Staying On Topic In An Essay Or Paragraph Writing

Topic Sentences

Since body paragraphs for an essay should be centered around one main idea that relates the thesis, creating a clear topic sentence is helpful for both the writer and the reader. For the writer, a topic sentence makes it easier to stay on topic and develop the main idea without getting off track. For the reader, topic sentences announce what the paragraph will be about and demonstrate how different paragraphs and ideas are connected to each other. 

A topic sentence generally appears early in a body paragraph (often the first or second sentence) and controls the paragraph. A topic sentence is like a mini thesis sentence for each paragraph and serves to unify the contents of the paragraph. Everything that follows in the paragraph needs to relate to the topic sentence. Not all essays call for explicit topic sentences, but most beginning writers should learn how to write effective topic sentences early on in order to achieve paragraph unity.

It is also important that all topic sentences relate to the thesis statement. This allows for the essay to have greater unity and focus.

Examples of Topic Sentences:
Let’s use the following thesis statement as an example to see how topic sentences work: In order to succeed in the classroom, college students need to utilize the resources available to them throughout their academic careers.

Because this thesis statement is clear, we know that the essay will be about the various resources that college students need to use to succeed. Thus, each one of these resources becomes a main point that will be written about in the essay, and, in turn, each of these needs a topic sentence. Here are some examples of topic sentences that can be used for this essay:

One important resource that all college students should utilize for success is tutorial services.

Another important resource for student success is frequent use of the library.

In addition to using tutoring services and the library, college students should consult with their advisor on a regular basis to monitor success and make necessary changes when needed. 

Notice how these topic sentences not only help the reader know what will be written about in each paragraph, they also help the writer organize the main ideas of the essay. If a writer creates clear topic sentences early in the writing process, he/she can use these to organize the essay and create unity in each of the paragraphs. 

As writers become more advanced, topic sentences are not always needed. However, all beginning college level writers should know how to create and use them when constructing an essay.

Essay Writing Tips: Avoiding Common Content Mistakes

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No matter how well-versed you are with grammar, punctuation and other areas that come into play for writing assignment essays, making a mistake with the content hurts your overall essay. Use these essay writing tips focused on common content mistakes to improve your essays on any topic.

No clear introduction or conclusion

Your introduction introduces your topic. It provides any necessary background information to set the stage for your thesis. Failing to craft an effective introduction leaves your readers unsure of what they are about to read and creates a haphazard start to your essay.

Similarly, if you fail to write a solid conclusion while writing an essay, your essay is left with a feeling of being abruptly cut off with no clear finality. A good conclusion restates your thesis and is a summary of your topic as it relates to and emphasizes the points you make throughout the essay.

Problems with thesis

Your thesis statement contains the main idea of your essay. It is meant to give your readers an idea of how you intend to develop the essay and where the focus lies with respect to the topic. It not only declares your position or argument, but it also puts your readers on the same page as they explore the topic with you through the words you write. When you fail to focus your thesis, your essay has no structure and no clear direction.

Just as important as writing a strong thesis, support for your thesis must be woven throughout your essay. With evidence, facts, statistics and logic, the body of your essay must support the thesis. Failing to support your thesis results in a poorly constructed essay that does not accomplish what you set out to convey.

In addition, if you cannot support a thesis with enough ideas to develop the thesis fully in the body of the essay, tweak your thesis as needed by using prewriting exercises to help you develop more focus or to formulate a new thesis. A poorly formed or unsupported thesis does not create the backbone necessary when writing an essay that is effective and well-planned.

No supporting examples

All of the ideas within your essay must be supported and clarified. The best (and easiest) way to accomplish this is by using examples to illustrate your points or arguments. Without adequate support, your essay lacks depth.

Ambiguous structure

Even with a strong thesis and ample supporting information, you can present the information in a way that hurts your essay. Shape your thesis methodically by presenting information, arguments and facts in a logical progression. Your readers should understand your essay and argument without any degree of difficulty.

If you are writing an essay and the overall flow or paragraph layout is ambiguous, create an outline of your main ideas. Then, reorganize and structure your essay in a way that drives conclusions from the ideas you are presenting. Start on the paragraph level to ensure you are structuring paragraphs well and providing smooth paragraph transitions.

Including too much information

Not staying focused is another common mistake. If you find yourself trying to cover 20 topics in 20 paragraphs for an assignment essay, you are including too much information. The problem often lies in two areas. You are either adding thoughts or ideas that are too far removed from the focus of the essay or you are writing an essay based on a thesis that is too broad in scope.

Identify which mistake you’re making by looking at the primary topic and examining how each idea fits in with the overall thesis. Adjust the information you are including or the scope of your thesis as needed to stay on topic and to provide the right level of information.

Failure to follow instructions

Read all assignment instructions carefully to understand the expectations clearly. For anything you do not understand, ask questions. If you do not understand what is expected, you cannot provide it in a well-planned and well-written essay no matter how many essay writing tips you follow.

Use of inappropriate or strong language

Along with the content and its structure, the right language impacts your overall essay. If you find yourself using jargon and other specific or technical jargon, reword as much as possible to avoid this. Unless you are writing to a very specific audience, you want the language you use to be interpreted easily by anyone who reads your essay. In addition, it is best to avoid the following forms of language and ways of presenting information when writing an essay for academic purposes:

  • Contractions
  • Idioms, colloquial expressions and clichés
  • Overly simplistic language
  • Emotional or strong language (unless it’s relevant to the overall assignment
  • Blind references to statistics without citing the source
  • Personal examples in any essay that does not require the first-person perspective

Use of the wrong POV

While some essay assignment writing clearly requires writing in a particular point of view, not all essay assignments do. Make sure you understand which points of view are appropriate for different types of essay assignments, and learn how to maintain the same point of view to form a more cohesive essay. Always consult your assignment instructions and/or your instructor when you are uncertain.

These essay writing tips address the most common mistakes students just like you make when writing academic essays. Knowing what to watch out for is the best way to ensure you craft a well-written, concise and on-topic essay with a well-supported thesis and solid structure. Keep these common mistakes in mind, and your essays are sure to be easier to write.


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