Friday, May 30, 2008

Archive: Topic Sentences

The purpose of this blog is to summarize articles on teaching English/language arts, from kindergarten through college, published in English education journals from the past.

Topic: Topic Sentences

Title: “A Study of Topic Sentence Use in Academic Writing.” Randall L. Popken. Written Communication 4 (1987): 208-228. Reviewed in College Composition and Communication (October 1988), 328-329. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “Investigates whether ‘topic sentences,’ said by earlier studies to be less frequent in serious popular writing than had been supposed, are much used in academic writing…. Finds that many academic articles do draw, in one way or another, on topic sentences….”

Comments: Here’s what I know about topic sentences: Topic sentences serve to keep writers organized and readers focused on the writer’s meaning. Readers are intimidated by long unbroken paragraphs and writers break paragraphs for no reason except to make them more readable. These paragraphs will probably not have topic sentences. Writers may begin with a topic sentence, but use several subsequent paragraphs to develop the topic sentence, with those paragraphs having no topic sentence.

Recently my nephew completed his PhD dissertation in engineering. While writing it, he told me his great discovery: topic sentence kept him on track through all the profuse verbiage. However, the topic sentences had another value—when it came time for his defense, he simply collected all his topic sentence in order and he was able to encapsulate his ideas for the committee
. RayS.

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