Academic essays tend to be organized with a strong “superstructure” that is made up of the thesis (“T”) and the topic sentence (“t.s.”) of each paragraph. Evaluating the effectiveness and clarity of this “superstructure” is a very helpful revision technique. This Thesis + topic sentence outline exercise lets you–and your peer readers–see the overall organization and clarity of your essay. This technique works best if your draft is fairly advanced–as close to finished as you can get it so far.
To make a Thesis + topic sentence (“T + t.s.”) outline, copy the thesis and each topic sentence onto a blank page. (Of course, if as you do this you discover some problems with your topic sentences, revise until you’re satisfied!) Label the thesis, and number each topic sentence. (Do not include anything from the conclusion; concluding paragraphs work differently than body paragraphs.) Your outline will look something like the example on the next page.
Once you have your outline separated from your essay, examine it critically to see how well it is working in these areas:
Is the thesis an assertion that can be developed, and not just a statement of fact or a restatement of the assignment?
Does the thesis represent an accurate response to what the assignment asked for?
Topic sentences: Check to see if each of your topic sentences meets the three important roles of topic sentences:
Presents a focus that the paragraph will develop
Clearly links back to the thesis
(Often) provides transition from the previous t.s.
If you find any topic sentences that don’t appear to be working, determine what might be the problem.
Maybe it isn’t really a topic sentence at all. Often the sentence at the beginning of a draft paragraph is really the first sentence of the paragraph’s evidence and development. In this case, you can return to your draft and determine what the paragraph is focused on, and compose the topic sentence. (First, check to see if it’s somewhere else in the paragraph. It’s common to find topic sentences “buried” in draft paragraphs.)
It might be a good sentence to focus a paragraph, but the link to the thesis isn’t clear. In this case, first determine whether there is a link. If not, you know where to direct your revision efforts. If there is a link, the t.s. can be revised to clearly reflect it.
Maybe it’s not clear what the problem is, but it’s clear there’s a problem. In this case, try to get someone else’s input. If nothing else, you’ll know you need to return to that section of your draft and work on its clarity and connection to the thesis.
And of course, drop by the Writing Center for feedback from a peer tutor!
Example T + t.s. outline:
The example outline below is from a student essay that presents an analysis of The Crucible and Trifles, two plays “about men in authority transferring power to women who manipulate it.”
Thesis:Though the men in each play respond differently to the women’s use of power, it is evident that the women have gained some control in male dominated societies.
t.s. 1 Both of these plays illustrate the idea of male dominance clearly in the way the men act and speak towards the women.
t.s. 2 Further evidence of this power is shown in the various motifs used throughout both plays.
t.s. 3 There is evidence in both plays that the men in authority feed information to the female characters and this act transfers some of their power to the women.
t.s. 5 Once the power is given to the women, the plays each take a different spin as the men in authority respond differently to them.
t.s. 6 While the men in each play may respond differently to the women’s actions, it is important to note that the women have taken what power they can and used it to manipulate things to change the outcome of their situations.