TRANSITION & TOPIC SENTENCES
Transition and Topic Sentences—
You’re writing. And you’re writing to convey information to your reader. And you’ve probably heard before that you need to have different types of sentences in your paragraphs. Today, we’re going to cover two types of sentences that you’ll need to know how to use if you want to begin your paragraphs effectively—the topic and the transition sentence. But more importantly we’re going to show you just why they’re important.
Let’s get started.
Odds are good you’ve come across the concept of topic sentences before. So we won’t dwell long on what a topic sentence is, but what we’re looking to generate by the end of the video is a deeper understanding both of what topic sentences are and how you can use them well in your writing.
A topic sentence comes at the beginning of the paragraph, usually either the first sentence or the second sentence if it follows a transition sentence.
And a functional topic sentence should contain two things: the topic itself (usually as the subject of the topic sentence) and a central point (that usually makes a claim about the topic).
Let’s take a look at an example of a topic sentence.
The following paragraph is from an essay about the pros and cons of wind turbines, and the topic sentence is in bold text:
Wind turbines negatively impact bird populations. Responsible estimates place the number of bird deaths between 140,000 and 328,000 by collisions with wind turbines in the United States annually (Loss et al. 201). According to GayaadAl Zohbi, a professor of Building, Architecture, and Infrastructure at the Free University of Belgium, “Raptors are the most exposed species which have a risk of collision with wind turbines, because of their flight plan, which makes them dependent on air currents and thermals strongly related to the topography” (686). Some of the many technological interventions that have been applied to reducing the number of bird fatalities are: cameras, radar, GPS, bright blades, smart blades, bright lights, and turbines that look like trees (Bryce). Unfortunately, according to the Audubon Society, none of these methods have been consistently shown to reduce bird strikes. One low-tech method that has been shown to help reduce bird fatalities is the careful placement of wind farm sites to coincide with locations that don’t interfere with migratory routes and breeding grounds (Al Zohbi 687). Therefore, environmental impact, especially to local bird populations should be assessed when considering proposed turbine locations.
The topic sentence here is pretty basic:
Wind turbines negatively impact bird populations.
And you can see pretty clearly the two elements of a good topic sentence are present:
(Wind turbines) topic
(negatively impact bird populations) central point or claim.
All of the information in the paragraph that follows the topic sentence is the information that this writer wants to provide the reader regarding wind farms and their negative effects on birds.
Number of birds killed by turbines.
Species most affected.
Mitigating technologies that have been tried.
Their limited success.
One successful method to lowering impact.
Suggestions for further action regarding bird strikes and wind farms.
This paragraph is not very complex by academic standards. It’s a simple body paragraph. But even this relatively simple body paragraph from a research essay makes six distinct points in six sentences that contain 182 words. Nobody can remember all that information, and without the direction of the topic sentence, some readers may struggle to put all of that information into context. That’s where the topic sentence comes in.
The topic sentence here prepares the reader to process all of that information in a certain frame—that wind turbines have a negative impact on bird populations. The reader isn’t going to remember each individual piece of evidence that the writer provides, but they’re much more likely to remember the central point—that they have a negative impact on bird populations, because the writer has primed the reader to process the specific information from that initial viewpoint.
And the reader will be much better able to process the main point of the paragraph—that wind turbines have a negative impact on bird populations—into the larger context of the essay: the pros and cons of wind turbines as an energy source.
The topic sentence does two vital jobs that help the writer communicate their ideas:
it primes the reader to process the specific information in the paragraph in relation to the central point of each paragraph, and
it helps the reader to evaluate the main points of each paragraph within the larger context of the essay.