Topic and Development Paragraphs
Topic and development is an easy way to build clear and effective paragraphs. Here's how it works.
The paragraph has a clear statement of what it is about. Usually, this statement is contained in one single sentence. This is called the 'topic sentence'. The rest of the sentences develop the topic sentence. They can do this in various ways. Some of these are:
they can give examples
Not all paragraphs are built in this way, but a lot are. And if you are unsure about how to build effective paragraphs, topic and development is a good place to start. It's easy to learn, and it works.
Here's an example to start with:
(1) Since the nineteenth century, Teesside has based its economy on heavy industry. (2) Middlesbrough was originally based on the shipping of coal, and the iron and steel industry followed, after the discovery of useable deposits of iron ore in the nearby hills. (3) In the first half of the twentieth century, Teesside had a claim to be the bridge-building capital of the world. (4) The famous Sydney Harbour Bridge was built by the Teesside firm of Dorman Long, and Teessiders are also proud of their local bridges, especially the largest working Transporter bridge in the world. (5) This heavy manufacturing industry was joined in the interwar period by the massive chemical plants at Wilton, east of Middlesbrough (petrochemicals) and Billingham (nitrates and synthetic ammonia). (6) Teesside also remained a major centre for steel production.
The structure of this paragraph is topic and development. The first sentence is the topic sentence, and the other five sentences develop the topic sentence. They develop it by giving examples, more or less in chronological order. Easy, isn't it? The structure of the paragraph is especially clear because the topic sentence is the first sentence. This isn't strictly necessary, though. A topic sentence can occur anywhere in a paragraph. It's common for a topic sentence to be the first sentence in a paragraph, but, as we shall see, it's also common for the topic sentence to be the second sentence.
Exercise: here are some more paragraphs with a topic and development structure. See if you can pick out the topic sentence in each one. And when you've done that, see if you can work out what the other sentences are doing, and how they develop the topic sentence
Paragraph 1, from Kennedy, A.J. (1999)The Rough Guide to the Internet. Rough Guides: London.
[The first sentence is the topic sentence. The other sentences give the reasons why email is better than faxing. Sentences 2-5 give a reason each, then sentence 6 gives an example of the usefulness of email. So every sentence from 2-6 supports the topic sentence.]
[This one is a bit more complicated. You could say that sentence (1) is the topic sentence, or that sentence (2) is. Both these sentences say roughly the same thing. Then sentences (3) and (4) give examples, and sentence (5) sums up. The whole paragraph develops the topic by setting out some of the complications in it.]
[This is another example of a first sentence which isn't the topic sentence. Most of this paragraph develops a topic of the difficulties faced by patients in intensive care: sentences (3), (4), (5) and (6) all do this. So these sentences are actually developing the topic which is stated in sentence (2), not sentence (1). What then is the function of sentence (1)? It isn't the topic sentence. Instead, it is the link back to what has gone before. The paragraph immediately before this one discusses different kinds of communication, both verbal and non-verbal, and shows how important they are. So sentence (1) links to that, before starting the particular topic of the difficulties which affect patients in intensive care. This is a very common structure for paragraphs - a first sentence which sums up a situation, followed by a sentence which starts a more specific topic within that situation.]
So far, we have looked at straightforward topic and development paragraphs.
We have looked at the ways the sentences in an individual paragraph can
support and develop the topic. The last example was the most complicated,
and it brings us to the next part of our study of paragraphs - how to
link paragraphs with each other.