Academic writing tips-what is a topic sentence?

A topic sentence in academic writing is exactly as the name suggests. It is a sentence which announces the topic. But you need to be careful here. To make your topic sentence effective it needs to clearly state your opinion or your plan or your theory to be discussed in your essay. It is usually the first sentence in that paragraph. And because it's the first sentence and because it is clearly written without flowery language, it opens up the possibility of you then developing your writing in the remainder of the paragraph.

It's a hook

If nothing else your topic sentence must serve as a hook, it must entice the reader to want to keep reading. You can do this by making your topic sentence a question with a hint that you will answer that question later in the essay. It could be a descriptive sentence; descriptive of a person or a place or thing. It needs to be enticing and interesting. It doesn't want to be too long but it does want to be stimulating.

You need to be careful with your topic sentence because if you set the bar too high, if you create expectations for the reader, you may not be able to match those expectations with the remainder of writing in your essay. In that case, you are likely to receive a low-grade. So think about this topic sentence in terms of how well you can prove it, describe it or substantiate it. That's the beauty of a good essay when the topic sentence sets up expectations and then the rest of the essay meets those expectations.

Avoid lists and long sentences

The topic sentence needs to be punchy. It needs to get the point across quickly and in as few words as possible. What it does not need is a list of things, commonly called a laundry list. Your reader needs to get their head around your topic sentence immediately. It is not a sentence that they need to sit back and reread and reread in order to grasp the meaning.

Another thing to avoid in your topic sentence is a quotation. Remember the quotation includes words which you have not written. By all means use a quotable quote to develop your topic sentence or to prove it, but make the actual topic sentence one using words which you and you alone have created.

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