

ORGANIZING PARAGRAPHS

Each paragraph of your essay should have a clear topic sentence as the first sentence. Every other sentence should relate back to that topic sentence. It interrupts the flow and the clarity of your essay when there are sentences that seem like they’re stuck in the wrong place. Imagine the reader cruising along down the road of your essay and—pop!—a pothole! Now, maybe the reader has a flat tire and has to pull over to the shoulder and assess the problem. Sounds like a bummer, huh? That’s why flow is so important.

Where to Break

Sometimes it can be tricky trying to decide when to start a new paragraph. Well, each paragraph should contain its own topic, so the rule is new topic, new paragraph. When you’re reading back over your essay and find that a paragraph seems to be quite long, maybe it’s really two smaller topics that could be broken up into two separate paragraphs.

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