Finding the Topic

What is the Topic?

One way to find the topic in a reading selection is to see whether one word is repeated in the paragraph. As you count, it is important to consider whether the author is using any synonyms for a word that might be the topic. A synonym is a word that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. For example, “quick” and “fast” are synonyms. Let’s find the topic in the paragraph below.

Diamonds are said to be a girl’s best friend. In fact, these beautiful sparkling stones may be a jeweler’s best friend. In the United States it is customary for the male to give the female a diamond ring as a sign of engagement. These beautiful stones are often quite expensive.

What word is repeated the most in this paragraph, including any synonyms? The answer to this question leads you to the topic, which is diamonds. In this paragraph, the author uses synonyms to refer to the topic. The author’s four references to the topic are:

  1. diamonds
  2. sparkling stones
  3. diamond
  4. beautiful stones

All of these words refer to the topic of diamonds. It is important to remember that the topic may appear more times in a paragraph when the writer uses synonyms.

The topic sometimes requires a few words to identify. What is the topic in the paragraph below?

Adelie penguins are adorable. These are the penguins that are shown in most pictures of penguins. Adelies look like little bowling pins wearing tuxedos. They live in large groups in the south polar regions. At times they can be very funny. It is often enjoyable to watch them as they swim or slide in the snow on their bellies.

The topic is Adelie penguins. The single word “penguins” is too broad, because the author isn’t writing about all different kinds of penguins. The author is only writing about Adelie penguins.

Excerpted from:

Study Skills: A Landmark School Student Guide
(out of print)
by Diane Vener
© 2002 Landmark School, Inc.

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