Whether you’re writing academic essays, cover letters, or marketing material, knowing how to write a good topic sentence is a key skill. Topic sentences announce what’s going to be in the rest of your paragraph, and a good one will keep your reader interested. Read on for tips on how to write a great topic sentence and for topic sentence examples.

What is a topic sentence?

A topic sentence is the first sentence in your paragraph. It usually makes some kind of claim, which you will support with facts in the rest of the paragraph. More importantly, a topic sentence hooks your reader and makes them want to keep reading. It’s helpful to think of a topic sentence as a mini-thesis statement for your paragraph.

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Why is it important to have a topic sentence?

This is a valid question. Why should you bother? The truth is that when you write an essay, a cover letter, marketing material, or any other kind of expository writing, there are very good chances your reader will not be paying close attention to your work. Consider the following potential readers:

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In all these cases, it’s your job to make it as easy as possible for them to give you what you want: a good grade, a job interview, or a sale. You can do that by writing a clear, well-structured document. Hence, the topic sentence!

In good academic and professional writing, there are no surprises. You announce your topic and how you’ll be discussing it, you discuss it, and then you wrap it up by summarizing what you said. The topic sentence plays a very important role in that structure. Its job is to announce what’s going to be in each paragraph.

How do I know if my topic sentence is good?

A good topic sentence should raise expectations in the reader. It should also give the reader some idea of what the rest of the paragraph will say. Here’s an example:

Learning Spanish is one of the best things you can do to advance your nursing career.

This topic sentence raises expectations by making a statement that needs data to back it up. Therefore, a reader might guess that there will be some information about pay grades for bilingual nurses or demand for nurses who speak Spanish. Note that none of that information is in the topic sentence. But the topic sentence suggests that the information is forthcoming.

What are some tips for writing a great topic sentence?

Here’s a very easy trick to make sure your topic sentence is always on point: write it last. Write the information in your paragraph, then write your topic sentence and place it at the beginning of the paragraph. That way, you can be sure that your topic sentence addresses everything covered in the paragraph.

Another trick is to read other people’s great topic sentences. Regardless of your current skill level, you’ll be able to recognize one when you see it! Find a document that you find to be well written and identify what you like about it. Then work on copying that quality in your own writing.

Try to write a topic sentence that meets the following criteria:

Also, avoid the following pitfalls:

If you can write a topic sentence that meets all the criteria listed above, then you’re in great shape! Read on for examples of okay, better, and great topic sentences.

Topic sentence examples

To give you an idea of how to transform a topic sentence from okay to great, here are some examples:

Okay: Abraham Lincoln was born in 1809.

Better: Abraham Lincoln, born in 1809, was one of the most influential politicians in history.

Great: Abraham Lincoln was one of the most influential politicians in history.

The okay sentence just states an undisputed fact. There is no more to be said about it! The better sentence introduces a statement that requires backing up, but is his birth year all that relevant? The great sentence is short, clear, and to the point. It includes no extraneous information but gets the reader wanting to read more.

Here’s another example:

Okay: I am going to tell you about the Battle of Gettysburg.

Better: The Battle of Gettysburg, fought in 1863, was the turning point in the Civil War.

Great: The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point in the Civil War.

In this example, the writer of the okay sentence makes the mistake of introducing their topic by saying, “I am going to tell you.” When you see this, you expect that the paper will just be a list of facts not held together by an overarching theme. That doesn’t make for fun reading, and the reader will quickly lose interest. The better sentence makes a statement is made, but it includes unnecessary information. The great sentence is short, clear, and to the point. It introduces the content of the paragraph and keeps the reader wanting to know more.

Okay: Convicts who receive a college degree while in prison are much less likely to re-offend than those who haven’t.

Better: Education is important in lowering crime rates because convicts who receive a college degree while in prison are much less likely to re-offend than those who haven’t.

Great: Education is important in lowering crime rates.

The okay topic sentence states a fact. It would probably do best in the middle of the paragraph as support for the topic sentence. The better topic sentence includes a statement that requires backing up, but it lacks brevity. The great topic sentence is short, clear, and to the point. It keeps the reader interested because it promises to provide a wealth of information.

Here is an example from a cover letter:

Okay: As you can see on my résumé, I spent the last five years working as a project manager at AlexLand.

Better: The last five years spent working as a project manager at AlexLand allowed me to acquire the qualifications you are seeking for your position.

Great: As a project manager at AlexLand, I acquired the qualifications you are seeking.

In the okay sentence, the writer simply repeats information that is already available on their résumé. They even say that that’s what they’re doing! The sentence doesn’t present new information, so there is no reason for the reader (a busy HR rep) to keep reading. The better sentence does make a statement that needs to be defended, but the sentence is wordy. There is a lot of unnecessary information to get through. In the great sentence, the statement is short, clear, to the point, and keeps the reader engaged.

So there you have it! If you can write a topic sentence that is short, clear, to the point, and keeps the reader interested, you’ve nailed it. It might take a little bit of practice at first, but don’t worry! You’ll get it. If you want to keep working on your writing, check out this article on objective vs. subjective writing.

Page Last Updated: November 2021

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