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A lot of students have good ideas but they aren’t explained clearly or well organised with topic sentences.

As a result the examiner can’t follow them clearly, and they lose a lot of marks.

In this article, I will explain why topic sentences are an easy and fast way to fix this.

What are Topic Sentences?

The standard essay structure for a IELTS Task 2 essay is four paragraphs – an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion.

The topic sentence is the first sentence of a body paragraph.

It tells the examiner the main idea of the paragraph so it functions like a mini introduction. 

Why are Topic Sentences Important?

Good topic sentences help to make your paragraphs clear and easy to read.

As you can see from the table below, clear paragraphs really help your coherence and cohesion score.

Band Score

Official IELTS description

(Coherence and Cohesion)

What it means.

7+

“logically organises information and ideas…presents a clear central topic within each paragraph.”

Body paragraphs have one main idea.

Topic sentences are clear.

6

“arranges information and ideas coherently…uses paragraphing, but not always logically.”

Body paragraphs don’t always have one main idea.

Topic sentences are not always clear.

5

“presents information with some organisation…may not write in paragraphs, or paragraphing may be inadequate.”

Paragraphs are not used well.

Topic sentences are not clear.

How to Write a Good Topic Sentence?

A good topic sentence should be clear and simple, and the good news is they are pretty easy to write.

A basic topic sentence has two parts:

1. The topic.

2. The reason / main idea

Example Question

Global warming/Climate change are pressing problems that every country and the world will have to deal with in the future.

What are the causes of global warming?

What are some possible solutions?

Body paragraph 1 (the main cause of global warming):

Topic: the main cause of global warming

Reason/main idea: mass consumption of fossil fuels

So the topic sentence is:  

The main cause of climate change is the mass consumption of fossil fuels.

Body paragraph 2 (a  possible solution):

Topic: one possible solution for dealing with global warming

Reason/main idea: higher taxes on automobiles

So the topic sentence is:  

One possible solution for dealing with climate change could be higher taxes on automobiles.

Topic Sentences Will Help you to Stay Married to One Main Idea

As we saw in the table above, you should “present a clear central topic within each paragraph”.

This means each body paragraph should be focussed on just one main idea.

Therefore planning for your topic sentence helps you to decide what is the main idea for that paragraph.

After that you should ONLY think of support for that idea. You are married to that main idea. You can’t cheat on it with another main idea.

So for the following topic sentence, you should only discuss the mass consumption of fuels:

The main cause of climate change is the mass consumption of fossil fuels.

A lot of my students spend nearly the whole paragraph discussing one main idea.

But then near the end, they seem to panic or get overexcited, and suddenly add a second unrelated idea e.g. deforestation or methane emissions from animals.

This is a very common mistake but as the table above showed this will lower your coherence and cohesion score.

Remember each paragraph can only have “one central topic”.

As part of your planning stage in the task 2 writing exam, you should write down your topic sentences.

This will make it easier when you start writing your essay to keep your supporting ideas clear, and focussed on your main ideas.

If you accidentally include a second main idea at the end – cross it out. Stay focused.

How to Practise Topic Sentences

Analyse sample essays

1. Look at some task 2 sample essays.

2. Highlight the topic sentence(s) – what is the topic? What is the main idea?

3. Read the body paragraph(s) – do all the supporting ideas relate to that idea?

Practise writing topic sentences for sample essays

1. Look at some task 2 sample essays (like this one on business).

2. Cover up the first sentence of the body paragraph(s)

3. Read the body paragraph – what is the topic and main idea?

4. Write a topic sentence for that paragraph, then compare it with the original one.

Analyse your own writing

1. Look back through your old task 2 essays

2. Are the topic sentences good ? If not, write new ones.

Practise writing topic sentences for new questions

1. Look at some sample task 2 questions (there is one below)

2. Analyse the question and brainstorm main ideas.

3. Choose the main topic and main idea for each body paragraph.

4. Write your  topic sentences.

Now it’s your turn! Put your answers in the comments!

Governments should spend money on railways rather than roads.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Brainstorm your main ideas and position – imagine the government has a plan to improve the trains in your country but not develop roads.

Now write your topic sentences and put them in the comments.

 


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