Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences



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Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences
Many students are accustomed to sitting down and writing text in much the same way as they speak—that is, spontaneously. Writing at the college level is disciplined and involves organization and strategy. Words committed to paper leave a lasting impression and must therefore be readily understood (with particular care given to spelling, punctuation, and grammar). In the academic world, your command of the written word will make or break you.
One important method for organizing your writing is the effective use of thesis statements and topic sentences. Many students seem puzzled by the terms and don’t understand the difference. Very simply, a thesis statement is the controlling sentence for the whole essay, whereas a topic sentence is the controlling sentence for an individual paragraph.
More often than not, the thesis sentence is a simple statement or claim:

President Obama does not deserve a second term in office.

Clearly, this sentence would require some sort of introduction:
President Obama, who was elected by a landslide, was expected to clean house after the debacle of the Bush years. However, he has been ineffective and has not fulfilled his campaign promises. Obamacare was a disappointment, since it included too many compromises with the Right and failed to provide a public option. He has failed to stabilize the economy and has done so only by increasing the national debt beyond all reasonable proportions. Nor has he managed to withdraw troops from Iraq or even do something as simple as close the base at Guantanamo. Because of these failures, President Obama does not deserve a second term in office.
Besides the simple thesis sentence, the so-called sign-posted thesis can be very effective, because it includes the organizational direction of the essay within the thesis itself:


President Obama does not deserve a second term in office, because he has failed to restore the economy, end unemployment, or withdraw troops from Iraq.

It is immediately clear in a sign-posted thesis that the essay will go in a definite direction. The above sentence clearly suggests that the first body paragraph will address President Obama’s failure to restore the economy; the second paragraph will discuss his failure to end unemployment; and the third paragraph will be about his failure to withdraw troops from Iraq. Of course, each paragraph will revolve around a specific topic, and the controlling sentence for the paragraph will be the topic sentence. Based upon the sign-posted thesis, it is clear that the topic sentences for the three paragraphs will be much as follows:




  1. President Obama’s failure to restore the economy and his unwillingness to curtail government spending are clear signs that he should not be trusted with a second term in office.

  2. Rising unemployment and the President’s failure to adequately address the issue has eroded confidence in his leadership abilities and is a clear indicator that he does not deserve a second term.

  3. US troops are still in Iraq, and although there is a projected date for their return, a continued presence in Iraq is likely for decades—indeed, for the American public it has been a matter of too little too late.

The use of the thesis sentence and its accompanying topic sentences is a powerful tool which writers can use to organize their writing. Because the writer’s goal is to convey ideas to readers, it is important to use every strategy at your command so that your ideas will be easily understood.



Source: Mark A. Spalding, 2011.
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