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Help with Introductions and Conclusions

Introductions? Here are some truths about introductions that I have found while wending my way through weighty tomes regarding composition:

  • 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 discussion.
  • Both the writer and reader must have a sense that the starting point is a logical or natural one.
  • 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 introductions.

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 southwest."

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

  1. Define
  2. Divide
  3. Discuss
  4. 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.

Suggestions

  • 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.
Strategies
  • 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.

    Example

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.

    Example

    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 globally.

    Example

    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.

    Example

    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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