Topic Sentence Definition

Topic sentences are special sentences that serve as guideposts to the writer and reader; they help shape the essay and move it along from idea to idea.

If you have already gathered information and developed some support for a thesis, you may find that your support falls into groups or categories. A rule of thumb is that you can develop a topic sentence for each category to help shape that information and to cue your reading audience in to a change in supporting idea.

For example, let's say that the following sentence is your working thesis:

Adult students returning to college face time, study, emotional, and family problems.

You developed that thesis because you had groups of information on time, study, emotional, and family problems. As you're shaping the essay, then, you could develop these topic sentences to help shape information and direct your reading audience to a change in support:

  • Adult students returning to college face time problems because they have to juggle work, family, and school.
  • Adult students returning to college face study problems because they often have to re-learn study skills, after not having used them for ten years or more.
  • Adult students face family problems when they change family roles and structures as a result of carving out time for themselves.
  • Adult students also face emotional problems when they question their ability to succeed.

An important point: A topic sentence essentially extracts the various ideas embedded in the thesis and creates a "mini-thesis" for each of those ideas. Each of the sample topic sentences above has a topic (adult students returning to college--the same as the topic in the thesis) and an angle (which differs depending on the idea but which extracts one idea from the thesis). Topic sentences help you break down the ideas in the thesis and present them one by one, each in its turn, so that you create a logical shape (a conceptual structure) for the ideas in the essay.

One way to create topic sentences is to identify the implied question in the thesis; the topic sentences will have to answer that question directly.

  • If it's a "why?" question, then you know that each topic sentence will have to provide another reason why.
  • If it's a "what?" question, then you know that each topic sentence will have to provide another characteristic of something.
  • If it's a "how?" question, then you know that each topic sentence will have to offer another step or stage of something.

For example:

Thesis: Adult students should not fear returning to college. (a "why?" question is implied)

Topic Sentence: Adults shouldn't fear returning to college because they have organizational skills that help them in school.

Topic Sentence: Statistics show that adults generally are more successful than younger college students, despite the obstacles they face.

Topic Sentence: Adults are usually successful, and therefore shouldn't fear returning to college, because they generally value learning, which makes them work harder and become more successful learners.

Questions or feedback about ESC's Online Writing Center? Contact us at Learning.Support@esc.edu.