Figure 47: Sample of a Revised Topic Sentence

Below is an excerpt that falls under the comment “Ambiguous (Thesis and Author’s Ideas).”

You may access the comment by clicking on the “A” category or by typing the title into the search box.

You may print the excerpt for class discussions.

Revising the Topic Sentence

In the letter, King discusses how segregation affects the Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama and how the white moderates feel about the direct-action program the Negroes have adopted as a response to segregation.

Now the topic sentence serves as an accurate reflection of the ideas within King’s work.

Every student is capable of writing at this level, but most students would not provide this kind of detailed information in their topic sentences. The first topic sentence we began with is typical. However, just because it is typical doesn’t mean that the topic sentence is sufficient for your paper. You must go through the process of verifying if you have developed a specific topic sentence, one that at the same time both supports the thesis and prepares the reader for what you will discuss in each paragraph.

With this in mind, always answer the following just before you compose each topic sentence:

Who? 

King

What?            

King discusses how segregation affects the Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama and how the white moderates feel about the direct-action program.

Where?

King discusses these ideas in the letter.

Why?

The topic sentence we are revising doesn’t state why directly, but by implication we know that King’s purpose for writing the letter is to respond to the clergymen’s criticisms of his work and ideas. In addition, we can also go back to the letter and get the actual quote.

Note:  The implication we have made here matches the ideas expressed within King’s letter.

We imply that King is writing about segregation in the letter as a response to the clergymen’s criticisms. We assume correctly according to King’s words: “Seldom do I pause to answer criticisms of my work and ideas.”

When?

We have not added a time factor to the topic sentence, but we can rectify this easily by adding a few keywords. King defines “just law” and “unjust law” before he defines segregation as representing an unjust law. After King’s discussion of how segregation affects the Negro, he defines the views of the white moderate. Therefore, adding the correct time-specific terminology within your paper will help the reader understand the structure of King’s letter.

How?

King handwrites the letter. This is implied. We can verify this implication by King’s first line: “While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “ ‘unwise and untimely.’ ” We have to assume that King does not have a typewriter in jail.

Figure 47: Sample of a Revised Topic Sentence

In the letter, King discusses how segregation affects the Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama and subsequently how the white moderates feel about the direct-action program the Negroes have adopted as a response to segregation.

The word “subsequently” is a much more appropriate and efficient word than adding both “before” and “after.” However, within the sentences that follow after the topic sentence, it is very important to make sharper distinctions between what happens first, second, third, and last. In addition, in these sentences, you can account for “why ” and “how.”

Group Activity

Based upon the ideas present within Figure 47, develop another topic sentence that best reflects the ideas King outlines within his work.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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