I spend ages hammering into my students that each paragraph should focus on a single idea, and that said single idea should be clearly expressed in a sentence at or near the beginning of the paragraph (pretty much every time I hand back essays, every class, I repeat this). Then the rest of the paragraph should give examples to support that idea. And that paragraphs should be focused on an idea or claim—not a source, not a place, not a time period.
I kept looking for ways to convince them that this formula is a quick path to functional writing and efficient communication even once they are done taking history classes, but all I could come up were letters of recommendation and letters to the editor. I mean, it’s not like I write corporate reports (though I did once help my sister edit one).
Now, however, I would like to enter into evidence this speech from the President-Elect.
You can, just as I suggested my students do to edit their own essays, copy and paste the “topic sentence” of each paragraph and come away with an understanding of what Obama wants us to know—an abstract of the speech, in effect.
Good afternoon. In the next few years, the choices that we make will help determine the kind of country – and world – that we will leave to our children and grandchildren. For over three decades, we’ve listened to a growing chorus of warnings about our energy dependence. This time must be different. As we face this challenge, we can seize boundless opportunities for our people. We must also recognize that the solution to global climate change must be global. The team that I have assembled here today is uniquely suited to meet the great challenges of this defining moment. Dr. Steven Chu is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who has been working at the cutting edge of our nation’s effort to develop new and cleaner forms of energy. For my Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, I have chosen Lisa Jackson. Nancy Sutley will be an integral part of this team as the Chair of my Council on Environmental Quality in the White House. Finally, the scope of the effort before us will demand coordination across the government, and my personal engagement as President. That is why I’m naming Carol Browner to a new post in the White House to coordinate energy and climate policy. Later this week, I will be announcing my designee for Secretary of the Interior, which will fill out my energy and environmental team. Looking ahead, I am confident that we will be ready to begin the journey towards a new energy frontier on January 20th.
Not only is there a clear topic sentence, but it’s the first sentence in each paragraph (not something I require, but the safest way to go). There is only one paragraph where I needed to copy both the first and second sentence.
Admittedly, Obama is not really arguing a single thesis, so I still need a quality real-life example to convince them that the topic sentence also needs to show how the main idea connects to the thesis. The Jackson and Sutley topic sentences are somewhat weak in this way, simply describing fact rather than explaining why these two women make the team strong.
Hmm. I think I need to look for job cover letters…..thesis “I’m perfect for this job.” Each topic sentence “This is why I’m perfect for this job.”