RiverStudents are often advised to use ‘topic sentences’ at the start of paragraphs, and this method certainly helps organise ideas. It helps build an essay, brick by brick, until it stands up. The downside is that it can make your reader jump from one thought to another — less like bricks and more like stepping stones. For a more advanced approach, try adding what I call a ‘hinge sentence’ before your topic sentence. Suppose one paragraph is about Mustafa’s idea, and the next about Olende’s. A basic hinge sentence might look something like this: ‘Where Mustafa is sceptical, Olende is dismissive.’ Hinges do not have to be single sentences, so you might try something longer: ‘Mustafa, in short, is sceptical. Her approach is influential but Olende goes one step further: he is dismissive of the entire concept.’ So, yes, plan paragraphs with topic sentences, but think about how they connect. Arguments emerge from connections. Your essay should be the river, not someone hopping across it.

James McConnachie
12 December 2019