Cooking up the perfect essay

picture used without permission from

Want higher marks for your essays, but don’t know where to start? Here’s a trick that I learned that makes your essays clear, coherent, and compelling: use “Topic Sentences”.

Topic sentences are one of the most important and powerful components of a functional essay. They are the first and last sentence of each body paragraph. Simply put, their role is to introduce the main argument of the paragraph, then, at its end, summarise the point of the paragraph and show how the point relates to your essay’s overall answer. Which would you prefer to read: a well-planned paragraph that is structured with the main idea stated in the first sentence, further developed, then re-iterated at the end of the paragraph; or a random assemblage of thoughts that were just dumped on a page in clusters? The planned one of course – because the topic sentences make it easier to read.

Topic sentences are like the buns of a burger – they hold the rest of the paragraph’s information together and make it easier to ‘pick up’ for the reader. Topic sentences make your essay’s points clear. If markers can understand your argument, they’ll give you more marks. Unfortunately, some students write ‘paragraphs’ which suggest they erratically threw some ingredients around, rather than methodically making a burger (which isn’t that hard – just ask any McDonald’s worker). Messy paragraphs earn fewer marks. So don’t make a literary dog’s breakfast that looks like it was kicked around the floor then put on a plate. Give your paragraphs some structure! Use topic sentences. Make your essay clear and easier to follow – make it easier for the marker to give you marks.

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  1. #1 by Gael Bevan on October 5, 2010 - 3:45 pm

    Hi Jonathan, I love the simple entertaining way you have described how to increase essay marks, the hamburger visual helps build the story and I will be passing this blog onto my students.
    Abundantly yours

  2. #2 by jlawry on October 5, 2010 - 8:04 pm

    Thanks Gael, I trust your students will find the blog useful. Feel free to let us know if you have any other feedback 🙂

  3. #3 by Kevin Park on October 5, 2010 - 8:29 pm

    Hey Jono,

    I must admit – I had totally forgotten about topic sentences. I was taught by Mr Murchinson back in third form about them but I guess I had decided what I had learnt in highschool wasn’t applicable for Uni. My mistake. Keep the blogs coming.


    • #4 by jwrait on October 6, 2010 - 8:12 pm

      That’s a good point Kev. On the surface, the English essays we wrote in high school seem quite different to what is required at uni, however the underlying structure of the essay is pretty much the same. Especially the topic sentences!

      The differences between writing essays for English and for other subjects will be something we will look at in a further post.

  4. #5 by Bill Smale on October 5, 2010 - 10:45 pm

    Hi guys i think this is a great idea, often the simple ideas are the most effective,Tasks, jobs are just like your hamburger theory the first bite is always a challenge and when you are hungry it is so satisfying but as you get to the end and you are full you are glad to finish the last bite, i can assure you it doesn’t get any easier as you progress through life, and business, there are always bumps in the road and the main thing you need to learn is how to navigate your way around them, the only thing that changes is your awareness and skill on how to handle difficult situations, others can learn from what you have learnt, i have to say i have been impressed at your ability to think outside the square and take new opportunities as they arise, keep up the good work.
    Cheers Bill

    • #6 by jlawry on October 5, 2010 - 11:22 pm

      Thanks Bill – I totally agree!

  5. #7 by Tyson F. Gautreaux on October 29, 2010 - 5:44 pm

    Interesting article, and the website seems nice all-around also, I been to a few pages before commenting, I usually don’t comment unless I find there is something worth-it on the site. Great site, and thank you for the quality.

    Frank of dofollow backlinks

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