Sometimes when we write an essay we forget that we're speaking to someone (a reader). We also forget that the beginning of our essay is technically the first impression that we make on the reader, while the conclusion is our last chance to get the reader's attention. Rather than focusing on writing an essay that is simply "correct" (in terms of grammar, following your assignment requirements, etc.) good writers also consider whether or not they've left a lasting impression on their reader.
Think about it: the movies you've seen and the books you've read, the ones that really stand out in your mind, probably had an intriguing opening and a compelling ending. Your essay topic may not be as exciting as your favorite movie, but that doesn't mean you can't make sure that your ideas stand out in the reader's mind.
If you're not sure how to begin and end your essay, consider using what's often called the "hook" technique. The idea behind this method is that if you hook your audience (get their attention) in the beginning of the essay, they'll want to continue reading so that they can find out how everything will turn out in the end.
For example, to use the hook technique you might begin by saying: Students are often surprised to know that many of their instructors were not high-ranking students in their own graduating classes. In fact, one of the most well-respected Composition instructors here at Madeup University flunked Freshman English not once, but twice!
Then, you might conclude your essay by saying: Any student at Madeup University will tell you that the teachers who once struggled in their subject area are the most helpful. Remember that Composition teacher who flunked Freshman English twice? That was Mrs. Somebody--a popular Composition teacher and well-liked tutor in the Writing Center on campus. The best guides are those who've experienced the struggle themselves; these teachers truly help students climb toward academic success.
Remember, it is not enough to hook your audience in the beginning. You also have lead them on a journey that comes back around in your conclusion. There is no such thing as “next season” in papers- so NO CLIFF HANGERS!
Making the RIGHT Impression
Simply put, your introduction and conclusion are the first a last chance you have to grab your reader. They are crucial in the development of trust, likability and agreement.
Below are some helpful hints to get you on your way towards becoming an impression master!
- Write the body paragraphs before you write the introduction and conclusion
- People often get hung up on how to begin their papers, and this means more time staring at a blank screen getting discouraged. Instead try writing your thesis and your body paragraphs first. Once you have written your body, go back and read over it asking yourself, “What is it I really want to say?” or “How do I want my reader to feel about my topic?”
- Save one or two interesting quotes or insights for your introduction and conclusion
- Be careful here. Quotes are great, but the reader wants to hear what you have to say about the topic. Sometimes it’s better to find a great quote that goes against your position/topic. That way you set yourself up as a real scholar, and you create and interesting “conflict” for your reader from the beginning.
- Catch the reader's attention by beginning with a "hook," then conclude or resolve that concept in your conclusion.
- Remember, readers aren’t going to be interested just because your name is at the top of the paper. The hook is how you show your personality to your audience, and resolving that hook is how you show your intelligence. Like a good person, a good paper should be well- rounded!
- Think about your audience! Demonstrate that you care about their interests, opinions, and ideas in your introduction and conclusion
- No one cares about someone who doesn’t care about them. A carefully thought out introduction shows readers that you as a writer care about their enjoyment and understanding rather than just pontificating ideas.
Introduction and Conclusion Checklists
A good introduction should…
A good conclusion should…
Describe what you plan to write about
Remind the reader of the main ideas that were discussed in the essay
Give the reader some idea of how you plan to discuss or approach your topic
Tie up any loose ends by resolving any unresolved questions, statements, or ideas
Give background information on your topic (when appropriate)
Discuss what can be done about your topic in the future (when appropriate)
Include a clear, concise thesis statement
Offer suggestions on ways that the reader can get involved with your topic/cause (when appropriate)
Establish a connection between the writer and the audience
Try, one last time, to convince the reader to agree with you (when appropriate)
Step 6: Write introduction and conclusion
Introductory and concluding paragraphs function together as the frame around the argument of your essay. Or, using the visual image of book-ends holding the books – the body of your essay – together. It is important to write the introduction and the conclusion in one sitting, so that they match in mirror image to create a complete framework.
The Introductory Paragraph
When you’ve finished writing the middle paragraphs, the body of your essay, and you’re satisfied that the argument or case you’ve presented adequately supports your thesis statement, you’re now ready to write your introduction.
- Introduces the topic of your essay,
- ‘Welcomes’ the reader with a general statement that engages their interest or that they can agree with,
- Sets the scene for the discussion in the body of the essay,
- Builds up to the thesis statement,
- Prepares the reader for the thesis statement and your argument or case, but does not introduce points of argument,
- Concludes with the thesis statement.
In preparing the reader for the thesis statement, there are many approaches in writing an introduction that can be taken. The following are just a few:
- Provide historical background,
- Outline the present situation,
- Define terms,
- State the parameters of the essay,
- Discuss assumptions,
- Present a problem.
The following examples from Model Essays One and Two show how introductory paragraphs are developed.
The first six sentences in this introductory paragraph prepare the reader for the thesis statement in sentence 7 that the three key elements of a successful essay are ‘focus, organisation, and clarity‘
- Sentence 1 makes the generalisation that students ‘find essay writing difficult and frustrating’, and
- Sentences 2 and 3 expand on this generalisation.
- Sentence 4 reinforces the idea of difficulty.
- Sentence 5 turns the paragraph away from the difficulties of essay writing towards a way of addressing the difficulties by breaking the essay into components. (The word ‘however’ signals this change of direction.)
- Sentence 6 suggests that there are three of these components, preparing the way for the thesis statement that ‘focus, organisation, and clarity’ are these components.
Just as the introductory paragraph is written after the argument or case of the middle paragraphs has been written, so the title is written after the essay is completed. In this way, it can signpost what the reader can expect from the essay as a whole.
Note that the thesis statement has been re-worded, picking up the idea from the first sentence that the essay has had a long history in the phrase ‘continues to be‘ and strengthening ‘valid’ to ‘valuable‘.
The first four sentences in this introductory paragraph prepare the reader for the thesis statement in sentence 5 that the essay ‘continues to be a valuable learning and assessment medium’.
- Sentence 1 makes the generalisation that despite the age of the genre, essays are still set as assessment tasks.
- Sentence 2 notes that the genre has changed but some characteristics remain, and;
- Sentence 3 lists some of these characteristics.
- Sentence 4 asserts essay writing is demanding, but the ‘learning dividends are high’, which leads into the thesis statement.
The Concluding Paragraph:
The concluding paragraph completes the frame around the essay’s argument, which was opened in the introductory paragraph.
- Begins by restating the thesis,
- Should be a mirror image of the first paragraph,
- Sums up the essay as a whole,
- Contextualises the argument in a wider scope, but does not introduce new points,
- Leaves the reader with a sense of completion.
The following examples from Model Essays One and Two show how concluding paragraphs are developed.
- Sentence 1 restates the thesis that focus, organisation, and clarity are the key elements of a successful essay. The phrase ‘Clearly then’ implies that, having read the case for focus, organisation, and clarity being identified as the ‘key elements’, the reader agrees with the thesis.
- Sentence 2 acknowledges the importance of the essay’s content but asserts that sound content isn’t enough for success.
- Sentence 3 sums up the points made in the middle three paragraphs.
- Sentence 4 restates the generalisation the essay started with – that students find essay writing difficult – but then ends on a high note with the prediction that addressing the key elements discussed in the middle paragraphs will ensure success.
- Sentence 1 restates the thesis that the essay continues to be a valuable learning and assessment medium.
- Sentences 2 and 3 summarise the main points of the middle three paragraphs.
- Sentence 4 picks up the reference to the age of the essay genre, with which the essay begins, but then affirms the essay’s continuing relevance.
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