Arguable and Provable Topic Sentences

Treat Your Body (Paragraphs) Right
The Importance of Strong Topic Sentences in Your Body Paragraphs

Just like a good thesis statement, a good topic sentence is often the difference between a strong analytical essay and a thorough (but uninteresting) re-telling of the book. Your topic sentences, which are the lead-in sentences to your body paragraphs, not only have to support your essay’s thesis, but topic sentences also have to be points that you could argue and prove, just like a thesis. Think of it this way: Any time you are trying to prove a point to anyone, you try to convince them that you are right by pointing to smaller arguments that you could win. You should not just state facts. If you were trying to convince someone to move to Massachusetts, you wouldn’t get very far by saying, Boston is the capital of Massachusetts. On the other hand, saying that Boston is one of the most historic cities in the United States is a way of proving that having a deep history makes a location a better place to live, which is not necessarily true.

Following this analogy, do not start your body paragraphs by stating an indisputable fact from the book, like At the beginning of The Lord of the Flies, Ralph finds a conch shell. You cannot prove this point because it is simply true. While this example is an obvious point, you should still avoid any topic sentences that are entirely factual, even if that fact isn’t as obvious, like “The more important a character is in Lord of the Flies, the fewer syllables he has in his name”. This observation is more clever, but it is still basically just true. Ralph and Jack are more important than Piggy, Simon, and Roger, who are the second tier, and the least important characters are called “samneric”, “the little’uns” and “the boy with the mulberry birthmark”. But so what? A strong topic sentence adds an argument to the clever observation, like By indicating a character’s importance through the shortness of his name, Golding suggests that power is natural and comes from within. The easiest way to see whether your topic sentence is strong is to check it for any analytical verbs – a verb that attempts to explain the pattern or observation that you’ve discovered. Massive lists of these words can be found by typing “analytical verbs” into a Google search. (If the sentence has an analytical verb in it, that does not automatically make it a good topic sentence, but without an analytical verb, the topic sentence is definitely flawed.)

With your topic sentences, avoid the following common mistakes:

Leading in with a fact – You cannot argue about a fact. It is already true.

Starting with a question – Your topic sentence has to be something you are proving, not something you are inquiring about.

Starting with something you cannot prove – Just like in writing thesis statements, if you drift too far away from fact into broad generality or unprovable statements (like Roger is a terrible person because of his parents or William Golding clearly hates girls), your paragraph will not be able to make any progress.

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Here are six topic sentences – three of them are good and three are not. Identify the good ones and try to point out what is wrong with the other three (If you can, think of a way to make the three weak ones better). You are able to complete this even if you are not familiar with all of the titles in the examples. 

By having Simon disappear into the creepers on the island, Golding reinforces the idea that the island is able to heal as well as harm.

When thinking about Rosaline, his former love, Romeo is sitting under a sycamore tree, which is a pun about “sick amor” or “lovesick”.

Animal Farm uses talking animals to create more exciting situations.

The poison that infects Coyotito (in The Pearl) establishes the concept that mankind’s evil comes from within, not from society.

The poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” contains several historical inaccuracies, including the importance of William Dawes.

Poe repeatedly uses images of enclosure in The Tell-Tale Heart to suggest the narrator’s mental imprisonment.