Topic Paragraph Part 2


Topic Paragraph (part 2)

I highly recommend that you quickly adopt a working title. The title can always change later, but to have a title at the start is to have a guide, a sense of direction, a reminder of what the paper is about. Whenever I get a paper titled "Paper number 2," I know that it is going to be a dud, that the writer has nothing to say. "Hamlet: An Analysis of the Play" is not much better. Nor does a title echoing the assignment stir my juices. I want to know what you have to say, not hear my own rhetoric reflected. On the other hand, "Emily Dickinson and Allen Ginsberg: Black Holes of the Mind" makes me want to read the paper. This title suggests the content might be interesting. Like the headlines on the tabloids at the supermarket checkouts, the titles of your papers need to lure the reader inside. I used to say that they need to be sexy, that like a Victorian woman who lifted her skirt to flash a bit of ankle, they need to titillate the reader and make him or her want to see more of what's under the cover. But I have been accused of "sexual harassment" for even suggesting in class that men might be physically attracted to women and vice versa. That is not politically correct, so I will not say it here.

The Topic Paragraph

Your finished paper must begin with a topic sentence in a topic paragraph. On this I insist. Do not slowly build up to the point you are trying to make. I have no patience for long uphill climbs to the peak. I want to be able to view the scene right at the start to get an idea of where I am and where I am going. After you have introduced your thesis or argument as boldly as you dare, then in the second paragraph you can go back and fill in the biographical details or whatever else is absolutely necessary. A paper on the assassination of John F. Kennedy should not begin with Kennedy's being born unless some new revelation about the time or place of Kennedy's birth is in fact the topic of the paper.

Often in composition classes (I tend to be more lenient in literature classes), I will cross out the first one or two paragraphs entirely and tell the student to begin with the second or third paragraph and never look back. It often takes students that long or longer to get to their points. Such warm-ups are necessary; they're akin to how an orchestra tunes up before a concert, but the audience does not necessarily want to listen in. Begin like Beethoven's Ninth with a powerful statement that will capture everyone's attention. Be sure that all of the topic paragraph flows naturally from that topic sentence. Do not try to sneak in some of your supporting details or arguments here; these should be reserved for later paragraphs. That is what the rest of the paper is for. A one-word hint or a lively verb that indicates the direction you are taking is great, but keep it short. Remember that your topic paragraph (indeed every paragraph) must have only one topic, which is stated in the topic sentence. Remember also that the topic must be some sort of argument. Come out fighting!

Thank you.

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