Often, readers are unclear of the purpose of an individual paragraph because the topic sentence fails to point the reader in the right direction. Thus, when revising to make sure your writing will be clear to your reader, it’s important to review your topic sentences with an eye toward their role in communicating the Argument/analytical purpose of each paragraph. Generally speaking, topic sentences: (1) signal whether the purpose of the paragraph is to agree with or support a claim that you or another scholar is making; (2) point out what’s wrong or overlooked in a claim you or someone else has been making; or (3) offer a modified position that takes complicating factors into account. This revision exercise asks you to review your topic sentences to see if they are clearly signaling to readers what kind of analytical work each paragraph is meant to be doing. When readers have a clear idea of the kind of analytical work done in a paragraph, they are more likely to agree with the claim you are making.
After you identify the topic sentences in each paragraph, label them based on their intended purpose. For your reference, you may want to consult the list of basic options offered below.
Category 1: Making and supporting things you say/argue
- Making your main claim (your main thesis, the guiding claim of a section, or something else).
- Supplying evidence and analysis in support of a claim.
- Identifying an aspect of your claim that previously discussed evidence/analysis doesn’t actually prove on its own and supporting that part of the argument another way.
- Claiming that X scholar’s work/theory supports what you’re saying in part or whole. Elaborating on how and in what way for the rest of the paragraph.
- Organizational work: asserting that there are 2/3/4 components of your argument that need to be addressed in order, and then address the first one in the rest of that paragraph. Obviously linked topic sentences for subsequent paragraphs in this case.
Category 2: Bringing in complications
- Acknowledging something that complicates/seems to challenge your claim. Elaborating/proving the complication in the rest of the paragraph.
- Voicing what a naysayer might say in objection to your claim (this can be followed with an argument that completely dismantles the objection or with a paragraph or two that acknowledges some validity in the objection and then you modify your account in light of it).
- Putting objecting point in the voice of a scholar in your conversation, if they really say (or, in your estimation, would say) the objection.
Category 3: Overcoming complications by adjusting/evolving/modifying
- Modifying your account in response to complication.
Note: modifications immediately become your new position/claim, so all the moves you might do to support, extend, challenge, or extrapolate from it are elsewhere on this handout.
Category 4: Synthetic sense-making, extrapolation, connection-making
- Abstraction: discussing what you were just saying in a different register/scale (i.e., drawing out the broader implications, pointing out new questions that are raised by what you’ve established).
- A synthesizing claim or understanding. Something about how a few things that have come up fit together/affect one another/produce bigger implications.
- Other connection-making, like pointing out how something you’re getting at/concluding now puts what you’re saying more at odds with X scholar than initially seemed to be the case, etc.
For more on topic sentence revisions try: “Where’s This Section Going? Signposting to Connect Claims,” and “Do Your Topic Sentences and Paragraphs Align: Thinking Through the Vacuum.“