Topic Sentences- Organizing your Essay

Your Romeo & Juliet essay will have three body paragraphs. Each should follow this basic format for a strong body paragraph:
  • Topic Sentence (TS) with Transition
  • Supporting idea(s)
  • Set-up for quotation, which we'll call the "Lead-in Sentence" (LS)
  • Quotation: evidence from the play
  • Analysis of quotation, which we'll call the "Follow-up Sentence(s)" (FS)
  • repeat LS-Quote-FS steps for any additional evidence
  • Closing Line (CL)
We will go over these things in more detail in the next lesson. For now, notice that the topic sentence begins the body paragraph. It needs to accomplish two things:
  1. Introduce the topic of the paragraph.
  2. Show how the paragraph relates to or supports the thesis.
In fact, your closing lines have very similar functions:
  1. Wrap up the topic of the paragraph.
  2. Show how the paragraph has supported or proven the thesis.

For the next assignment, you need to write three topic sentences. What three supporting points will best hold up your thesis? There isn't one right way to structure the points, but you may decide that each essay should be about a different character. Or perhaps each will be about a different significant example. Although I wrote earlier that a good thesis essay is one-sided, you could use the first body paragraph to concede some of what the opposite side would argue (but then your second and third body paragraphs must strongly refute that argument and prove your side).

Three sentences isn't a lot, but you need to be sure that they:
  • Are clearly written
  • Support the thesis
  • Are strong enough to organize an essay around
  • Are unique points (three different legs to hold up the stool!)
  • Will fit with evidence from the play
So first, brainstorm the three points that you think will serve as strong supports to your essay. Just jot down everything that comes to your mind as you think of support for your thesis. The more you brainstorm initially, the easier it till be to choose the very best points.

Then consider the bullet points above. Will you be able to find at least one quotation from the play to use in each paragraph and support each point? Which points best support the thesis, and which belong in someone else's essay, not here? Which seem logically sound? Choose your best three points. Then write your three sentences.


Let's look at the sample paragraph again, and then see how thetopic sentences tie into her preview sentence, and set up each of the three body paragraphs. I have put the thesis in bold, and color coded the topic sentences to correspond to their mention in the preview/transition sentence:

"For never was a story of more woe, / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo" (5.3). William Shakespeare closes his play Romeo and Juliet with the above lines. Part of the reason why this is considered such a tragic story is that Romeo and Juliet did not have to die. While Romeo and Juliet can be faulted for their youthful impetuousness, they are not ultimately to blame for what happens to them. Shakespeare's young lovers are, indeed, "star-crossed" victims of circumstances beyond their control. Romeo and Juliet were not responsible for their families' feud, they suffered from not having parents who were involved in their lives, and they received advice from the Friar which wasn't right for their situation.

TS #1: The two young lovers were not responsible for their families' long-standing quarrel, and that factor alone was a significant contributor to their eventual deaths.

TS #2: In addition, Romeo and Juliet's parents were not involved in their lives, and thus made decisions which pushed their children toward death.

TS #3: Finally, the Friar's advice wasn't right for Romeo and Juliet's situation, and created a deadly trap for the couple.

We can also look at that student introductory paragraph as an example again. Here is the intro paragraph, and following it you will see the three topic sentences used in the essay. Once again, I have put the thesis in bold, and color coded the topic sentences to correspond to their mention in the preview/transition sentence.

Tyranny -- the control of power by a cruel, unjust, and absolute ruler -- arises, argues the philosopher Plato, when three conditions are all met: greed, ambition, and fear. In William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth, Lord Macbeth usurps power by killing his king, his best friend, and his associate's family members, seizing greater and greater control until he is hated and feared as a despotic tyrant. While Macbeth's greed and ambition are necessary conditions which contribute to his acts of tyranny, it is his increasing fear which makes him desperate and thus leads to his most tyrannical and power-hungry deeds. This essay will explore the limits of Macbeth's greed and ambition, describe and analyze his fears, and show that it is his fears which create his desperation and thus his ever-increasing desire for absolute power.

TS #1: First, Macbeth's ever-increasing greed and ambition lead him towards acts of greater and greater tyranny.

TS #2: As Macbeth exercises more ambition and acts more despotically, his fears of being overthrown increase.

TS #3: Macbeth's mounting fears make him more and more desperate, more grasping in his thirst for power, and more tyrannical in his actions towards anyone who threatens that power.

Last modified: Thursday, 14 June 2012, 4:19 PM