Introductions? Here are some truths about
introductions that I have found while wending my way through weighty tomes regarding
- If readers don't understand what the writer is up to, they won't be much interested.
- An essay begins well when interest and clarity cooperate, each nourishing the other.
- In general, the beginning should offer clues not only to the subject of the essay, but
also to the way it is to be treated, and the opening sentences should set the tone of the
- Both the writer and reader must have a sense that the starting point is a logical or
- A good beginning arouses expectations that the body of the essay satisfies.
A good introduction, generally speaking,
does two things: it "Defines" for the reader what the essay (or other written
work) is going to address; it "Divides" the topic of the essay into the parts to
be "Discussed." Naturally, there are a great variety of ways to accomplish these
two tasks, and they may require writers to use more than a simple "one
paragraph" introduction. But the point is that a good introduction leaves readers
with a good idea of what the essay is all about and how the writer intends to
"attack" his topic.
And now to address the question, "How
long do it hafta bee?" My typical response, of course, is, "It hasta bee long
enuf ta do a gud job!" Generally speaking, most student introductions are from three
to five sentences in length, depending on what the topic is and how the student wishes to
address said topic. But remember, length is not all that important. What is important in a
good introduction is establishing what the paper is about and how the writer is going to
discuss his topic.
So, is this O.K.: "This essay will be
about..." And the answer is, "Yes. As long as you're a junior high school
student." Good writers, mature writers, use more sophisticated means of beginning an
essay. Try to avoid the junior high school opening if you can. Here are two of my favorite
First, Somerset Maugham in his essay
"Three Aims for Writers":
"I knew that I should never
write as well as I could wish, but I thought with pains I could arrive at writing as well
as my natural defects allowed. On taking thought it seemed to me that I must aim at
lucidity, simplicity, and euphony. I have put these three qualities in the order of the
importance I assigned to them."
In one "fell swoop" (by the way,
avoid cliches), Mr. Maugham has identified for us that he will be talking about writing,
and he also lets us know that he will specifically address lucidity, simplicity, and
euphony--in that order. Wonderfully done!
Second, here is the introduction of an
essay which appears in its entirety elsewhere in this
OWL. The title of the essay is "The Three Africas":
"When many people hear the word
Africa, they picture steaming jungles and gorillas. Hollywood films have shrunk the public
image of this immense, varied continent into a small segment of its actual diversity. To
have a more accurate picture of the whole continent, however, one should remember that
there are, roughly, three Africas, each with its distinct climate and terrain and with a
style of life suited to the environment. The continent can be divided into the northern
desert areas, the southeastern grasslands, and the tropical jungles to the
Clearly, this essay will be about Africa,
and the writer has given us the geographical locations she will discuss. Define and
Divide. Now all that's left to do is write a conclusion which Drives home the main point
or points of the essay.
The Four D's
- Drive Home
Strategies for Writing a Conclusion
Conclusions are often the most difficult part of an essay to write, and many writers feel that they have nothing left to say after having written the paper. A writer needs to keep in mind that the conclusion is often what a reader remembers best. Your conclusion should be the best part of your paper.
A conclusion should
- stress the importance of the thesis statement,
- give the essay a sense of completeness, and
- leave a final impression on the reader.
- Answer the question "So What?"
Show your readers why this paper was important. Show them that your paper
was meaningful and useful.
- Synthesize, don't summarize
- Don't simply repeat things that were in your paper. They have read it.
Show them how the points you made and the support and examples you used
were not random, but fit together.
- Redirect your readers
- Give your reader something to think about, perhaps a way to use your
paper in the "real" world. If your introduction went from general to specific,
make your conclusion go from specific to general. Think globally.
- Create a new meaning
- You don't have to give new information to create a new meaning. By demonstrating how your ideas work together, you can create a new picture. Often the sum of the paper is worth more than its parts.
- Echoing the introduction: Echoing your introduction can
be a good strategy if it is meant to bring the reader full-circle. If you
begin by describing a scenario, you can end with the same scenario as proof
that your essay was helpful in creating a new understanding.
From the parking lot, I could see the towers of the castle of the Magic
Kingdom standing stately against the blue sky. To the right, the tall peak
of The Matterhorn rose even higher. From the left, I could hear the jungle
sounds of Adventureland. As I entered the gate, Main Street stretched before
me with its quaint shops evoking an old-fashioned small town so charming
it could never have existed. I was entranced. Disneyland may have been built
for children, but it brings out the child in adults.
I thought I would spend a few hours at Disneyland, but here I was at 1:00
A.M., closing time, leaving the front gates with the now dark towers of
the Magic Kingdom behind me. I could see tired children, toddling along
and struggling to keep their eyes open as best they could. Others slept
in their parents' arms as we waited for the parking lot tram that would
take us to our cars. My forty-year-old feet ached, and I felt a bit sad
to think that in a couple of days I would be leaving California, my vacation
over, to go back to my desk. But then I smiled to think that for at least
a day I felt ten years old again.
- Challenging the reader: By issuing a challenge to your
readers, you are helping them to redirect the information in the paper, and
they may apply it to their own lives.
Though serving on a jury is not only a civic responsibility but also
an interesting experience, many people still view jury duty as a chore
that interrupts their jobs and the routine of their daily lives. However,
juries are part of America's attempt to be a free and just society. Thus,
jury duty challenges us to be interested and responsible citizens.
- Looking to the future: Looking to the future can emphasize
the importance of your paper or redirect the readers' thought process. It
may help them apply the new information to their lives or see things more
Without well-qualified teachers, schools are little more than buildings
and equipment. If higher-paying careers continue to attract the best and
the brightest students, there will not only be a shortage of teachers,
but the teachers available may not have the best qualifications. Our youth
will suffer. And when youth suffers, the future suffers.
- Posing questions: Posing questions, either to your readers
or in general, may help your readers gain a new perspective on the topic,
which they may not have held before reading your conclusion. It may also bring
your main ideas together to create a new meaning.
Campaign advertisements should help us understand the candidate's qualifications
and positions on the issues. Instead, most tell us what a boob or knave
the opposing candidate is, or they present general images of the candidate
as a family person or God-fearing American. Do such advertisements contribute
to creating an informed electorate or a people who choose political leaders
the same way they choose soft drinks and soap?
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