By Sentence Topic we do
not mean something like the gist of a sentence, a general idea
that the writer is addressing. And we do not mean by Sentence Topic
whatever might be captured in the title of a document. In that
sense, the "topic" of this handout is something like "writing
clearly and strategically."
Instead, our definition of Sentence Topic is something very different.
The Sentence Topic is the particular word or phrase that begins a
sentence or is somewhere near its beginning:
THIS LETTER should confirm
the arrangement recently made between First National Bank of
Oregon and your firm for meeting certain firm-related borrowing
the partners and, in certain cases, the senior associates.
FNB OF OREGON has agreed, under certain circumstances, to make loans
based on its Small Business Prime Rate.
The Topic of a sentence is usually the same as the subject of a sentence.
The Topic of this next sentence is China:
CHINA is on the verge of
either an industrial explosion that will forever change world
commerce, or a population explosion that will forever change
The sentence is "about" China. The writer
puts forward the concept "China," then says something
about it; the writer predicates something of it.
Sometimes, however, Subjects and Topics are not the same. Consider
In regard to China, we can confidently predict that
it is either on the verge of an industrial explosion that will
forever change. . .
This sentence is about China, but China is not its subject. The
main subject of this sentence is we. But the sentence is not "about" us.
The sentence is "about" China. Now consider this sentence:
can confidently predict that China is either on the verge of an
industrial explosion that will forever change. . .
This sentence could be about "us," given the right context: "You
are really smart. You predict all sorts of things. Tell me something
about yourself. " But on an ordinary reading, the "psychological
subject," or Sentence Topic, is China.
Here's the point: The more sharply and concisely you present the
Topic/Subject of each sentence, the more easily your reader can
read that sentence.
When a writer constructs sentences with long subjects, she gives
her reader complex and difficult Topic/Subjects. And when she puts
at the beginning of her sentences information that doesn't have
much to do with her real topic, she makes it difficult for her
to follow her prose.
Remember these two principles about Sentence Topics:
1. Keep your topics as simple, short, and Old as possible.
2. Make your topic the subject of the sentence as often as possible
OR keep your topic as close to the subject of your sentence as