Evaluating the Topic Sentence
Just as many of your essays will depend upon a thesis to assert and control its argument, so will many of your paragraphs require a topic sentence to assert and control their main ideas. Without a topic sentence, or claim, paragraphs can seem jumbled. Readers may find themselves confused.
Because the structure and sense of a paragraph often draws from the topic sentence or claim, the writer must craft them with care. Tutors and writing assistants will want to pay close attention to topic sentences: a weak or empty topic sentence is often followed by a paragraph that rambles aimlessly. Strong topic sentences, on the other hand, practically write the paragraphs that follow them.
When you come across a troubled paragraph, ask yourself:
- Does the topic sentence declare a single point? If not, sort out the ideas. Ask the writer if both of these ideas should be developed in one paragraph, or if she'd like to develop a second (or a third).
- Is the topic sentence relevant to the thesis? If not, ask the writer to reconsider how he might make it relevant. He might want to revise the sentence, to rewrite the thesis to accommodate this new direction, or to edit the paragraph from his final draft.
- Is the topic sentence where you expect it to be? If it's not, can the writer explain why?
- Is there a clear relationship between this topic sentence and the paragraph that came before? It's important to make sure that the writer hasn't left out any steps in the process of constructing his argument. If he makes a sudden turn in his reasoning, he needs to signify that turn to the reader by using the proper transitional phrase.
- And perhaps most important: does the topic sentence organize and control the paragraph? If a paragraph seems to unravel, look at each sentence and see if it's relevant to the claim made in the topic sentence. If not, the paragraph (or the topic sentence) should perhaps be revised.