What’s the Big Idea?

In the classic slapstick comedy, The Three Stooges, the characters ask each other an important question: what’s the big idea? They ask this question after engaging in goofy and clumsy behavior that causes them to accidentally harm one another. However, there isn’t a more accurate and simple summation of what a topic sentence is—a big idea.

Topic sentences are big ideas in the beginning of a paragraph that serve to affirm and ratify the thesis statement of an essay, blog, research paper or any other written work. In a single sentence, it creates a platform on which the main idea can be further elaborated in the body of the paragraph. Topic sentences also allow the writer to control the flow, organization, and direction of the text by encompassing the big idea the writer wants to convey.

Topic sentences obviously have several uses and purposes in a written work; unfortunately, people often struggle to write a coherent one. However, it is possible to write a strong, concise topic sentence in only three easy steps. The first step is asking the question a stooge would ask, “what’s the big idea?” Contrary to popular belief, brainstorming is not something that happens only once at the beginning of the writing process. Each paragraph needs a topic sentence; therefore, though the writer doesn’t have to come up with a brand new idea, condensing a big idea into a single sentence requires quite a bit of creativity. Once the question kick-starts the writing process, it is important to jot down the ideas and major subjects that come to mind.

The second step is organization. Transition sentences are just as important as topic sentence. Without them, ideas would be convoluted and incomplete. Instead of starting a new paragraph with a topic sentence, it is better to start with a transition sentence. It authenticates the idea discussed in the previous paragraph and introduces a new one. Once the transition is complete, it can be used as a springboard to develop the rest of the paragraph.

The third step is writing the topic sentence itself. Bringing together the words and ideas from the first step and linking them with the transition sentence results in a topic sentence. For example, Sonia has to write an essay on the historical background of The Three Stooges comedy and its characters. In the previous paragraph, she wrote about the creators, production, and a major historical development that existed at the time—the third Reich of Hitler’s regime. She could start the next paragraph with a transition sentence that reads, “Even though the show was an important source of comic relief in such a dark time, it is probably more appreciated now than it was in its time.” This sentence further elaborates on the shows setting but also presents a new angle: its relevance to the culture and time in which it was created. A topic sentence can then follow like this: “Columbia Pictures was audacious enough to create a piece that satirized Hitler while the United States took the isolationist position and was neutral on World War II.” The rest of the body of the paragraph can then introduce the piece of work, its content and effect on the public audience.

Incorporating other writing devices and techniques can help with not only topic sentences, but with the entire writing process as well. In the spirit and attitude of the gloriously goofy stooges, it is possible to capture the big idea in a powerful and engaging way. Moreover, following a clear organizational path, as illustrated above, makes writing topic sentences both easy and fun.

Written by Kenean

For more information on writing topic sentences and other writing subjects, check out our Topic Sentences handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!


“You Nazty Spy.” TV Tropes, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/YouNaztySpy.

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