Types Of Essay Introductions And Conclusions

© Damen, 2002

24. Introduction and Conclusion.

These represent the most serious omission students regularly make. Every essay or paper designed to be persuasive needs a paragraph at the very outset introducing both the subject at hand and the thesis which is being advanced. It also needs a final paragraph summarizing what's been said and driving the author's argument home.

These are not arbitrary requirements. Introductions and conclusions are crucial in persuasive writing. They put the facts to be cited into a coherent structure and give them meaning. Even more important, they make the argument readily accessible to readers and remind them of that purpose from start to end.

Think of it this way. As the writer of an essay, you're essentially a lawyer arguing in behalf of a client (your thesis) before a judge (the reader) who will decide the case (agree or disagree with you). So, begin as a lawyer would, by laying out the facts to the judge in the way you think it will help your client best. Like lawyers in court, you should make an "opening statement," in this case, an introduction. Then review the facts of the case in detail just as lawyers question witnesses and submit evidence during a trial. This process of presentation and cross-examination is equivalent to the "body" of your essay. Finally, end with a "closing statement"—that is, the conclusion of your essay—arguing as strongly as possible in favor of your client's case, namely, your theme.

Likewise, there are several things your paper is not. It's not a murder mystery, for instance, full of surprising plot twists or unexpected revelations. Those really don't go over well in this arena. Instead, lay everything out ahead of time so the reader can follow your argument easily. Nor is a history paper an action movie with exciting chases down dark corridors where the reader has no idea how things are going to end. In academic writing it's best to tell the reader from the outset what your conclusion will be. This, too, makes your argument easier to follow. Finally, it's not a love letter. Lush sentiment and starry-eyed praise don't work well here. They make it look like your emotions are in control, not your intellect, and that will do you little good in this enterprise where facts, not dreams, rule.

All in all, persuasive writing grips the reader though its clarity and the force with which the data bring home the thesis. The point is to give your readers no choice but to adopt your way of seeing things, to lay out your theme so strongly they have to agree with you. That means you must be clear, forthright and logical. That's the way good lawyers win their cases.


A. How to Write an Introduction.
The introduction of a persuasive essay or paper must be substantial. Having finished it, the reader ought to have a very clear idea of the author's purpose in writing. To wit, after reading the introduction, I tend to stop and ask myself where I think the rest of the paper is headed, what the individual paragraphs in its body will address and what the general nature of the conclusion will be. If I'm right, it's because the introduction has laid out in clear and detailed fashion the theme and the general facts which the author will use to support it.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. The following is an introduction of what turned out to be a well-written paper, but the introduction was severely lacking:

The role of women has changed over the centuries, and it has also differed from civilization to civilization. Some societies have treated women much like property, while others have allowed women to have great influence and power.

Not a bad introduction really, but rather scant. I have no idea, for instance, which societies will be discussed or what the theme of the paper will be. That is, while I can see what the general topic is, I still don't know the way the writer will draw the facts together, or even really what the paper is arguing in favor of.

As it turned out, the author of this paper discussed women in ancient Egypt, classical Greece, medieval France and early Islamic civilization and stressed their variable treatment in these societies. This writer also focused on the political, social and economic roles women have played in Western cultures and the various ways they have found to assert themselves and circumvent opposition based on gender.

Given that, I would rewrite the introduction this way:

The role of women <in Western society> has changed <dramatically> over the centuries, <from the repression of ancient Greece to the relative freedom of women living in Medieval France. The treatment of women> has also differed from civilization to civilization <even at the same period in history>. Some societies <such as Islamic ones> have treated women much like property, while others <like ancient Egypt> have allowed women to have great influence and power. <This paper will trace the development of women's rights and powers from ancient Egypt to late medieval France and explore their changing political, social and economic situation through time. All the various means women have used to assert themselves show the different ways they have fought against repression and established themselves in authority.>

Now it is clear which societies will be discussed (Egypt, Greece, France, Islam) and what the general theme of the paper will be (the variable paths to empowerment women have found over time). Now I know where this paper is going and what it's really about.


B. How to Write a Conclusion.
In much the same way that the introduction lays out the thesis for the reader, the conclusion of the paper should reiterate the main points—it should never introduce new ideas or things not discussed in the body of the paper!—and bring the argument home. The force with which you express the theme here is especially important, because if you're ever going to convince the reader that your thesis has merit, it will be in the conclusion. In other words, just as lawyers win their cases in the closing argument, this is the point where you'll persuade others to adopt your thesis.

If the theme is clear and makes sense, the conclusion ought to be very easy to write. Simply begin by restating the theme, then review the facts you cited in the body of the paper in support of your ideas—and it's advisable to rehearse them in some detail—and end with a final reiteration of the theme. Try, however, not to repeat the exact language you used elsewhere in the paper, especially the introduction, or it will look like you haven't explored all aspects of the situation (see above, #7).

All in all, remember these are the last words your reader will hear from you before passing judgment on your argument. Make them as focused and forceful as possible.

 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

PURPOSES OF INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPHS

1. To get the reader's attention

2. To establish the tone (serious, humorous, etc.)

3. To establish the subject and its limitations

4. To indicate the organization

5. To state a restricted, unified, precise thesis

For introductions to be effective they must be relevant, informative, coherent, and interesting. Remember it forms a reader's first impression of you, the writer. A good introduction can pique a reader's desire to read further. A poor introduction can turn a reader away or can lower enthusiasm and interest. At least two essential points should be covered in an introduction:

1. the titles and authors of the literary work(s) being considered.

2. the thesis or direction the essay will take in discussing the literary work(s).

Here are some fundamental approaches for writing introductory paragraphs:

1. MOVE FROM LIFE EXPERIENCE TO LITERARY EXPERIENCE.

Very often what interests us in a short story, a poem, or a play is how true or real the literary work seems (mimetic criticism). We can picture any number of situations in real life which are similar to those we read about in literature. Recognizing this similarity, many writers start their essays by discussing life situations which are comparable to the literary situation, moving from the more general human experience to the experience presented in the novel, poem, or play. Such a beginning is especially useful in essays on characterization, although it may also be used when looking at other literary elements as well.

Sometimes you will come upon a work of literature very unlike anything to real life (e.g., E. T. A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman"). In this case, you can show how unlike a literary work can be from common experience, using difference and contrast as opposed to comparison and similarity

2. FROM GENERAL IDEA TO AUTHOR'S VIEW

Many works of literature investigate human experience from a metaphysical perspective, notably from a philosophical stance. Concepts of time, chance, fate, good, evil, the meaning of life, the reality of death have all been subjects for literary artists. Before dwelling on a particular author's views about death or time, a writer may decide to discuss such concepts more generally in the introduction. If you wish to begin an essay in this way, you must first identify a prominent idea in the work that will be the focus of your thesis. Then you step back from the particular literary work and consider where the author's views fits into a range of opinions on the subject. Introductions which begin by discussing ideas are frequently useful in essays focusing on the theme of a literary work, though such an introduction certainly has other applications.


3. BEGINNING WITH AN OVERVIEW

Give an overview of the work, or a brief account of relevant and important details. This method is especially useful when you find these are aspects of the work that are related to your topic but which will not be discussed in detail in your essay. You should not narrate those elements of the plot which will be prominent in you later discussion of the work. Your purpose in such an introduction is to give a broad view of the play, or poem before narrowing to a thesis. An introduction of this kind places a narrow thesis within a broader context.



4. MOVE FROM GENERAL (OLD) INFORMATION TO NEW (ADAPTED FROM PURDUE UNIVERSITY)

  • Introduce your readers to the "big picture" first by giving them information they already know. Then they can link what's familiar to new information you give them. As that new information becomes familiar, it too becomes old information that can link to newer information.

    The following is an example of a sentence that uses old information to lead to new information. As a result, it is rather clear and understandable

  • Every semester, after final exams are over, I'm faced with the problem (old information) of what to do with books of lecture notes (new information). They (old) might be useful some day, but they just keep piling up on my bookcase (new). Someday, it (old) will collapse under the weight of information I might never need.

5. BEGINNING WITH A QUOTATION

Sometimes writers find that beginning an essay with an appropriate quotation is an interesting way to open a literary discussion. The quotation, of course, should be well chosen. It should be important, pertinent to the subject of the paper, and well integrated into the rest of the introduction. The usual place for quotations which serve as evidence for an assertion is in the body of a literary essay, not in the introduction. The type of quotation you are looking for here is one that will make an interesting, informative, and appropriate opener. Remember that you must also explain the quotation and tie to your thesis.


6. BEGINNING WITH A DEFINITION

Sometimes the main point of an essay about literature will involve a term that is not common knowledge or that is used in a particular sense and, therefore, needs to be explained. The introduction is the perfect place to define vague or unusual terms to insure that the reader and the writer have the same meaning in mind when the writer discusses the literary work. However, there is no need to explain common literary terms, such as simile, metaphor, setting, character, tone unless you can subtly work this definition into your thesis. As in a standard definition essay, describe what it is, explain the term to show how it differs of other types of its class, and what it is not.


7. BEGINNING WITH BACKGROUND ABOUT THE AUTHOR OR THE WORK

Another possible way of beginning is to mention details about the author's life or the story's background which may be relevant to the focus of your essay (genetic criticism). For an introduction of this type you will have to do a little research into background material. Be careful here about using unwarranted connections between an author's life and his work or drawing conclusions about his intentions.


8. BEGINNING WITH THE LITERARY HISTORY OR TRADITION OF THE WORK

A good way to introduce a study of a work of literature is to show how it fits into a particular literary tradition. Just as authors draw on previous literature in their works, so too can you discuss a work intertextually. Often more modern works can be examined as revisions or adaptations of earlier works, of only echoing a previous one.


9. BEGINNING WITH A DISCUSSION OF A LITERARY TECHNIQUE

Some writers introduce their discussions of character, setting, point of view, or imagery by exploring the general uses authors make of a particular literary element and then considering the way an author uses the same literary element in the specific work being discussed. This kind of introduction is particularly helpful when an author employs a technique in an unusual way.


10. BEGINNING WITH A CRITICAL STANCE

As you continue studying literature, you will notice how critics take a number of different approaches when interpreting a work. For example, some will look at literature psychologically; feminists look at literature as an illumination of the female condition, past and present; Marxists will look at the economic and social values exhibited by a work. In most of your literature classes, however, you will probably be looking at works as highly crafted with identifiable parts which contribute to the whole.



METHODS FOR WRITING A GOOD CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH

A good conclusion is your last chance to convince your reader.


1. Restate both the thesis and the essay's major points

2. An evaluation of the importance of the essay's subject

3. A statement of the essay's broader implications

4. A call to action

5. A prophecy or warning based on the essay's thesis

6. A witticism that emphasizes or sums up the point of the essay

7. A quotation, story, or joke that emphasizes or sums up

8. An image or description that lends finality to the essay

9. A rhetorical question that makes readers think about the essay's main point

10. An emphatic summary of the essay's thesis, stated in fresh terms

AVOID TRITE EXPRESSIONS. Don't begin your conclusions by declaring, "in conclusion," "in summary," or "as you can see, this essay proves my thesis that. . . ."

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