Crafting the Perfect Topic Sentence

December 11, 2020

What goes into a topic sentence?
Different teachers often have different methods for teaching paragraph structure. You may be familiar with PEEL, TEEL, PETAL, or some other variation. While the structure of your paragraph may vary slightly from student to student, what they should all have in common is this: the topic sentence.

What is a topic sentence: The topic sentence introduces the main idea or concept to be explored in the paragraph. While it should be broad enough to encompass the entirety of the paragraph, do not mistake this for being vague. Your topic sentence should be conceptually specific, while avoiding an analysis of quotes, techniques, or other evidence.

So how do we craft the perfect topic sentence?
There are two main approaches to topic sentences: the module sentence and the text-specific sentence.

The Module sentence: does not mention the text at all but introduces a concept that relates to the module. The second sentence in the paragraph then links this module concept to the text.

  • E.g. The reduction of individual freedom of thought results in the dehumanization of the collective.

Text-Specific sentence: this sentence mentions the text from the very beginning and immediately links it to a concept relevant to the module.

  • E.g. Through The Party’s restriction of freedom of thought through censorship and surveillance, Orwell demonstrates the dehumanizing consequences of authoritarianism.

The benefit of the Module Sentence format is that the marker knows you are engaging with the Module explicitly – in other words, there is no ambiguity as to whether or not you are aware of the Module. The benefit of the text-specific sentence however, is that you can combine your knowledge of the Module with your knowledge of the text, producing something a lot more concise and detailed.
At the end of the day, either approach is fine – so long as your topic sentence is making an effort to engage with the question.

Linking between paragraphs: Something else to consider is that your topic sentences need to link to the ideas in the previous paragraph. This can be as simple as starting with a transition term like ‘furthermore’ or ‘additionally’, but more sophisticated essays will make a meaningful link. So if the below were two topic sentences from the same essay, they might look like:

Topic Sentence (Paragraph 1): Rosemary Dobson’s poem Young Girl At a Window demonstrates the anxieties that arise from one’s awareness of the time’s inexorable progression.

Topic Sentence (Paraqraph 2): Alternatively, Dobson’s later poem Canberra Morning departs from the youthful naivety of Young Girl to offer a more mature perspective on time based in an acceptance of aging.
All in all, what is important is that your topic sentence achieves two things: firstly, it introduces a concept, secondly it relates that concept to the question. If you do this, you will be on the right track!

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