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Tips for Writing Academic Paragraphs: Topic Sentence, Title, and Conclusion

Compiled for the students of Michael Krigline, MA;


Many of my students have a hard time writing a good Topic Sentence (TS), title and conclusion (con.). On this web page, I'll give some tips on how to do this.


Your Topic Sentence (TS) Previews Your Support


The following TS has two parts: an independent clause (shown in italics) and a dependent clause (underlined).

TS: Great changes have taken place in Hongshan Square, which was named Hongshan Park two years ago.

Therefore, I expect this in the body of your academic paragraph:

1. at least two sentences telling me about the changes (i.e., the independent clause).

2. at least one sentence explaining that (or why or when) the name was changed (i.e., the dependent clause).

In addition, I should also already know more than this TS tells me. It should give a preview of your support. It does not! Likewise, this student did not give any additional information about the name change in her paper; she thought it was "background information" that didn't need to be supported. However, if it is "background information," then it belongs in the body (if it is important enough to keep), NOT in the TS.

 For these two reasons, this is a poor Topic Sentence.


MANY students do this.

You don't give a preview of your support in your TS, and/or you said something in the TS that was not supported in the body (often background info like a place or a time).


Basic Rule: The Topic Sentence is a preview, so if something can't be supported in the body, then it shouldn't be in the TS.


It is easier to write a good TS if you first create a good outline. [In addition to the good examples of academic paragraphs on this website (see the "group project" page, and also see my "Essays" page), there is a good example of an academic paragraph at the end of lesson one, Successful Writing for the Real World; the outline for that paragraph is in the answer key--see (1.2) Exercises, #3.]


Outline format for an academic paragraph

Introduction: (the contents of your Topic Sentence)


      A. Support sentence (supports first point in your TS)

      B. Support sentence (supports next point in your TS)

      C. Support sentence (supports next point in your TS)

Summary/Conclusion (the contents of your last sentence, which should summarize your support and emphasize your main thought or some important consequence of the topic sentence—we call this an "implication")


Introduction (poor example): Great changes have taken place in Hongshan Square

     (this is a poor example because "Great changes" is too vague, just like the TS)

Better intro: A name change, greater openness, and new equipment/decorations have improved Hongshan Square


   A: a new name

   B: greater openness (wall & entrance fee removed)

   C: fitness equipment

   D: Olympic logo & fountain (image of Olympic flame)

Conclusion: A new name, free entry/access, new fitness equipment and Olympic decorations are helping people look forward to the Olympics [this is an appropriate implication]


To improve the weak TS presented above, simply include a glimpse of the support, right out of the outline.

Original (weak) TS: Great changes have taken place in Hongshan Square, which was named Hongshan Park two years ago.

Revised TS: A name change, a greater openness, new equipment, and Olympic decorations have given renewed life to Hongshan Square.


If we use colors to track the main ideas, you will see that they must be in the TS, the body, and the conclusion. This is the way American students are taught to write, even before they reach high school.


Revised TS: A name change, a greater openness, new equipment, and Olympic decorations have given renewed life to Hongshan Square.


1. a sentence about the name change (probably including sth about when it happened)

2. a sentence about the "openness" (a wall and fees were removed)

3. a sentence about the equipment (what kind is it?)

4. a sentence about the decorations (or maybe two sentences, if you have enough words)

Conclusion: A new name, free entry/access, new fitness equipment and Olympic decorations are helping people look forward to the Olympics


Let's go back to the original TS for a moment:

TS: Great changes have taken place in Hongshan Square, which was named Hongshan Park two years ago.

Where should we put the unsupported info about "two years ago"?

(Answer: in the body, where it can help one of your support points, probably the first point)


Since your TS will be filled with your support preview, it doesn't need "descriptive things" about your topic—such as the location of the city you are talking about—unless NOT giving that information might confuse the reader.

Weak TS: Gezhou, a town in the northwest of Henan Province, has …   (Save this info for your first support sentence)

Good TS: New structures, facilities and parks have helped improve Kunming Medical University, High-tech Zone Campus, over the past five years. ("High-tech Zone Campus" is necessary to distinguish this campus from the university's other campuses; if KMU only had one campus, then the location should be saved for a support sentence.)

Weak TS: Washington has rich geological features and an interesting Indian heritage. (Saying "Washington State" would have been better, since the word "Washington" normally refers to the US capital, if not to the person it was named for; adding "State" would help to eliminate confusion.)


Here is a different topic sentence.

Due to China’s policy of reform and openness, Kunming Medical University has changed in many ways.

When I read this TS, I expected the paper to explain the impact of "改革开放" on KMU. I was disappointed, because the student didn't say a word about "reform and openness." Furthermore, this TS is also weak because it does not present a preview of HOW KMU has changed. "Many ways" (like "great changes") is vague.


How is this topic sentence?

TS: Jogging is a simple and beneficial activity.

Answer: Not bad. It is simple and supportable. It doesn't include any dependent clauses that won't be explained in the paragraph. It is a good TS, if the paragraph gives two sentences about how jogging is simple, and two about how it is beneficial. No one said a TS has to be overly complicated.


Good Titles Provide a Meaningful Preview


My students also tend to write vague titles. (As it says in lesson one of Real World, writing good titles is hard work. There are several examples of vague titles on my essays page!)

What does "vague" mean?

(These came from my dictionary, but I don't know which is the best translation: 模糊, 含糊, 浮泛, 茫昧, 含糊不清. If I said that your title is "模糊", would you understand? If I said your title is "茫昧", would it make sense? Probably not! That is a problem with simply using words from a dictionary that you don't really understand—we often choose the wrong one!)

Many students give me a two or three word title. Normally, that will not give enough information. Try to make it five to nine words


If this is the TS, what concepts should be in the title?

Revised TS: A name change, a greater openness, new equipment, and Olympic decorations have given renewed life to Hongshan Square.


MUST have: Hongshan Square (this is the subject)

SHOULD have: "change" or a synonym (because each support item is about "change")

Synonyms for change include: new, better, improve…


Sample titles:

Hongshan Square's Improvements (too vague)

Changes Bring New Life to Hongshan Square (good title)

Decorations, Equipment and Openness Improve Hongshan Square (very good title)


Your Conclusion Should Have a Summary and Implication


Your conclusion will be similar to your TS, in that both summarize your support. But the conclusion should present a more detailed summary of the support, while the TS can simply mention each aspect of the support. A good conclusion will also include an implication.


How is this conclusion?

Con.: It's urgent for the government to modify it.

What was the paper about? Answer: who knows.


Basic Rule: I should be able to create an outline for the paper, simply by reading the conclusion.


Here's another conclusion from a former student. What was this essay about?

Con.: If you have it, find the time to join and you will have fun!

What was the paper about? By reading this conclusion, I had no idea.


When you take a standardized English test (like Band-4, grad-school entrance exams or the TOEFL), the grader will look at your TS, then look at your conclusion. If these two sentences don't present the topic and main support ideas clearly, you will get a low score. In academic English, I can't emphasize enough just how important the first and last sentences are!


Like fixing a TS, we fix a weak conclusion by adding details from the outline.

Weak conclusion: Today people's quality of life has improved dramatically, and the economy is expected to mushroom in the near future. (We don't know WHERE the changes have taken place, or WHY the quality of life has improved. Furthermore, the "implication" that "the economy will mushroom" looks like an unsupported opinion—such opinions do not belong in English academic writing.)

Better conclusion: The quality of life has improved in Lingqiu due to industrial development, tax revenue and government spending, and continued development should help the economy to mushroom in the future. (Now we know WHERE and WHY because we see a summary of the body's support. Furthermore, we have a reason—continued development—for the implication that "the economy will mushroom." This is a good conclusion.)


Here's a good conclusion from another paper (even though it doesn't have an implication):

In conclusion, beautifying the lake, increasing tourism, improving the standard of living and widening the streets are among the great changes that have recently been brought about in Sui County.

We know what the topic is, and we have a clear summary of the support.




How I graded the first academic paper in 2008:


You will see three grades at the top. (10 pts, shown as three grades:  3 / 2 /  5  = 10.) The average for this class in 2007 was around 4.5 total.


(3 pts) content & overall impression: (do you make an interesting and relevant point; does it flow well from point to point; does your topic meet the assignment requirements?)

±          3pt—above average (this score is rare); shows thought and above average ability; very good command of the language (earned 4-5 pts below); varied sentence length and structure; author has something worth saying that clearly relates to the assignment; there is probably at least one especially good sentence or thought, even if the language has minor weaknesses

±          2pt—average; an adequate response to the assignment, showing an average command of the language, but perhaps it lacks sufficient clarity, specificity, transitions, conciseness, etc., or has more than one misused word/phrase; relates to the topic well

±          1pt—below average; This homework has several significant language problems; may be lacking in clarity, transitions, variety in sentence length, conciseness, proper use of verbs/nouns/pronouns, etc. Closer cooperation with your partner might have pushed you up to "average." You might also have earned a "1" by failing to follow my instructions or not writing about the assigned topic.

±          0pt—not really acceptable; too many “meaning unclear” or awkward places; it lacks some of the basic language features that would be expected at this level, but at least I see what you are trying to say

±          -1pt—inadequate; essays that show that the student either did not understand the assignment, or contain so many problems that they probably should not be taking a class like this at this point in his/her language development


(2 pt max; -2 min) organization & following directions:

±   two points: must be a single paragraph, double-spaced, & typed; has a topic sentence that previews your support; has a conclusion that repeats the subject and your main points (and hopefully has an implication); has a clear [intro + body + conclusion/implication] organization; has none of the following problems.

±   NOTE: Some of you should have gotten far lower than -1 for not following the directions! I said many times that the first essay must be ONE paragraph (not a separate intro/body/con).

±   -1 for any/all of these problems:

        #w            word count is not between 125 & 150 words (or words not counted)

        name?      you didn't include a name I can read (perhaps you only wrote in Chinese characters)

        i?              ANY of the required info is missing at the top (next time it MUST be in the correct order, too)

        nds           not double spaced (if you didn't give me room to make comments, I can't help you much)

        nty            not typed

        1¶?           this doesn't have the number of paragraphs required (an academic paragraph is ONE paragraph) while an academic essay has several paragraphs, each of which is indented

        TS?          weak topic sentence (probably no preview of the support)

        con?         weak conclusion (probably didn't repeat the subject and/or review the support) (See K1d&e)

        body?       body does not clearly support or relate to your topic sentence (this may be related to a weak ts)

        outline?     there is no outline (next time I will be more strict on the content/accuracy of the outline)

        partner?    your partner's name is not at the bottom as required

        comp?      your partner didn't write a sentence complimenting something (on the bottom or back)

        me/our      you used at least one I/me/my/our or other personal pronoun (academic writing is objective)

        title?         there is no title or it has a vague title (after the first draft, you must format the title as required on page 5, and I may also take off points for vagueness)

        1sent?      a paragraph cannot have one sentence (see booklet page 3)

        font?        you didn't follow my directions to use a 12-point font (Arial or Times New Roman)


(5 pts) grammar and the appropriate use of English (wc, wf, punctuation, etc.) (This time I didn’t count title or spacing errors, even though they are probably marked; on the revision they count too.) (For these assignments, I will count “awkward” or “unnatural” as a mistake—I will mark anything that sounds strange to me. If the same mistake is made more than once—e.g., misspelling a word—I may not count it every time. It is hard to "count mistakes" [some problems are not mistakes] so these numbers provide only a guideline for the grader—not a "rule" for the writer.)

±   5 for less than 6 mistakes on the revision                                    under 10 on the draft

±   4 for around 6-11 on the revision                                                 "teens" on the draft

±   3 for around 16 or less on the revision                                         "twenties" on the draft

±   2 for more than 16 on the revision                                                around 30 (or more) on the draft

±   1 if I count a lot more than 20 problems on the revision                  don't give this for draftst


Note: A wavy line means "it sounds unnatural/awkward” to me, but I couldn’t immediately think of an easy way to fix it.         

--"late" indicates that the homework was not ready at the start of class when it was due (anything turned in after the due date gets a max of 50% [maybe less] and will be marked whenever I get around to it)


Codes that start with G refer to sections in my "Better Writing Study Guide."

K1a. I specifically said you should have a short introduction and a short conclusion, with a substantial body in the middle to present your points (with a separate paragraph for each main point). This essay didn't do that. (Some essays end with the last point. An editor from 外语教学与研究出版社 told me that Chinese essays, like English test essays, "begin with an introduction or thesis statement, then supporting details, and then a summary." Thus I think it is what graders expect on Chinese standardized tests.)

K1b. Your paragraphs are not clearly indented. Be sure the grader knows when you mean to start a new paragraph (¶).

K1c. This paragraph does not have a clear Topic Sentence that introduces the content of the paragraph. The TS should preview (or give some hint about) the content/support.

K1d. This conclusion does not repeat the topic (tie your intro, body and conclusion together by repeating the main concepts through synonyms; in the concluding sentence, you can't use a pronoun in place of your subject)

K1e. This conclusion does not summarize the support (see K1j4).

K1f. If you make a mistake, cross out the whole word and write the correction above it. Don't just cross out a single letter.

       good example:                      mistake                     bad example:                               a

                            Sorry I made a misteke.                                          Sorry I made a misteke.

K1g. Avoid sexist language (don't write he when you mean he/she--or change the sentence so you can write they; write salesperson instead of salesman, etc.)

K1h. The plural of person is people, not persons. Please remove persons from your vocabulary, unless you are writing a formal document for a lawyer.

K1i. Using MAKE. Make means “force to be or become” and is therefore a strong word that implies a cause/effect relationship. A potter makes a vase. A father makes his child obey. Your boss makes you work on Saturday.              BUT

      --A similarity between trees and soldiers does not make NPU like the military. Honesty doesn’t make you have success or friends (but it can help you make friends). Flour doesn’t make noodles (people make noodles, and noodles are made of flour).

      --Trees and flowers don’t make up the scenery—they are part of the scenery.

      --Protection and helpfulness don’t make up the important similarities between NPU and the military (they are two of the important similarities…)

K1j. Avoid common structures and words that are vague

           1) the word “good” can usually be replaced with something more specific.

           2) any sentence that starts with “It is,” such as “It is good to study abroad.”

            BETTER: “Studying abroad can provide many opportunities, such as…”

           3) any sentence that starts with “There are,” such as “There are two advantages to studying abroad.”

            BETTER: “The two major advantages of studying abroad are…”

           4) “in many ways” or “in two ways” (etc.), e.g., “Studying abroad can help students in many ways.”

            BETTER: “Studying abroad can help students by giving them broader insight and more knowledge.” or “Studying abroad can give students broader insight and more knowledge.”

           5) Vague personal exclamations (like “What a happy group!” or "Good luck to you!") almost never appear in academic writing. In fact, academic writing rarely features an exclamation mark.

K1k. An implication (see 4.1d) is a statement that has not been previously given in your essay, but which is a logical extension of your evidence or support.

      If the introduction says that people should study abroad because it will give them opportunities, and then the body explains the opportunities and disadvantages, you can’t use this as an implication:

    --“Because the opportunities outweigh the disadvantages, people should study abroad.”

    --This is also weak: “So people better carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages before they go abroad.”

      Other implications (assuming they are not specifically mentioned in the support) could include:

    a) able to get a better job upon one’s return (it is in the future)

    b) the strength gained by overcoming the difficulties (mentioned in your body) will help them throughout their lives

    c) the loneliness (which you have discussed as a problem) can strengthen the student’s love for home and country

      Notice that each of these implications deal with something that might happen in the future.

      If you choose to simply summarize (and give no implication), this is a good way to end:

          a) the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but the most important thing to remember is… (something you mentioned, but in the text may not have stressed it as the most important thing)

      It is possible that even weak implications (like those above) are better than none. But I believe that a weak implication with several errors in it is worse than none at all. Only you can decide if it is worth the risk to try adding an implication if I have marked up every attempt so far in your practice essays. If your English level is below the middle of the class, then it might be better for you NOT to worry about adding an implication to your essay on the exam. Just organize and summarize well. You might lose more points in your attempted implication (grammar or spelling errors, logic problems, etc.) than you would by not including one at all.

K1L. “LOGIC” refers to a logic problem, but sometimes the problem is with logic, while at other times it is just a WC (word choice) problem. Examples:

       --Just because our university’s trees are like soldiers in one or two ways, this doesn’t MAKE our university similar to or connected with the army.

       --Likewise, just because of the similarities, it takes a big jump in logic to say that our university is THEREFORE like the army or that our students are proud of how the school is similar to the army. (These thoughts may be true, but it is not a logical conclusion based on the evidence of a few similarities.)

K1m: You got a zero because I found part of your essay on the Internet (or in some other source). You will also lose 30 points from your final exam grade. If you think this is unfair, I'm willing to discuss this together with Dean Shang. We spent a lot of class time talking about plagiarism (and there is a detailed section about it in my book); if you missed that class or didn't understand that material, it isn't my fault. As a graduate student, you should know better.

K1n. An academic essay/paragraph is not "free style" like essays you would find in magazines or on the Internet. Such essays offer opinions on a topic (how to be happy, how to find a mate, etc). Academic writing (and that was your assignment) follows a specific format, expected by graders or academic readers. Your essay, regardless of grammatical accuracy, did not fit this assignment, and I did not have time to rewrite it to make it fit. See K1c,d,e for some of the requirements of an academic paragraph.



Final thought for my current students:

Say this out loud: "My revision is due at the start of class. I will not put I/me/my/our in my paper. I will attach my draft to my revision. The title should not be bold, BIG or vague. There must be an extra space between the title and the paragraph. My revision will not have any hand-written marks on it, except things at the bottom. I will type the information at the top exactly as shown in the book. I will type (or hand-write) my outline on the bottom." (the outline can be single-spaced)


Don't forget to add an extra line (or two if you aren't skilled at using a computer) between the title and the paragraph. The outline doesn't have to be double-spaced.



I'll close with a sample of how to type the top of your paper.


top of the page


Tommy (class 7), #B, 134 words, due Oct 28 <Info line, in the EXACT same form required by your teacher>

Title (centered, in Title Case; not Big or bold)

<space> (add one extra space between the title and body)

          Paragraph's topic sentence… (indented, if you have multiple paragraphs)
topic sentence continued…
paragraph continues…



Click here for things from my "group project" instructions, including sample paragraphs and reviews.

This resource was created for our students under my understanding of "fair use" for educational resources.  

© 2007 Michael Krigline, all rights reserved. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy it for personal or classroom use.

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