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How to Write: Topic Sentences and Supporting Paragraphs

By trisha1107 Feb 01, 2009 890 Words
Topic Sentences and Supporting Paragraphs

Topic Sentences

When you write, you form paragraphs. A paragraph is a group of sentences that relate in topic and thought. A paragraph generally consists of three to five sentences and usually begins with a topic sentence. A topic sentence is a general statement that announces what the paragraph is about. By starting a paragraph with a topic sentence, your audience can immediately identify your topic. This construction also helps you, the writer, stay focused on your subject.

Consider the following example of an essay introduction:

The first sentence is the topic sentence: It tells the readers they will learn about past narratives. The sentences that follow the topic sentence relate to the topic sentence because they provide examples of past narratives. Finally, the last sentence is the thesis of the essay, which expresses the author’s opinion on the topic and previews what the entire paper will be about.

You will learn more about writing effective introductions later in this course.

Supporting Paragraphs

Every paragraph after your introduction must be a supporting paragraph. A supporting paragraph backs up or proves your thesis.

All supporting paragraphs should include a topic sentence. You can then develop the supporting paragraphs within your paper using one or more of the following methods:

Examples and illustrations
Data, facts, or historical or personal details
A simple story, or narrative
Division and classification
Process analysis

The previous paragraph about journals used examples to support the topic sentence. Consider the paragraph following the introduction:

After the catchy introduction and the thesis statement, the next paragraph supports the thesis by discussing journal-writing in light of discovering self-discovery (the first preview point in the thesis, highlighted in the example above). Notice the paragraph includes two different types of development: The paragraph uses analysis by breaking down how journal-writing can help a person discover self; it also uses cause-effect to explain how journal-writing can foster personal growth.

In addition to analysis and cause-effect, consider how the other supporting paragraph types could be used to develop the same topic. The following are suggestions for different types of development:

Examples and illustrations: Provide specific examples of people that have journaled (as in the introduction) or illustrate how a person goes about journaling.

Data, facts, historical or personal details: Research journal-writing to find statistics or facts on how journal-writing can help an individual or add your own personal experience, if it is relevant.

A simple story, or narrative: Tell a story of how someone was changed through the process of journaling.

Descriptions: Describe a journal, include visuals, or include physical descriptions and impressions of people and places mentioned in the journal.

Division and classification: Separate journals into different types, such as historical journals and personal journals, and then separate those divisions into further categories.

Process analysis: Provide step-by-step directions explaining how to create a journal.

Definitions: Define journals according to their different uses.

Comparison-contrast: Compare and contrast journal-writing with other types of therapeutic or narrative writing.

Argument: Argue that journal-writing should be required in school or that everyone should keep a journal for the sake of future generations.

You can support the topic of journal-writing in many different ways; the possibilities are really endless. If you find yourself unable to think of what to write, choose one of the above supporting paragraph types and write a paragraph related to your topic using that development style.

You will learn about writing concluding paragraphs later in this course.


Transitions are words used to move readers smoothly from one sentence to another or from one paragraph to another. Think of transitions as traffic signals alerting readers of the direction your writing takes, based on the relationship between the ideas within or between paragraphs.

Examples of Transitions

The following are examples of relationships between words as well as examples of transitional words:

RelationshipExample of Transitions

To show similarity between two ideasAdditionally
In the same way
To show exception or contrastAlthough
On the other hand
To show sequence or orderFirst
To detail timeAfter
In the future
To show an exampleFor example
For instance
To illustrate
To show emphasisEven
In fact
Of course
To identify a place or positionAbove
In back
In front
To show cause and effectAccordingly
To provide additional support or evidenceAdditionally
As well
Equally important
To conclude or summarizeFinally
In conclusion
To conclude
In summary

The underlined words and phrases in the following paragraph are examples of transitions. Notice how the underlined transitional words alert the readers to relationships between the ideas in the paragraph.


Writing supporting paragraphs can often seem overwhelming. If, however, you break up your topics and ideas into sections so each paragraph focuses on only one idea, it will not seem as burdensome. Practice writing the different types of supporting paragraphs and remember to add transitions that move your reader smoothly from one idea to the next. It will make your paper more well-rounded and thorough and help you improve your writing skills.

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