Thesis Statement Versus Topic Sentence For Essay

Introductions

In order for the first paragraph of an essay to actually be a proper introduction (in other words, for it to fulfill the requirements of a proper introduction), it must do two things. These two things are:

1) Include a thesis statement.
2) Provide a preview or essay plan for the essay.

So what do these two things mean?

1) A thesis statement is the sentence (or sometimes sentences) that tells the reader what the position of the author is. When you are given an essay question, the thesis statement is your clear and concise answer to the question. For example, if an essay question was ‘What were the causes of the Holocaust in World War II?’ then your thesis statement would be something like ‘There were many complicated and inter-related causes for the Holocaust, including the economy of Germany, the ideology of the fascists, and Hitler’s personal racism.’

A ‘thesis’ is an ‘argument’, so the thesis statement indicates what the argument of the essay is, or what argument (or point of view) the author of the essay will be putting across to readers.

2) An introduction must introduce all the main points that the essay will discuss. Argumentative essays must provide evidence in order to back up or support the thesis statement. This means you have to provide proof to back up your answer to the essay question. So if your essay is on the causes of the Holocaust, and your essay is going to discuss six main causes (two paragraphs on each), then your introduction must list (or introduce) each of these six main causes. So an essay map or preview is just a list of topics that your essay will discuss. Usually this list is linked to your thesis statement, or comes straight after it.


Topic Sentences

When writing an essay, you must use ‘topic sentences’. These are sentences that go at the beginning of each paragraph in which you are about to discuss a new topic. So in the example we have been looking at of the Holocaust essay, I mentioned that the essay will discuss six reasons for the Holocaust and each reason will have two paragraphs. So that means that every second paragraph would use a ‘topic sentence’ since it would be moving on to discuss another reason for the Holocaust. Here are some examples of topic sentences for the example essay:

‘The most significant cause for the Holocaust is the economic state of Germany.’
‘Another reason why the Holocaust occurred is due to Hitler’s personal views.’

These sentences let the reader know what the paragraph will discuss (what the next point to be discussed in the essay is) and also relate the paragraph back to the introduction. This gives the essay a nice flow, and shows that it has been well organised.

So, you can tell what the topic of the first body paragraph is by reading the topic sentence, which is the first sentence in the paragraph.


Concluding Sentences

A concluding sentence goes at the end of a paragraph or topic, and sums up for the readers what has just been discussed and relates it back to the question.

So if you had used the topic sentence ‘The most significant cause for the Holocaust is the economic state of Germany’ and then written a paragraph or several paragraphs discussing this topic, a concluding sentence could be: ‘Thus it can be seen that the economic state of Germany was the most important cause for the Holocaust.’

Topic sentences and concluding sentences go before and after your paragraphs like a sandwich, leading the reader through your essay.

Though not every paragraph must contain a clear topic sentence, it’s a good idea if beginning writers practice organizing their thoughts by placing topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph. 

What is a topic sentence?  Topic sentences are exactly what they sound like—sentences that announce and summarize a topic for your reader. 

But I thought that’s what a thesis statement was for…?  Thesis statements let the reader know what the purpose of your entire essay will be—they focus on your main idea.  On the other hand, topic sentences let the reader know what will be discussed in a particular paragraph or section of your essay.

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference between the two:

Thesis Statement:  The important link between Civil Rights era music and today’s conception of the R & B genre has been overlooked in today’s music history courses.

Topic Sentence:  The Music History curriculum at top music colleges and universities such as Berkeley, Cornell, and Columbia do not offer courses that focus on the R & B genre.

Notice the key differences between the two types of sentences:  the thesis statement tells us what idea the whole paper will prove or discuss, while the topic sentence is a sub-section of that thesis.  The topic sentence provides us with one reason why readers should agree that music history programs are overlooking an important part of music’s development over the years. 

Example:

Let's say you intend to argue that music history courses shouldn’t forget about the musical developments that occurred during the Civil Rights era in the U.S., especially when they discuss R & B music. 

Then, imagine that you’ve developed a list of reasons why others should agree with you. Don’t worry about researching the topic if you don’t know much about this type of music!  Remember, the topic sentence simply introduces the information—the facts and details wouldn’t be explained until later in the paragraph. 

  • Use of anger/outrage in lyrics 
  • Use of subtext/hidden meanings
  • Artists who gained popularity during this time period

Sample Topic Sentences for the Following Thesis Statement:

Thesis Statement:  The important link between Civil Rights era music and today’s conception of the R & B genre has been overlooked in today’s music history courses.

Topic: Use of anger/outrage in lyrics
Sample Topic Sentence: The turmoil of the Civil Rights era led popular musical artists and lyricists to incorporate explosive and highly personal lyrics into their songs, very much like the explicit lyrics we’ve come to expect from Eminem and Kid Rock today.

Topic: Use of subtext/hidden meanings
Sample Topic Sentence: Music history classes discuss the various ways that music helps bring communities of people together; however, they often overlook the ways that the hidden meanings in songs like “The Backstabbers” by the O’Jays (1972) helped to maintain continued support of the Civil Rights Movement in the African American community.   

Topic: Artists who gained popularity during this time period
Sample Topic Sentence: Many of the influential artists whose work is discussed in music history classes—such as Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, and Sam Cooke—first emerged from the Civil Rights Movement.

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