Online Writing Lab

Roane State Community College

Topic Sentences

Though not every paragraph must contain a clear topic sentence, it’s a good idea if beginning writers practice organizing their thoughts by placing topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph. 

What is a topic sentence?  Topic sentences are exactly what they sound like—sentences that announce and summarize a topic for your reader. 

But I thought that’s what a thesis statement was for…?  Thesis statements let the reader know what the purpose of your entire essay will be—they focus on your main idea.  On the other hand, topic sentences let the reader know what will be discussed in a particular paragraph or section of your essay.

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference between the two:

Thesis Statement:  The important link between Civil Rights era music and today’s conception of the R & B genre has been overlooked in today’s music history courses.

Topic Sentence:  The Music History curriculum at top music colleges and universities such as Berkeley, Cornell, and Columbia do not offer courses that focus on the R & B genre.

Notice the key differences between the two types of sentences:  the thesis statement tells us what idea the whole paper will prove or discuss, while the topic sentence is a sub-section of that thesis.  The topic sentence provides us with one reason why readers should agree that music history programs are overlooking an important part of music’s development over the years. 

Example:

Let's say you intend to argue that music history courses shouldn’t forget about the musical developments that occurred during the Civil Rights era in the U.S., especially when they discuss R & B music. 

Then, imagine that you’ve developed a list of reasons why others should agree with you. Don’t worry about researching the topic if you don’t know much about this type of music!  Remember, the topic sentence simply introduces the information—the facts and details wouldn’t be explained until later in the paragraph. 

Sample Topic Sentences for the Following Thesis Statement:

Thesis Statement:  The important link between Civil Rights era music and today’s conception of the R & B genre has been overlooked in today’s music history courses.

Topic: Use of anger/outrage in lyrics
Sample Topic Sentence: The turmoil of the Civil Rights era led popular musical artists and lyricists to incorporate explosive and highly personal lyrics into their songs, very much like the explicit lyrics we’ve come to expect from Eminem and Kid Rock today.

Topic: Use of subtext/hidden meanings
Sample Topic Sentence: Music history classes discuss the various ways that music helps bring communities of people together; however, they often overlook the ways that the hidden meanings in songs like “The Backstabbers” by the O’Jays (1972) helped to maintain continued support of the Civil Rights Movement in the African American community.   

Topic: Artists who gained popularity during this time period
Sample Topic Sentence: Many of the influential artists whose work is discussed in music history classes—such as Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, and Sam Cooke—first emerged from the Civil Rights Movement.