Paragraphs and Topic Sentences

  • A paragraph is a group of sentences developing a single main idea.
  • A paragraph begins with a topic sentence that identifies the subject of the paragraph and the controlling idea.
  • Supporting points provide details, facts, examples, interpretations, etc. that prove the validity of the main idea (as expressed in the topic sentence).
  • A paragraph sometimes closes with a concluding sentence, especially when the paragraph is not part of a larger text.
  • The paragraph must be focused on just one main idea.
  • Everything in the paragraph must be on topic, meaning that every point supports the main idea or argument of the paragraph.
  • Paragraphs are usually 6-10 sentences in length or 100-150 words long, though there is no actual rule for paragraph length.
  • Paragraphs must be formatted correctly so that the reader recognizes divisions between paragraphs: indent the first sentence!

Topic sentences:

  • The topic sentence expresses the point you want to make about your subject; it can be called the argument.
  • The topic sentence should clearly identify the text under discussion.
  • The topic sentence, like a thesis statement, should be arguable.
    • must not be a factual statement
    • must not be a matter of taste
  • The topic must be focused so that it is neither too broad nor too narrow.
  • The topic sentence must not contain “I”: no “I think,” “I believe,” “in my opinion”
  • The topic sentence must not be a question.
  • The topic sentence must be a complete sentence.

Exercise: Identify the problem with the following topic sentences. Try to fix them by adding missing elements or changing them as necessary.

  1. I like to read horror stories.
  2. The American writer Ernest Hemingway spent several years in Europe.
  3. In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” what are the symbolic elements?
  4. John Steinbeck won the Nobel prize for literature.
  5. This story is really well written.
  6. In my opinion, Gothic literature is too unrealistic.
  7. There are many excellent short stories in English.
  8. The symbolism of the setting in “The Story of an Hour.”
  9. What makes a short story great?
  10. Indigenous writers always use a lot of irony.