The topic of a passage may be phrased in different ways:
The main topic of the passage
The subject of
The primary topic of
The main theme in
The passage deals with
is mainly about
Is primarily concerned with
Exercise 1.1. Read the following passages. Point out the word or words that give the “topic” of each passage. If the topic is implied, then write the topic the way you see it, giving the suggestive phrases.
“Gilbert and Sullivan are best known for a series of operas which they collaborated on. Gilbert’s humorous plots and paradoxes combined with Sullivan’s music have made their operas unforgettable. Written in the 19th century, those operas maintain heir popularity today.”
You should point out “Gilbert and Sullivan” and “operas” because the passage is mainly about the operas that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote. As the topic is stated rather than implied, you don’t need to write anything yourself.
1. The Japanese macaque is an endangered monkey. It inhabits an area farther north than any other primate except for humans. The Japanese call this animal the snow monkey because it can be found in the snowy regions of Japan. Ironically, some troops of macaques have been relocated in Texas to ensure their survival.
2. Originally, robots were found only in science movies and books. Today, they have become science fact as technology has turned them into a feasible means of increasing productivity. The robot industries may still be in their infancy, but their products are no longer being ridiculed as an impossibility.
3. By nine ‘clock in the morning, the streets are lined with people. Somewhere in the distance, a band is heard playing a marching song. Shopkeepers are locking their doors and joining the crowds. Everyone is craning their necks to see how long it will be before the first float reaches them.
4. Parsley, a good source of iron and vitamins A, C, and E, is a common herb of the Mediterranean are. The ancient Greeks considered it sacred and therefore did not eat it. The Romans served it as a garnish and to improve the taste of food.
5. For thousands of years, desert dwellers have sheltered themselves in extremely functional building of one of the most readily available, dependable, and inexpensive materials we know of. This ideal insulator, which absorbs heat during the day and slowly releases it at night, is mud.
6. Before the World War II, Hay-on-Wye was a bustling little market town on the border of Wales and England. However, it became a dying town when Welsh agriculture declined, forcing many farmers off their land and to factory jobs in England. Today, Hay is flourishing again because of a flamboyant gentleman who has turned the town into the world'’ largest secondhand bookstore.
7. The Queens Children’s Psychiatric Centre on the eastern outskirts of New York is recruiting elderly men and women to work as foster grandparents for the children in the hospital. Even though these grandparents have no experience or training in dealing with emotionally disturbed children, they have lots of experience in being parents. It has been found that both foster grandparents and foster grandchildren benefit immensely from this relationship.
8. The koto is a traditional Japanese instrument originating in China. It is made by stretching 13 strings of tightly coiled silk over an arched body of paulownia wood. The player plucks the string to make the gentle zither-like tones.
9. Parents are allowed at the starting gate only for the 6-and-under and the 5-and-under classes. Most of the bicycle racers in the 17-and-over expert classes have sponsors. Some of the racers even have an income.
10. Human beings are capable of thinking in two basic ways. Convergent thinking neatly and systematically tend toward an answer. Divergent thinking tends away from a center, perhaps in several directions at once, seeking avenues of inquiry rather than a particular destination. Scientists, on the whole, engage in convergent thinking, but it is divergent thinking that breaks with the past and leads to unpredictable conclusions.
Selecting a Topic Sentence
Exercise 1.2.In the following passages, only the supporting themes are given. The passages are followed by three possible topic sentences. Choose the letter of the sentence that would best introduce the passage.
In Greek and Roman times, the cavalry was comprised of members of noble families. This distinction continued up to the Middle ages. After the invention of gunpowder, this branch of the military service underwent great changes. With the development of heavy artillery and air forces, this service has almost disappeared.
a) The cavalry has been displaced by armored regiments.
b) Cavalry regiments still retain a mounted squadron for ceremonial duties.
c)The cavalry is the part of an army consisting of troops that serve on horseback. Ö
Both a) and b) discuss the cavalry situation today. However, the passage discusses the cavalry from Greek and Roman times until today. Therefore, you should choose c) because it introduces the topic – cavalry – by giving an explanation of what a cavalry is.
1. There appear to be tracks of young dinosaurs near tracks of older ones in the area. These dinosaur tracks are in sequences of eight to ten paces. They enable scientists to calculate the animals’ weight, stride, and speed.
a) Important dinosaur tracks have been found in areas that were near ancient seas.
b) Some recently discovered tracks are giving important information about dinosaurs.
c) Dinosaurs may weigh as much as 10,000 pounds and be 23 feet tall.
2. This spider, named Micromygale debliemma, has only two eyes, where most spiders have six or eight. Unlike most spiders, it does not have lunges but instead absorbs oxygen through its skin. Just three one-hundredths of an inch long, Micromygale is one of the world’s smallest spider.
a) Scientists have discovered a spider which is remarkably different from any other known spiders.
b) Scientists have discovered a spider which is the size of the head of a pin.
c) Scientists have discovered a spider which inhabits the coastal forested regions of Panama.
3. trees can defend themselves against devouring insects by undergoing changes in the nutritional quality of their leaves. The leaves of nearby trees undergo the same changes in nutritional quality as do those attacked. It is hypothesized that trees emit chemical substances that transmit information to other trees concerning the attack.
a) Scientists believe that the nutritional quality of leaves causes chemical substances to transmit information.
b) Scientists believe that studies in tree communication could affect pest control programs.
c) Scientists believe hat trees attacked by insects may communicate information to neighboring trees, which act accordingly.
4. Satellites routinely relay pictures of desert areas on Earth, from which it can be determined where locusts are likely to breed. A single swarm of locusts can devour 80,000 tons of corn a day – sustenance for half a million people for one year. With information on locusts’ areas, agriculture officials can use pesticides to kill the locusts before they become a menace.
a) Aerial pictures transmitted from satellites will be used to dramatically curtail infestations by locusts.
b) Scientists have found that images from satellites reveal regions about to be infested by locusts.
c) Locusts must be eradicated before they strike and cause thousands of people to starve.
5. Scientists used to believe that animals startled predators into loosening their grip. However, now some researchers have concluded that the piercing, far-reaching screams of animals caught by predators are not warning to kin or cries for help. Recent studies indicate that these screams may be to attracts other predators, which will give the prey a chance to escape during the ensuing struggle between predators.
a) Animal screams attract buzzards, hawks, foxes, feral cats, and other predators.
b) Researchers broadcasted the fear screams other European starling from a concealed loudspeaker.
c) New research in animal behaviour has come to surprising conclusions about animal screams.
6. It has an enameled surface decorated with elaborate designs, the outlines of which are formed by small bands of metal. The Byzantines excelled in making this kind of pottery. However, in the 20th century, Japan and China have led in the production of cloisonné.
a) Cloisonné is a kind of fine pottery.
b) Pottery is fired in a kiln.
c) Fine pottery is made with particular kind of clay.
7. Immunization can significantly reduce the microorganisms thought to cause cavities. The Federal Drug Administration needs to approve the vaccine before it can be sold to the public. Consequently, the vaccine will have to undergo a three-year trial period.
a) A new cavity-preventing vaccine may soon be on the market.
b) Vaccines given to animals can reduce tooth decay by 50 to 60 percent.
c) The national caries Program of the National Institute of Dental Research does research on immunizations.
8. Cirrus clouds are thin and delicate, whereas cumulus clouds looks like cotton balls. Nimbus clouds are dark and ragged, and stratus clouds appear dull in colour and cover the entire sky.
a) A stratus cloud on the ground is called fog.
b) There are four basic cloud types; cirrus, cumulus, nimbus, and stratus.
c) It is possible to predict the weather by studying clouds.
9. For example, King William the first, better known as William the Conqueror, was the first Norman king of England. Perhaps the most famous English writer of all times was William Shakespeare. And who can forget the American her of the West, Buffalo Bill (William) Cody?
a) One of the most common boys’ names in English is “William”.
b) “William” is not only a popular name today but was also the name of many famous people in the past.
c) If your name is William, you have the same name as many other people.
10. Straw, which can absorb up o four times its weight in oil, can be thrown on the spill and then be burned. Oil can be broken up and sunk by either sand, talcum powder, or chalk. Under experimentation, some chemicals have been shown to disperse the spill into droplets, which microbes can then destroy.
a) There are many ways in which oil spills in the sea can be dealt with.
b) Contamination of the sea by oil spills is a critical problem.
c) Wind and wave action can carry oil spills a great distance across the sea.
Checking the Topic
Exercise 1.3. Each of the following passages is followed by a sentence that states a topic. If the stated topic is correct, go to the next passage. If it’s not correct, write the topic.
The Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood was a school of artists formed about 1848. The Pre-Raphaelites’ ideal was absolute fidelity to nature. For a time this school of thought greatly influenced art developments throughout Europe. However, within a decade the movement had disbanded.
The main topic of the passage is “the disbanding of the pre-Raphaelite movement.”
As the main topic of the passage is not the disbanding of the pre-Raphaelite movement, you should write the topic “the pre-Raphaelite movement” only.
1. The Aztecs of Mexico were probably the first people to domesticate the turkey. After Hermán Cortés conqured Mexico in 1521, he returned to Spain with specimens of the large bird. Its popularity spread throughout Europe. Later, domestic turkeys returned to the Western Hemisphere when the Pilgrims brought them from England.
The main topic of this passage is “the Aztecs of Mexico.”
2. When the meteor collides with the Earth’s atmosphere, the resulting Friction causes the meteor to heat up and partially vaporize. Its entrance is seen as a brief flash of light and a luminous vapor trail that lasts for a few seconds. A meteor that reaches the Earth’s surface is called a meteorite. Meteorites are extremely valuable to scientists because they are samples of actual cosmic material.
The main topic of this passage is “ the vaporization of a meteor.”
3. Because winning or losing a race in skiing can be a matter of a hundredth of e second, skiing equipment has undergone many changes. Even clothing has changed as skiers search for ways to increase speed. Now they wear on-piece suits that cling to their bodies in order to reduce wind resistance. Nothing is worn under these tight-fitting suits as anything extra may mean the loss of an important millisecond.
The main topic of this passage is “the changes in skiing equipment.”
4. Addiction to cigarette smoking is basically an addiction to nicotine. Those who are attempting to overcome their addiction to nicotine have found the most common cures ineffective. Switching to low-nicotine cigarettes simply causes problem smokers to smoke more. Zero-nicotine cigarettes are usually rejected because they don’t satisfy the smoker’s need for nicotine perhaps the most effective aid for those who want to stop smoking is chewing a recently developed gum which contains nicotine.
The main topic of this passage is “how smokers become addicted to nicotine.”
5. Rice is the only major grain crop that is grown almost exclusively as human food. There have been a series of remarkable genetic advances that have made it possible to cultivate high-yield varieties hat are resistant to disease and insect pests. Because rice constitutes half the diet of 1.6 billion people, and another 400 million people rely on it for between one-fourth and one-half of their diet, these advances have deterred disasters which otherwise would have left millions of people severely underfed.
This passage is mainly about world disasters.
6. While living in Germany with her family, Caroline Herschel was not allowed to learn anything other than useful household skills such as knitting. However, all this changed in 1772, when her astronomer brother, William, took her to live with him in England. He taught her mathematics, and she began to help him keep a record of his discoveries. The two of them would often stay up until dawn, gazing upward. Eventually, they built up their own telescopes, which were even bigger and better than those at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
This passage is about the life of Caroline Herschel.
7. Christmas Island, discovered by Captain James Cook on Christmas Eve 1777, was once populated by a wide variety of bird species. In recent years, at least 18 species of birds – a total of 17 million birds either left or perished on the island. It is suspected that the cause of the disappearance may be related to a cyclical weather phenomenon in the Pacific that alters wind patterns, salinity, and ocean currents. These conditions have resulted in higher water temperatures which may have killed the fish and squid that the birds live on.
This passage is about Cook’s discovery of Christmas Island.
8. Two-thirds of China’s vast territory is mountainous desert. Every spring, windstorms come raging out of the mountains and cross the great deserts gathering dust. A dense cloud of dust that is hundreds of miles wide forms. It is blown thousands of miles, travelling from the North Pacific to the Gulf of Alaska and from there moving south and then east. As the prevailing winds lose their velocity, dust particles fall from the cloud. It is believed that as much as 10 percent of the soil in Hawaii is composed of the dust particles collected from Chin’s deserts and dispersed in the journey across the Pacific.
This passage is mainly about the soil composition in Hawaii.
9. Initially, underground homes are more expensive to build than conventional houses. In order to avoid a home resembling a dark, dank basement, much care and expense must be put into designing a home with well-placed windows and skylights that ensure brightness and fresh air. Also, expensive sophisticated waterproofing techniques need to be used to keep moisture out. However, in the long term, underground homes save the owner a great deal of money in heating and air conditioning costs. Underground houses require much less energy because the soil temperature is relatively stable and the concrete walls can store the sun’s heat and radiate it into the rooms at night.
The main topic of the passage is “the costs of an underground home”.
10. The potato, which nutritious and tasty, is an important food for millions of people. destruction of the potato crop by pests has resulted in famines. Plant researchers, studying the hundreds of varieties of potatoes, have uncovered a hairy wild variety of potato from Bolivia that emits a strong glue from the end of its hairs. This glue traps and kills insects. A new hairy potato was developed when researchers successfully crossed the common potato with the hairy potato. This new hybrid potato not only reduced aphid populations by 40 to 60 percent, but also emits a substance that checks the population of the Colorado potato beetle, one of the most destructive potato pests. Unfortunately, the hairs also trap beneficial insects. Plant researchers are currently trying to alleviate this problem through limiting the density of the hairs.
This passage is mainly about he developments in the cross breeding of potatoes.