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Academic Writing: Topic & Concluding Sentences

What makes a strong topic and concluding sentence? How do you make one of your own? This post shows you how.

Academic Writing: Topic & Concluding Sentences

In a previous post, we discovered that paragraphs include a topic sentence and concluding sentence. I've included the example paragraph below to remind us about topic and concluding sentences.
Colors create biological reactions in our bodies; these reactions, in turn, can change our behavior. In one study, prisoners were put in a pink room in which they underwent a drastic and measurable decrease in muscle strength and hostility within 2.7 seconds. In another study, athletes needing short bursts of energy were exposed to red light. Their muscle strength increased by 13.5 percent, and electrical activity in their arm muscles increased by 5.8 percent. Athletes needing more endurance for longer performances responded best when exposed to blue light. Other studies have shown that the color green is calming. After London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge was painted green, the number of suicides decreased by only 34 percent. These and other studies clearly demonstrate that color affects not only our moods but our behavior as well (Daniels 10).

Remember, topic sentences introduce the main idea and when a paragraph focuses only on that one main idea, it is said to have unity. The above paragraph has unity.

Topic Sentences

Let's compare two topic sentences and answer some questions. Also, which of the two topic sentences do you think is stronger?

Colors create biological reactions in our bodies; these reactions, in turn, can change our behavior.
  1. Do we know what the previous paragraph talked about?
  2. Do we know the relationship between the previous paragraph and the current paragraph?
  3. What is the main idea of this paragraph?

Beyond our concerns about over-reliance on stewardship contracting, we also question how future place-based laws might be funded.
  1. Do we know what the previous paragraph talked about?
  2. What is the relationship between the previous paragraph and the current paragraph? 
  3. What is the main idea of this paragraph?


Check answers. 

So, a strong topic sentence should _______________ the paragraph's main idea and show the relationship between _____________ and the _______________. 

Check answers. 

When the beginning of a new paragraph also mentions an idea from the previous paragraph and shows us the relationship between the previous paragraph and the current paragraph, it is called a "transition". Most topic sentences should include a transition


Transition Language

In our example sentence, we use the language phrase "Beyond our concerns..., ...we also question... ". This language phrase can be used in multiple ways to transition and demonstrate a relationship between two ideas (e.g. Beyond my concern for requiring stronger youth turnout, I also question the need for voter ID legislation).

Beyond our concerns about over-reliance on stewardship contracting, we also question how future place-based laws might be funded.

Can you think of any other expressions with a similar meaning to the language below

Contrary to  
In contrast with ..., In contrast to ...
While … , the more effective solution is clearly

[rephrase topic of first paragraph] has invited much debate over [rephrase topic of second paragraph]

 

Use one of the expressions above to transition from the paragraph below to the next.

...While Gap owned up to the problem, committed to correct it, and vowed to bring its suppliers into full compliance with its standards; the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) reports that a cover-up is being attempted by some other companies doing business in India. In essence, ITGLWF is hearing from some suppliers that they are being pressured to eliminate any paper trail between retailers/brands and Indian subcontractors, who may or may not be using child labor.

Topic for the next paragraph: developing a mature system of industrial relations between independent unions and employers

Guiding questions to help you create a new topic sentence:
  • Does your topic sentence introduce the new main idea?
  • Does your topic sentence mention an idea from the previous paragraph?
  • Does your topic sentence create a relationship between the previous paragraph’s idea and the new idea?
Check answers

!Challenge Exercise

In a previous post, we discovered differences between simple, compound, and complex sentences. Let's think how we can use those sentence types to our advantage.

  1. Which sentence type seems to fit best with the transition/topic sentence structure? (simple, compound, or complex)
  2. When would you use a compound sentence for a topic sentence?
  3. When would you use a simple sentence for a topic sentence?
Check answers

Concluding Sentences

Let's examine two concluding sentences we've seen before by labeling some statements True or False. Also, do you remember which is the stronger concluding sentence?

"These and other studies clearly demonstrate that color affects not only our moods but our behavior as well."
True or False
  • The concluding sentence rephrases the paragraph’s main idea.
  • The concluding sentence provides a final point (synthesis) to the paragraph. 

"To sum up, color influences us in many ways."
True or False
  • The concluding sentence rephrases the paragraph’s main idea.
  • The concluding sentence provides a final point (synthesis) to the paragraph.

Check answers.

So, a strong concluding sentence ____________ the paragraph's main idea and provides ______________ to the paragraph.


Check answers.

 

Read the paragraph and then select the strongest concluding sentence. Use the True and False statements from above to help you choose the strongest concluding sentence.

These core forestry laws are supplemented with dozens of others that are substantive and procedural in nature, such as NEPA and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As in other federal land systems, different national forest units may be encumbered with significantly different legal responsibilities. Some national forests, for example, have listed species, water rights compacts, tribal treaty obligations, and special planning prescriptions, such as the Northwest Forest Plan, which necessitate very different types of management. Aside from these differences, most think the system is relatively consistent, so that national forests are all governed under the rubric of multiple use, sustained yield, and other vague principles.

a. In most cases, differences in management emerge, not from legislation, but out of the universal planning processes that are required of each forest.

b. So, for example, Glacier National Park is governed by the preservation / recreation mandate spelled out in the 1916 Organic Act and also by more specific provisions found in its 1914 “establishment” legislation.

c. The relatively unified national forest system is quite different from the national park and wildlife refuge system.
Check answers.

!Challenge Exercise

  • Which sentence type seems to be best for concluding sentences? (simple, compound, complex
  • Why do you think that is? 
  • When would you use a compound sentence to form a concluding sentence? 
  • When would you use a complex sentence to form a concluding sentence?

Check answers.

Final Remarks

Transitions may seem like a small addition to your topic sentences and/or conclusions, but they go a long way to forming a strong story throughout your writing. I am a firm believer in using transitions in nearly every topic sentence. Also, by thinking of topic sentences with transitions, you'll be able to better plan your writing before you begin to write, since some transitions between main ideas will make more sense than others. It'll basically write itself!

Be sure to check out my post on Linking Words and Transitions. You normally don't want to use linking words to begin paragraphs with new ideas, so check out my post to learn the difference!

Feel free to leave comments and questions in the box below. 


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