Thesis Statement or Topic Sentence?

Aug 12, 2019 | Posted by Jennifer


Occasionally at IEW our customer service team will receive questions about the differences between topic sentences and thesis statements. Hopefully this blog post will dispel any confusion between the two and empower you to help your students assail the essay in style!

Thesis statements summarize the central position of an entire essay and typically appear at the end of the introductory paragraph. Think of them as guideposts for the entire essay. They provide the reader of the essay an idea of the direction it will take. While beginning essay writers will typically write a single-sentence thesis statement, the thesis can be more than one sentence.

Depending upon the type of essay being written, a thesis statement’s emphasis will vary. In an expository essay, an essay that explains or informs, the thesis will narrow what is being explained. Thesis statements in narrative essays, which are essays that relate a story, paint an overall picture of the story that is being described and as such tend to be more personal in nature. Another type of essay, the argumentative essay, features thesis statements that underscore the writer’s opinion. In contrast, persuasive essays employ a somewhat different approach. In a persuasive essay, the thesis statement is oftentimes replaced with a question. This question serves to entice the reader to continue reading the essay in order to learn the writer’s position.

While you can think of thesis statements as guideposts for an entire essay, think of topic sentences as guideposts for individual paragraphs. Topic sentences appear in the body of the essay and are the first sentence in the paragraph. Not only do topic sentences focus the content in the paragraph, they also support the thesis statement made in the introduction.

So what might thesis statements and topic sentences look in a real-life example? Let’s consider a narrative essay prompt that asks the writer to describe someone who challenged him or her to work hard. A thesis statement might look something like this: “My gym teacher, Mr. Hernandez, never stopped encouraging me to do ‘hard things’ in high school.” This thesis statement helps the reader prepare to read some of the ways that Mr. Hernandez encouraged the writer. The topic sentences would support the thesis. Consider the following potential topic sentences:

  • Mr. Hernandez encouraged me to enroll in an honors English class my senior year in high school.
  • When he learned of an opportunity to help a family who had fallen on hard times, Mr. Hernandez reached out to me to help organize a clothing drive.
  • Once I began to apply to colleges, Mr. Hernandez encouraged me to apply to a selective college and even offered to write a reference letter on my behalf.

These topic sentences all support the thesis of the paper by showing how Mr. Hernandez supported the writer of the essay. In the conclusion of the essay, the writer would reiterate the topics one more time before finishing the paper by emphasizing the most important point that underscores the thesis. That point might be something like this:

Mr. Hernandez saw something in me that I didn’t recognize in myself. He helped me to grow in confidence and take on challenges I would never have considered on my own. I’m excited to say that this next fall I’ll be attending ____________ University as an honors student majoring in English. And I even received an academic scholarship thanks in part to his letter of recommendation. I am so thankful he took the time to help me on my path!


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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