Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to identify  the:

  1. topic sentence of a paragraph.
  2. sentences that support the topic sentence by explaining.
  3. sentences that support the topic sentence by giving  examples.

The Paragraph

There  are  two  main  parts  of the  paragraph.  These  are  the  topic  sentence  and  the  supporting details.  Usually,  a  paragraph  is  developed  by  writing  a  topic  sentence  and  adding  supporting details that contribute  to making  the topic sentence clearer or more understandable.

The topic sentence

A well-written paragraph usually includes a statement of the idea that the paragraph talks about. The topic sentence  states that idea  in the paragraph.  Therefore,  the topic sentence is sometimes called the controlling  idea of the paragraph.

For our purpose as beginners, our topic sentence should always come as the first sentence of the paragraph.  In  actual fact, the  topic  sentence  can  be  placed  at the beginning of the paragraph, somewhere  in  the  middle,  or  at  the  end  of the paragraph.  As  we  become  more  experienced writers, we may decide to place the topic sentence where it will be most effective.

Why do we need a good topic sentence?

a.   A good topic sentence introduces the topic immediately  so that the:

  1. writer knows what to write about.
  2. reader knows what the writer will write about.  

 b.   A good topic sentence limits  the topic so that the writer will:

  1. not have too much to write about.
  2. have enough to write about.
  3. focus on only the major point.

Indeed,  a  good  topic  sentence  will tell the  reader what idea the particular paragraph is about. Obviously,  when  you  are reading  and  you  see  exactly  what  the  writer  is  talking  about  in  the beginning,  you are able to understand  the writer’s idea easily and quickly.

Thus,  when  you  begin  writing  your paragraph with a topic sentence,  you tell your reader what the particular  paragraph is about immediately.

In our next lesson we shall learn how to make good topic sentences.

The supporting  details

The supporting details are sentences that advance the idea expressed in the topic sentence. These sentences  should  make clear  what  the  controlling  idea  of  the  paragraph  is.  They  do  this  by adding  more  information,  such  as  explanations, examples,  data,  illustrations,  and  elaborations about  the topic sentence.  Only pieces of information directly contributing to  the advancement of the  topic  sentence  should  be  written  as  supporting  details.  No  unnecessary  detail  should  be included.  In other words,  any detail that does not contribute to  the overall effect of the opinion stated in the topic sentence should  be omitted.

Types of supporting  details

There are two main types of supporting  details.

Some supporting details explain the idea expressed in topic sentence. This is to say that they give further  information  about the  topic  sentence.  These  details  may  answer  the  questions:  What? Who? When? Where? How? or Why? about the topic sentence. Answers to such questions help the writer to  give more information about the topic.  This further information will help the reader to easily  understand  the idea stated in the topic sentence.

On  the  other  hand,  other  supporting  details  illustrate.  This  means  that  they  give  examples  that make clearer the idea stated in the topic sentence.

It is also  possible to  sum up  the discussion within a paragraph in one sentence. This sentence is usually  called the concluding  sentence.

Here  is  an  example  of a paragraph that a student wrote.  The topic is “Myself”.  The point the student writer is developing  is “my name”.

Read it carefully.

Seana  Dzidua is my name. Dzidua is my surname. It means ‘one who triumphs.’ My grandmother takes great pride in telling me that males in my family always triumph. For example, it was the triumphs of my great grandfather in wars that had earned him the name. Seana is my first name. It means ‘the creator will provide.’ My mother tells me that three years after she got married to my father, they had no child. Their faith in God eventually brought me. I have another name. My grandmother only calls me Kwesi. That is my birth day name. I am a boy, and I was born on a Sunday.

What is the paragraph all about?

Of course, it is about the name of the writer. Do we have a sentence which tells us this?

Yes, it is the first sentence. That sentence says:

“Sena Dzidua is my name.”

This is the topic sentence. We find that after telling us this, the writer does everything to explain this name for us. The explanations  are part of the supporting  details.

What does the writer tell us about his name?

The writer tells us that his name has a surname. What sentence does this?

“Dzidua  is my surname.”

This is the second sentence in the paragraph. What does the next sentence do in this paragraph?

The next sentence in the paragraph says:

“It means „one who triumphs.‟”

This support tells us what the name means; it means „one who triumphs.‟

What else does the writer tell us about his name?

He tells us what his first name is; it is Seana.

In addition,  he tells us the meaning  of Seana; „the creator will provide.‟

What else does the writer tell us about his name?

He tells us that his birth day name is Kwesi.

He  explains  further  that  he  is  called  Kwesi because  he  is  a boy and  he was born on Sunday.

These  are  supporting  details.  We  have  said  that  examples  were  another  type  of  supporting details.  Let us look at the example again.  Can you identify  an example in the paragraph?

Seana  Dzidua is my name. Dzidua is my surname. It means ‘one who triumphs.’ My grandmother takes great pride in telling me that males in my family always triumph. For example, it was the triumphs of my great grandfather in wars that had earned him the name. Seana is my first name. It means ‘the creator will provide.’ My mother tells me that three years after she got married to my father, they had no child. Their faith in God eventually brought me. I have another name. My grandmother only calls me Kwesi. That is my birth day name. I am a boy, and I was born on a Sunday.

I am sure that, now, you will be able to identify the topic sentence and the supporting details of a paragraph like this one about the writer‟s  name.

Here are other paragraphs. Identify  the topic sentence and the supporting  details in each.

  1. People use words, of course, to express their thoughts and feelings. And as everyone knows who has tried to write, choosing just the right word to express an idea can be difficult. Nevertheless, it is important to choose words carefully, for words can suggest meanings not intended at all; words can also be used to deceive.
  2. In the hundred years following the voyages of Christopher Columbus, many European explorers sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to reach the New World. At first they came in search of new trade routes to the Far East. Then, as the riches of the Americas were discovered, the explorers were followed by conquerors and, later, by settlers. Spain, with her strong naval fleet, ruled the seas, and by 1600 her treasury was filled with gold and silver stolen from the people of South America and Mexico. The Spanish left the colder, seemingly worthless region of North America to other countries of Europe whose ships were a sail on the oceans of the world.

Now,  we  can  identify  the  topic  sentence,  and  the  supporting  details.  We  can  also  identify examples. Now, let us try writing a good paragraph on our own names. Let us read the example once again and then write one on our own names. Here is the paragraph:

Seana  Dzidua is my name. Dzidua is my surname. It means ‘one who triumphs.’ My grandmother takes great pride in telling me that males in my family always triumph. For example, it was the triumphs of my great grandfather in wars that had earned him the name. Seana is my first name. It means ‘the creator will provide.’ My mother t ells me that three years after she got married to my father, they had no child. Their faith in God eventually brought me. I have another name. My grandmother only calls me Kwesi. That is my birth day name. I am a boy, and I was born on a Sunday.

You may use details that are different  from what we have in the example.

Summary 

In this lesson, we have learnt that:

  1. a paragraph usually  has a topic sentence and supporting  details.
  2. the topic sentence states what the paragraph is going to be about.
  3. this  helps  the   writer  to  focus  on  and   discuss  only  one  idea  in  the paragraph.
  4. the supporting details explain and  illustrate the idea expressed  in the topic sentence.

CONTENT CONSULTANTS

Authors

Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.

Peer Reviewers

 John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D. 

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.

William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.