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  • Writer's pictureDiving Bell

Student blog: Topic sentences that convince markers

Updated: Aug 10, 2019

You thought we were finished working through how to write an essay, didn't you? You're wrong; the fun continues! I know - insane, right?

So far we've constructed an incredible introduction, but the fun continues with (drumroll....) - the paragraph.

No, but, can’t I memorize this?

Every year some specimen from James Ruse or somewhere will tell the Sydney Morning Herald or that they memorized their essay and just changed the topic sentences and conclusion. The fact that they can get away with that shows three things:

1) the standard is really low

2) they’re probably not going to uni overseas (not doing humanities, anyway) because that shit doesn’t fly anywhere except here

3) they may have fly grammar. Or at least, better than yours.

But they’re right about one thing: if you write a good introduction, and then revert back to your ‘Greatest Hits of My Last Essay’ in the first topic sentence, you’re not convincing the marker. They want you to answer the question they asked, not the one you wish they’d asked.

OK, There are three things you must do in your topic sentence:

1. Make a clear reference to the question

2. Bring up the first idea mentioned in the introduction (in your outline of argument)

3. NOT just rewrite the sentence from the intro.

This is the marker from hell; absolutely NO sense of humour

An example

Here's the question:

Through the telling and receiving of stories, we become more aware of ourselves and our shared human experiences.

Explore this statement with close reference to your prescribed text.

(Thesis statement) In Orwell’s 1984, attempts to tell stories lead Winston to understand how broken and distorted his experience of being human really is, and how the Party deliberately undermines the basis of shared human experience for the purpose of control. (Contextual statement) The novel reflects contemporary dictatorships which used ordinary people’s desire for stability and direction; Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain (in which Orwell fought), and Japan all used people’s preference for political simplicity to destroy the shared humanity of those under their control. (Outline of argument – Point 1) Winston’s journaling contains his attempts to tell his own story and achieve the self-awareness which the Party forbids. (Point 2) This self-awareness in turn leads him to Julia, whose stories reveal the lovers’ shared desire for freedom and loathing of life under the Party. (Point 3) Yet the story which Winston believes he has received from O’Brien is a lie, and by acting on this false story he loses everything.

Take the first point and use it as the topic sentence for your paragraph, but DON’T REPEAT IT. Like this:

(Paragraph 1: Topic sentence) Winston’s attempts to tell the story of his life in the forbidden journal shows a self-awareness that is unusual in an Outer Party member, but more dangerous is his desire to increase this through storytelling, and to share it with other self-aware people.

See how I referred to the question, used the point promised in the intro, and didn’t just repeat myself?

You try

Have a go with this intro to the same question for The Crucible. You have identify the first point of argument mentioned in the introduction, and use that point to write a new sentence which will kick off your first paragraph.

In Arthur Miller's The Crucible the act of storytelling is used to bring the main characters to awareness of their own core values, and to reflect how these values are shared by many people across history - for good and ill. As an allegory of the contemporary state of America under the McCarthy tribunals, the play shows the danger of that personality-type like Abigail – and like Joseph McCarthy – who is almost entirely a product of their own fictions, and who share very little with others although they may appear to be ‘one of us’. The narrator’s lengthy storytelling sections clarify the play’s political purpose by bringing the audience to a consciousness of how similar their situation under McCarthyism was to the Salemites’ under theocracy. Abigail, too, uses performative storytelling techniques to seduce and manipulate her audience, and we can contrast that with John’s lack of narrative ability at the end, when he tries to explain himself and what is most important to him to his executioners – and fails. Through this play about the power of fictions, Miller shows how the practice of telling stories is used to persuade, to transform, and to trick, their listeners.

Have a look at the shop for some sample essays that demonstrate how to write beautiful topic sentences

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