Topic Sentence and Thesis Statement: The Keystones of Organized Writing


A thesis statement is the basic stand that an author takes, the opinion that he expresses, and the major point that he wishes to make about his subject. It contains the controlling idea of the essay, and therefore, gives the direction and the unity to all the separate elements of the writing. The purpose of the essay is to convince the reader that the thesis is indeed a valid one.

  1. The first step in writing an effective thesis statement involves the focusing, limiting, or narrowing of the topic. The scope of the thesis will depend on length, purpose, audience, occasion, and knowledge (see handout—Narrowing the topic)
  2. Each thesis will (a) state the subject clearly and specifically so that it can be broken into parts; (b) take a stand or attitude about the subject; and (c) provide the direction by indicating, implicitly or explicitly, the order in which the essay will develop the points.
  3. The controlling idea in the thesis is a word, phrase, or clause that states the opinion, attitude, or stand that the writer takes about the subject; it provides the angle from which the writer wishes to approach his subject.
  4. The thesis is always a single declarative statement: 
A thesis is not a title
Poor:   The Decline of Baseball
Better: Baseball, once a national pastime and even an addiction, has lost its popularity because of the new interest in more violent sports.
Poor: Homes and Schools.
Better: If parents want better education for their children, they must be willing to commit their time to working with the schools.
A thesis is not an announcement of the subject
Poor: I want to share some thoughts with you about our space program.
Better: Since the space program has yet to provide the American people with any substantial, practical returns, it is a waste of money and should be dissolved.
A thesis is not a statement of absolute fact
Poor: William Shakespeare wrote King Lear.
Better: King Lear exemplifies the finest development of Shakespeare's dramatic talent.
A good thesis is restricted:
It limits the subject to a manageable amount

Poor: People are too selfish.
Better: Rush hour traffic exemplifies human behavior at its worst.
Poor: Crime must be stopped.
Better: To stop the alarming rise in the number of violent crimes committed every year, our courts must hand out tougher sentences.
A good thesis is unified:
It should express one major idea about one subject

Poor: Detective stories are not a high form of literature, but people have always been fascinated by them and many fine writers have experimented with them.
Better: Detective stories appeal to the basic human desire for thrills.
A good thesis is specific
Poor: The new Denver Art Museum is impressive.
Better: The new Denver Art Museum is a monument to human folly.
Poor: Hemingway's war stories are very good.
Better: Hemingway's war stories helped to create a new prose style.

Topic Sentence

The topic sentence and the thesis are analogous. In other words, the topic sentence is to the paragraph what the thesis is to the entire essay, chapter, or book. While the thesis gives unity to the essay, the topic sentence gives unity to the paragraph by developing one major point suggested in the controlling idea of the thesis. Like the thesis, the topic sentence is integral to the organization of the essay. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence.

  1. It contains the dominating idea that the paragraph will develop.
  2. It normally appears as the first sentence in each paragraph.
  3. The controlling idea of the topic sentence is the essential descriptive or judgmental or argumentative part of the sentence and falls in the predicate of the sentence
  4. The topic sentence, like the thesis, is also focused.
  5. It is never a prediction nor a question, but rather a single declarative statement.


Introduction: Ways to Begin

An introduction is for getting the reader's attention, stating the purpose, and providing the direction.

"Begin at the beginning, keep on going until you get to the end, and then stop." (Alice in Wonderland)

Getting the readers' attention: Some possibilities

  1. A controversial statement:
    Some people argue that a college education means a good job with good pay; however, the Ph.D. pumping gas at the corner service station might disagree.
  2. Use of a quotation from a noteworthy source:
    "Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of style" write Jonathan Swift in A Letter to a Young Gentleman.
  3. Reference to a current event:
    In the recent Iran scandal, President Reagan once again proved that terrorists and people who support terrorism cannot be trusted.
  4. Establish proof of your authority:
    Having been an alcoholic and a junkie for the last ten years, I know the painful consequences of addiction.
  5. Open with a rhetorical question:
    "What kind of man reads Playboy?" The question should be, what kind of man would be interviewed by Playboy?
  6. Use statistics:
    Since the federal government reduced the speed limit to 55 mph, the national accident fatality rate decreased 25%.
  7. A short dramatic statement:
    The 101st Congress will be in the center ring as the members try to balance the trillion-dollar budget.

Beginnings: Things to Avoid and Things to Do


  1. Avoid high sounding truisms about life in general.
  2. Avoid the traditional complaint about the difficulty of writing on either the assigned or chosen topic.
  3. Avoid the personal apology to the teacher (or to any reader). In fact, never apologize to your reader for your lack of knowledge or your poor style. Why should the reader waste time reading something that even the writer believes is bad?
  4. Avoid the dictionary definition (I'll explain why when we discuss definitions-unless someone asks the questions).
  5. Avoid boring your reader with such openings as "I am going to tell you about."
  6. Avoid leading up to your subject through a string of irrelevancies. Stay with your subject and its implications.


  1. Do directly state the facts and details.
  2. Do announce your subject in an effective introduction.
  3. Begin with a blunt statement of fact intended to startle your reader, as long as the fact relates to you subject.
  4. Begin with a dramatic incident followed by the steps leading up to it.
  5. Present an answer to some pending problem.
  6. Begin with a quotation but make sure that the quotation is intimately related to your subject.
  7. Begin with a narrative, a relevant experience that can lead to your subject.
  8. Use the first paragraph to direct your essay, but do not crowd too many details into it. Leave something for the body of the paper.
  9. Use description, if it relates to your subject.