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:
- “Even though,”
- “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.
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.”