Composing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
The beginning and the ending of any piece of writing are the most important parts: your chance to make a "good first impression" and to make sure at the end that the reader takes away the main point you wanted to make.Good Introductions
A good introduction DOES
- present and clarify the thesis focusing attention on the main idea and how you will be developing it throughout the rest of the writing. It shapes your readers' expectations. Think of the introduction as your promise to your readers about what is to follow.
- get the readers' attention. It convinces them that the subject is worth their time and effort and that you're someone who is qualified to write about this subject.
- establish the tone and point of view. The readers know where you are heading and what level of formality will be used to get there.
A good introduction DOES NOT
- call the readers' attention to the fact that it's you who are writing the composition. Avoid the "In this paper, I will..." type of announcement.
- express modesty about your level of expertise. Avoid the "Although I am not an expert.." beginnings.
- consist (generally) of only one sentence.
- assume the readers have knowledge that they don't have. The readers haven't read the assignment directions, don't know the topic you will be writing about, and don't know what you're planning to say about that subject, so don't just throw them into the water and hope they'll swim along.
Some questions to ask yourself as you structure your introduction:
- Can I start by asking a question about the topic and suggest the implications of this question?
- Can I start by describing a typical, representative incident?
- Can I start by presenting the topic and main subtopics?
- Can I start with a provocative statement about the topic?
- Can I start with a quotation that captures the topic?
- Can I start with a personal experience that explains my approach to the topic?
- Can I start with a direct statement of my thesis?
- Can I start with some important statistics, little known facts or other interesting data?
- Can I start with an analogy, a description of something similar?
- Can I start by setting a context that the reader would share and understand?
- Can i start with evidence that my topic has been neglected, misunderstood or misrepresented?
- Can I start with an attack on the opposing point of view?
TIP: If you're having trouble figuring out how to start your essay, begin in the body of the essay and write that part. Write the introduction later. Often the act of writing helps to clarify your ideas, making it easier to know what you want to put in your introduction.
A good conclusion DOES
- give a clear signal that you have made your final point. Conclude, don't just stop on some unimportant detail.
- summarize the main idea while enriching it. Don't just repeat what you've said. Instead, restate and explain the importance of the ideas. Think of a reader saying, "Well, I got to the end, and I understand your points. So what?"The conclusion is your answer to that "so what?"
A good conclusion DOES NOT
- consist (generally) of a one-sentence paragraph.
- use worn-out concluding phrases: To sum up...," "In conclusion, I would like to repeat that..."
- introduce new subjects. Don't take the readers off on another direction, making them wonder what your writing was really about.
- simply repeat, in the same words and in the same order, what you've already said.
Some questions to ask yourself as you structure your conclusion:
- Can I answer a question I posed in my introduction or raised throughout the essay?
- Can I restate or summarize my main point(s), making implications clear?
- Can I give a final example emphasizing the main point?
- Can I give an appropriate quotation summing up my main point?
- Can I make some final judgment or evaluation of the topic?
- Can I draw the readers' attention back to the introduction by repeating a key word or phrase?
- Can I appeal to the readers to take some action?
- Can I add some thoughts on the broader implication of the topic?
- Can I show how what I have said refutes the opposing viewpoint?