What Is an Explicit Topic Sentence?

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An explicit topic sentence states in precise, specific terms what the paragraph is about. All paragraphs need a topic sentence, but an explicit topic sentence clearly defines what you will cover in that paragraph. It's usually the first sentence and provides a map to guide readers through the major points, arguments and claims in that paragraph.

1 Unifies the Paragraph

An explicit topic sentence provides clarity and helps unify the paragraph. Focus on the major points you want to make in that paragraph and construct a topic sentence that clearly and concisely covers those ideas. For example, if your paragraph is about an owl's natural habitat, an explicit topic sentence might read, "Owls live in a variety of natural habitats, including forests, plains, deserts and the tundra." Be specific and back your topic sentence with facts and details.

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2 Supports Your Thesis

Explicit topic sentences support your overall thesis. Even though each paragraph covers new material, explicit topic sentences must align with the goals and purpose of your paper. For example, if your thesis is about the dangers of drinking and driving, an explicit topic sentence might assert, "Underage drinking is a leading cause of vehicle accidents involving teenage drivers." Or, "Alcohol slows down a driver's ability to react quickly to unforeseeable, hazardous driving conditions." An explicit topic sentence never hints at possible connections to your thesis; the relationship is obvious.

3 States the Purpose

An explicit topic sentence always states the purpose of the paragraph in clear, understandable terms so there's no confusion. Readers don't have to infer, interpret, analyze, assess or find hidden meanings in explicit topic sentences. Use language that can be taken literally in your topic sentence; avoid symbolism, imagery and loose analogies that don't specifically state the purpose. Opt for clear terminology and straightforward explanations.

4 Contains Controlling Ideas

Explicit topic sentences present main ideas and offer direction for the paragraph. They might contain if-then statements, points to compare and contrast or cause-and-effect statements. The goal is to make your goals or arguments clear to readers. For example, if you paper is about how to avoid plagiarism, an explicit topic sentence might say, "If you cite your references and give credit where it's due, then you will avoid plagiarism" or "Paraphrasing in your own words and citing your references can help you avoid plagiarism."

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.