San Jose City College

                         Focus on Controlling Ideas

Select the sentence in each pair below that has a specific topic and a clear controlling idea. Correct answers will be in green. Then click on the picture to get explanation.

1 I admired my father very much.
My father was a hardworking family man.
The first sentence focuses on the writer since the subject is "I." Who is this about? The writer? The father? The second sentence has a well-focused subject (my father) and the controlling idea clearly leads the reader to expect details about the father's hard work and his devotion to his family. When the paragraph is not about you, avoid using the pronoun "I" in your topic sentence.
2 Italy defeated France in the 2006 World cup final.
The 2006 World Cup final was a spectacle of unsportsmanlike behavior.
The first sentence is a fact. It's too narrow to be a topic sentence. The second sentence clearly indicates that the writer will discuss the unsportsmanlike conduct on the part of some of the players, most likely ending with the biggest offense, Zinedine Zidane's head butt of the Italian player with minutes left in the game.
3 Wal-Mart has discovered that it's business formula doesn't fit every culture.
Wal-Mart failed in Germany and South Korea.
In each sentence it's clear that the subject of the paragraph is the retailer Wal-Mart, but the second sentence is a fact. Don't write a fact as a topic sentence. The first sentence gives the reason for its failure and the writer will then explain the cultural mistakes the company made in one or two countries.
4 Having a Grand Prix race on the city streets of San Jose is a bad idea.
There are three reasons why the Grand Prix race on the streets of San Jose
    should be stopped.
The first sentence could be an introductory sentence. The second sentence gives a much stronger opinion (should be stopped) and the sentence directs the reader to expect three reasons why the Grand Prix in San Jose should be stopped.
5 The Grand Prix is good for local merchants who provide goods and services
     for fans.
Local businesses make a lot of money during the Grand Prix.
If the purpose of this paragraph is to present the opposite opinion of the one above, the first sentence is clearly better as it focuses only on those merchants who provide goods and services to participants. "Local businesses" is more general and the sentence doesn't specify how they make money off the Grand Prix.
6 The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center provides valuable services to the
All poor people should have free medical care.
The first sentence has a specific subject (SCVMC). The controlling idea, which expresses a strong opinion, directs the reader to expect information about valuable services that are actually provided for poor people. The second sentence is an example of wishful thinking. It has no clear focus or direction as to how such an idea might be developed in a single paragraph.
7 Cities everywhere have to reduce carbon emissions.
Major cities can reduce carbon emissions in several ways.
The first sentence is simply an opinion and makes the mistake of using the all-inclusive word "everywhere." The second sentence has a manageable subject (Major cities) and lets the reader in on how the topic will be developed.
8 Too many people use cell phones on the freeway and it's dangerous.
Cell phone use while driving on the freeway should be prohibited.
The subject of the first sentence is unfocused. Who does "too many people" refer to? Passengers? Drivers? The second sentence focuses the real subject - cell phone use while driving on the freeway. It also states a strong opinion - should be prohibited. The reader can anticipate reasons for such a prohibition.
9 Depression is a highly treatable and manageable illness.
Everyone feels depressed at different times in life.
The first sentence has a clear subject (depression) and a controlling idea that directs the reader to expect information about methods of treatment to manage the illness. The second sentence begins with the all-inclusive "everyone" and ends with the unnecessary "in life." (Where else would one experience depression?) The sentence is nothing more than a sweeping generalization.
10 Everything costs more these days.
The cost of living is increasing due to the rising cost of housing, energy, and
The first sentence uses an all-inclusive pronoun, which should always be avoided. There is no controlling idea to indicate why costs are increasing. The second sentence has a clear subject. The controlling idea gives reasons for the increase in the cost of living, which signals how the paragraph will unfold.

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