Relevance Of Topic Sentence For Essay

1.1: Topic Sentences

This resource was written by Jaclyn M. Wells.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on August 7, 2009 .

Summary:
Part 1, Lesson 1 addresses organization. This page deals with topic sentences.

Lesson 1: Organization

This lesson addresses organization. Questions about organization make up 15 percent of the questions in Part I of the GED Language Arts, Writing test. Studying this resource will also help you think about organization in relation to the GED Essay. It will also improve your writing skills in general. Topics included in this resource are as follows: topic sentences, relevance of ideas, order of ideas, and transitions.

Topic Sentences

Every paragraph should include a topic sentence that identifies the main idea of the paragraph. A topic sentence also states the point the writer wishes to make about that subject. Generally, the topic sentence appears at the beginning of the paragraph. It is often the paragraph’s very first sentence. A paragraph’s topic sentence must be general enough to express the paragraph’s overall subject. But it should be specific enough that the reader can understand the paragraph’s main subject and point.

On the GED, you may be asked to choose a better topic sentence for a paragraph. Sometimes, a topic sentence may be entirely missing from a paragraph, and you will be asked to choose one for it. When choosing a topic sentence, remember these guidelines:

  • The topic sentence should identify the main idea and point of the paragraph. To choose an appropriate topic sentence, read the paragraph and think about its main idea and point.
  • The supporting details in the paragraph (the sentences other than the topic sentence) will develop or explain the topic sentence. Read all the supporting details in the paragraph and think about the ideas they discuss.
  • The topic sentence should not be too general or too specific. When considering the options, look for a topic sentence that is general enough to show the paragraph’s main idea instead of just one of its details. The answer should be specific enough that the reader understands the main idea of the paragraph.

Topic Sentence Exercise

Write a topic sentence for the following paragraph.

During the 1990s, I really enjoyed watching Friends on television every Thursday night. I really wanted Rachel’s haircut—I think every girl wanted Rachel’s haircut back then! Rachel’s haircut went really well with the Guess Jeans that were so popular in the 1990s. I remember all the advertisements for Guess and Calvin Klein Jeans that were in each month’s Sassy magazine. I don’t think Sassy magazine exists anymore, but it was one of the most popular magazines for young women in the 1990s.

Click here for exercise answers.

Though not every paragraph must contain a clear topic sentence, it’s a good idea if beginning writers practice organizing their thoughts by placing topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph. 

What is a topic sentence?  Topic sentences are exactly what they sound like—sentences that announce and summarize a topic for your reader. 

But I thought that’s what a thesis statement was for…?  Thesis statements let the reader know what the purpose of your entire essay will be—they focus on your main idea.  On the other hand, topic sentences let the reader know what will be discussed in a particular paragraph or section of your essay.

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference between the two:

Thesis Statement:  The important link between Civil Rights era music and today’s conception of the R & B genre has been overlooked in today’s music history courses.

Topic Sentence:  The Music History curriculum at top music colleges and universities such as Berkeley, Cornell, and Columbia do not offer courses that focus on the R & B genre.

Notice the key differences between the two types of sentences:  the thesis statement tells us what idea the whole paper will prove or discuss, while the topic sentence is a sub-section of that thesis.  The topic sentence provides us with one reason why readers should agree that music history programs are overlooking an important part of music’s development over the years. 

Example:

Let's say you intend to argue that music history courses shouldn’t forget about the musical developments that occurred during the Civil Rights era in the U.S., especially when they discuss R & B music. 

Then, imagine that you’ve developed a list of reasons why others should agree with you. Don’t worry about researching the topic if you don’t know much about this type of music!  Remember, the topic sentence simply introduces the information—the facts and details wouldn’t be explained until later in the paragraph. 

  • Use of anger/outrage in lyrics 
  • Use of subtext/hidden meanings
  • Artists who gained popularity during this time period

Sample Topic Sentences for the Following Thesis Statement:

Thesis Statement:  The important link between Civil Rights era music and today’s conception of the R & B genre has been overlooked in today’s music history courses.

Topic: Use of anger/outrage in lyrics
Sample Topic Sentence: The turmoil of the Civil Rights era led popular musical artists and lyricists to incorporate explosive and highly personal lyrics into their songs, very much like the explicit lyrics we’ve come to expect from Eminem and Kid Rock today.

Topic: Use of subtext/hidden meanings
Sample Topic Sentence: Music history classes discuss the various ways that music helps bring communities of people together; however, they often overlook the ways that the hidden meanings in songs like “The Backstabbers” by the O’Jays (1972) helped to maintain continued support of the Civil Rights Movement in the African American community.   

Topic: Artists who gained popularity during this time period
Sample Topic Sentence: Many of the influential artists whose work is discussed in music history classes—such as Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, and Sam Cooke—first emerged from the Civil Rights Movement.

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