The Skill and Art of Business Writing: An Everyday Guide and Reference

By Harold E. Meyer | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 7
Topics of Paragraphs

Topic Sentence

Methods of expanding and developing the topic sentence were mentioned in Chapter 6 in the sections titled [Definition] and [Topic Statements and Outlines.] More details follow:

A topic sentence is one that states the subject matter and presents subtopics or themes that will support the subject. Mentioning the supporting ideas necessarily limits the range of the paragraph. For example, from the topic sentence: [Sonja was afraid of failure and fearful of the ultimate results of success,] the reader would expect a discussion of why she was nervous and upset about both possibilities; the reader would not expect commentary on colds developing into pneumonia.

The topic sentence has many purposes: it helps the writer develop the paragraph, it tells the reader what to expect from that development, it limits the scope of discussion, and, primarily, it summarizes the paragraph for the reader.

Commonly, the topic sentence is the first one in a paragraph.

The Pinyon is a resinous tree, dripping with gum or pitch, as many a
hiker or picknicker can testify.
The Indians long used the caulking prop-
erties of this pitch; The Apaches waterproofed their baskets with it, and
the Navajos their water bottles.…

Here is an example from the July 1995 issue of The Atlantic Monthly:

For more than twenty years the children of the ghetto have witnessed
violent death as an almost routine occurrence.
They have seen it in the

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