Writing and Speaking

Breaking the “Rules” of Paragraph Structure

The other day, I had a good laugh, when I remembered an academic advisor. He severely reprimanded me, because I didn’t use topic sentences to open paragraphs. That’s pretty bad, you know. Back then I did not know how to answer that. I hadn’t an adequate response. Do you remember the old rule? A topic sentence sums up the main point of each paragraph. This style rule could be a necessary rule for learning grammar in elementary and high school, but not on post-graduate level.

I have never met a student who is not haunted by topic sentences. This is a question that I get everywhere. Why? I realized that sometimes when a bad teacher doesn’t find objections to the content, he will find something to drop your confidence. He thinks that his duty is to put you into trouble. You see, it’s not easy to begin. The trouble is that you never meant to be a writer. But you got writing assignments every day. Then, the bad teachers and bad librarians come with their golden rules. And you begin to think that you will be happy only in a world without topic sentences. Words, rules, and life confuse people.

There’s often a lot of confusion about the writing rules. Keep in mind that a rule might be appropriate in one situation, and a nuisance in another situation. The academy requires another level of reading. It is assumed that post-graduate students or researchers are not so naïve or dumb. Beyond that, we must remember the humorist Sam Pickering who advised us that, “all people and sentences are disobedient”. In fact, rules are good at first in producing an illusion of control. But, after a time, comes reality. If content is weak, then nothing will work. Topic sentences do not educate you. I’m going to paraphrase Thoreau here: they do not settle the West. That’s for sure.

Jefes and teachers are not always easy to please. Bad academic writing is a sad reality today. Surely, the transmission of knowledge requires clear, rich, and objective language. On the other hand, I’m against topic sentences most of the time, which means not that I’m in favor of clutter language. We mustn’t settle for substandard language. Good educators like to see a paragraph consisting of correct sentences, clear language, and original ideas. Obviously, they want to see that you have acquired knowledge and can think clearly. So, do not worry too much about topic sentences.