How to Effectively Craft Topic Sentences and Avoid Common Mistakes

CRAFTING EFFECTIVE TOPIC SENTENCE

Topic sentences. Everyone knows what they are but few really know how to write proper topic sentences. Many students fall into two categories: A: writing long, convoluted topic sentences, or B: crafting example-driven topic sentences. I will share with you these and other common mistakes that students make while writing topic sentences.

First, let’s explore the ingredients of a great topic sentence.

#1 Signpost (is this your point or your opponent’s?) Eg. I argue that, critics argue that.

#2 Stand (your stand on the question)

#3 Reason (the argument supporting your stand, also the most important part of your topic sentence)

#4 Context (where would this argument be particularly applicable) This element is optional.

 

Look at the question given.

Question: To what extent can the regulation of technological developments be justified?

Topic Sentence:

In an increasingly competitive scientific community, I argue that regulating scientific developments is necessary to ensure ethical standards in humanity’s scientific progress.

Let’s break down the elements of the above topic sentence.

Signpost: “I argue”

It lets examiners know whether you are presenting your own point or your opponent’s.

Stand:

“regulating scientific developments is necessary”

Reason

“ensure ethical standards in humanity’s scientific progress”

Context

“increasingly competitive scientific community”

 

#Language Tip: Use synonyms to avoid sounding repetitive.


COMMON MISTAKES IN TOPIC SENTENCES

Example-Driven

Is the pursuit of nuclear technology still desirable today?

  1. The pursuit of nuclear technology is unnecessary in today’s world because solar panels and hydroelectric power can now replace nuclear energy.

B: The pursuit of nuclear technology is unnecessary in today’s world because there are more reliable alternatives to nuclear technology.

A is an excellent example, not a topic sentence. Sound arguments are based on reasons, not examples.


Not addressing question

Do you agree that medical technology has brought more harm than good?

A: Medical technology has brought more harm than good because of its preoccupation with prolonging lifespans that have led to numerous problems.

B: Medical technology, despite its downsides, must be pursued due to our desire for better lives.

Instead of answering whether medical technology has brought more harm than good, B seems to be answering an entirely different question ‘Should medical technology be pursued?’ – hardly answering the question. All our topic sentences must directly answer the essay question.

Too narrow

Does technology always improve our lives?

A: When it comes to military technology, technology can be harmful to us.

B: While technology itself is impartial, the use of technology by unscrupulous entities can threaten our wellbeing.

The question is not asking “Does military technology always improve our lives?”. Hence, A offers a very limited scope in discussion. B is a stronger topic sentence as it addresses technology as a whole.

Too broad or no reason given

Should technology be used only for profit?

A: Technology should not be used only for profit because it can harm us.

B: Using technology only for profit enables governments and corporations to exploit the masses.

There’s a fine line between being too specific and being too broad. In this case, A is weak because it is seemingly not telling us any reason. It is akin to saying “technology should not be used only for profit because it is a bad idea”, leaving examiner wondering… “but why?”

Clarity

Is competition always desirable?

A: Competition is desirable as it keeps all parties on their toes, encouraging them to do better.

B: Competition is the engine that drives growth, where relentless pursuits of excellence take place.

Examiners prefer A over B because A is clear. Some students (like B) hide behind convoluted sentence structures or use figurative language in their topic sentences. To an examiner who is rushing for time and trying to find out their main point, this is more annoying than impressive. For the topic sentence, keep it simple and straight-forward.

Insightful (Well-thought-out)

Do schools in your society do enough to nurture innovative minds?

A: Singapore schools do not do enough to instil a creative spirit in students as most students are expected to follow a standardized curriculum and routine work processes that provide them little room to explore new things on their own.

B: Students in Singapore lack an innovative spirit because they are always spoon-fed by their teachers.

It is obvious that A is more well thought-out than B. That is because B fails to see the whole picture. Spoon-feeding is only one area that restricts creativity. It is largely due to the rigid characteristic of the education system rather than a particular action that result in the lack of creativity.

That is all I have for you guys this week students. If you need more help in comprehension, do check out my “Ultimate Guide to ACE GP Comprehension Questions”.

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