Topic Sentences and Signposting in Essay Writing

Topic sentences and signposts are the writer’s way to clear up the argument of the essay to the readers. The first showcase the idea that lies in the paragraphs, with the purpose of establishing links between them. The latter assists the writer in justifying the ideas and the reasons why those ideas are inserted in the essay.
Combining the two in essay writing assures the writer that readers are aware of what they read.

Every good essay consists of these two parts. Topic sentences are commonly used to clear up how the points are interconnected to the main idea presented in the essay, while the signposts prepare the reader for what is about to come. And even though these are not the first thing a writer needs to take care of when crafting an essay, they carry great importance because of these contributions.

Topic Sentences

There is no specific rule as to how long a topic sentence should be. In the majority of essays, these sentences are two or three sentences long, which of course depends on the sentence construction.

Topic sentences can vary in form depending on the construction of the sentence. Generally, there are four most commonly used topic sentences approaches among writers:

  • Complex sentences

When the topic sentence starts at the beginning of one paragraph, but actually transitions from the one before, this is considered the complex sentences approach. The most common way of writing such a sentence is by using independent and subordinate clauses. To be more specific, this means that the topic sentence uses subordinate clause to connect to the previous sentence from the other paragraph; and independent clauses with the purpose of introducing new information and claims.

  • Bridge sentences

Another term for this approach is John Trimble’s approach. These sentences are somewhat of a substitute for the formal type of topic sentences, mostly because they indicate the prior and the following information. The way of introducing what came before and what follows is done without the usage of different clauses. Simply, the principle of doing this approach is like crossing a bridge from one information to another.

  • Questions

Questions are often some of the best topic sentences. This topic sentence approach comes as a single question or a pair of questions. In the first case, the first topic sentence asks a question, while the second paragraph or section answers it. In the second, there are several questions asked one after the next one.

Questions come in a form of inquiry, which has to be followed by an answer. If you wish to craft a good essay, you should try being forward when answering the question you ask in your topic sentence.

  • Pivots

Most of the sentences we described appear at the beginning of the paragraph, but this does not necessarily need to be the case. Sometimes, topic sentences appear in the middle. They do so with the purpose of introducing a change of direction in the paragraph, also referred to as ‘pivot’.

This last strategy is most commonly used when the paragraph introduces evidence that is opposing to introduced information. The beginning of the paragraph states a fact or introduces a particular point, while the second part reverses this fact and establishes a different claim from the one introduced in the beginning. So, generally, pivots are used to make a transition from one claim to another.

You can easily notice a pivot approach in topic sentences because they always require a signal of transition. Such signals come in the form of longer sentence or phrase; or words like ‘yet’, ‘however’ and ‘but’.

Additionally, pivots come in the form of more sentences if you want to state the change in the claim.



Signposts are topic sentences that change the argument’s direction, which is presented by the topic sentences. In this way, the readers are able to justify the claims and information presented in the essay and see the arguments that are being made.

Signposts have several characteristics and purposes, including:

  • Clarifying the background of the argument
  • Giving additional information about the writing plot
  • Reminding the readers of the essay’s purpose
  • Defining the purpose so that the readers can better understand it
  • Functioning as whole section topic sentences in the essay
  • Comprising of a stretch of single sentence or two sentences
  • Comprising of sentences that point to a transition in the particular section
  • Informing the reader of a change in arguments
  • Explaining the differences
  • Introducing the transition of claims and arguments

Signposting is something that is often accomplished in a single sentence or two.

Signposting, in most cases, is done at the beginning of a paragraph, but can also be seen as a transition piece in a whole paragraph. When it is seen as a transition piece, the purpose of signposting is to transfer the reader from one argument part to another.

In a signpost, the writer’s job is to remind the readers of what happened, what is the aim of the essay and what is about to be introduced in the topic sentence of the particular paragraph or section.

Prescriptive essay grammar finds topic sentences and signposts to be a crucial part of the essay writing process. These are somewhat minor intricacies that do not need special attention at the beginning or the ending of the essay writing process but can assist the writer to define and structure the essay. By doing so, the essay writer can make sure that the readers understand what is being said.

Topic sentences and signposts allow the writers to be aware of the strength of their essay’s arguments. Additionally, it points the right direction to the reader. This in result leads to an amazing connection between the two sides of the writing process – the writer of the essay and its reader.

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