Writing Academic Paragraphs – Part 1

You need to know how to write an academic paragraph in order to succeed in college. Most colleges and universities in the U.S. will expect their students to follow this basic structure when writing a paragraph:
  1. topic sentence
  2. body (supporting sentences)
  3. concluding sentence
I am going to talk about the topic sentence in this post. The topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph. It is the main idea, the central focus, of your paragraph. The topic sentence needs to be an idea or an opinion, not a simple fact. All the sentences in a paragraph need to be related to, and support, the topic sentence.

Let's look at a couple examples.

Example 1: Chicago is in Illinois.

This is not a topic sentence, it's just a simple statement of fact. There's nothing more to say about it, no need for any additional sentences. Who can argue with this sentence?

Example 2: Chicago is a wonderful place for a summer vacation.

This is a good topic sentence, because it is expressing an opinion. You could give several reasons why people should visit Chicago during the summer in your supporting sentences.

So, do you see the difference between these two sentences?

Here are some more examples of bad topic sentences:
  • My cousin is 35 years old.
  • Robert and Grace live in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Yesterday I did the laundry.
  • The population of Washington, D.C., is 670,000.
  • The Italian restaurant is located next to the steakhouse on Main Street.
These are all just simple statements of fact. There's nothing more you can say about them. There's no need for any supporting sentences.

Next, here are some more examples of good topic sentences:
  • Learning a new language can help you in your career.
  • New York is the business capital of the world.
  • My sister is the most wonderful person in the world.
  • There are three technologies that businesses should embrace to stay competitive in the global market.
  • Avoiding gluten has several health benefits.
In summary, a topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph, expresses an idea or opinion, and is the central focus of the paragraph.

Learn the difference between good and bad topic sentences in this post. I then discuss the body of the paragraph (supporting sentences) in Part 2 - the body of the paragraph supports the topic sentence.

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Matthew Huseby, M.A.
My Language Success LLC

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