Writing Guide: How to Write a Thesis or Topic Sentence

You probably know the basics.

A thesis identifies the topic and point of the entire essay; it is the last sentence of the introductory paragraph.

A topic sentence identifies the topic and point of a paragraph; it is the first sentence of each body paragraph.

So far so good. Knowing how to write a good topic sentence or paragraph, though, is another issue—but consider these suggestions:

Your thesis is a road map. Don’t just make a point but suggest the path to get there.

Use your thesis or topic sentences to identify your upcoming points.

- Mediocre: “Shakespeare shows how artificial performances can reveal the truth of one’s beliefs.”

- Better: “Through the characters of Hamlet, Ophelia, and Yorick, Shakespeare shows how artificial performances can reveal the truth of one’s beliefs.”

Embody a tension. Counterintuitive points are more compelling.

The best theses and topic sentences often start with concessive clauses:

- “Although,”

- “Even though,”

- “Despite,”

- “While,”

- “Whereas,”

- “In spite of.”

If you’re stuck, take your central idea, ask if it’s possible to say the opposite, and incorporate that counterargument into one of the phrases above.

Establish a relationship between characters, events, scenes, or styles.

You can also establish relationships between:

- conflicting duties

- conflicting actions and thoughts

- conflicting interpretations of characters

- conflicting interpretations of readers

- an action and its consequence.

Use phrases that establish relationships.

Be precise! Establish not only that there is a relationship, but how it works.

Don’t just argue what point the text makes — say how the text makes the point.

- Vague: “Prufrock’s internal monologues reveal his way of thinking.”

- Much better: “Prufrock’s fragmented internal monologues reveal not only his shattered sense of selfhood but his lack of desire to conceive of himself as a cohesive whole.”

Note how this second topic sentence indicates how his monologues reveal his way of thinking.

Show the significance of formal techniques with the structure “By [verb]-ing [noun].”

To show what the formal techniques suggest about the content, use the structure “By [verb]-ing [noun], ”followed by the name of the character or author who does so.

- For example: “By addressing himself in the second person, Poe’s protagonist suggests his own shattered sense of selfhood.”