Introductions and Conclusions
By Helen Porter
The purpose of a strong introduction is to get the readersâ€™ interest by posing a problem or an issue in sufficient detail. The use of descriptive narratives, a very short story, can capture the readersâ€™ curiosity. Definitions and clear explanations of essential information assures your credibility and helps the reader feel confident of his or her ability to understand the topic. You might try exploring the historical context of the topic, or show how the topic might affect the readersâ€™ world. Good introductions create a sense of controversy; the reader senses tension and will want to seek resolution by reading the rest of the essay. Your thesis, because it is arguable by definition, will establish the direction of the whole essay. Your reader will feel secure as he or she jumps in the body. Clearly, the crucial element of a good introduction is AUDIENCE AWARENESS. Get their attention, give them necessary background information, and state your purpose and point of view in the form of a clear thesis.
In an academic essay, there are four important features of an introduction which may be addressed
- Attention-getter — The writer can use startling facts, statistics, or incidents to arouse interest. Another tactic is the use of a personal narrative so that the issue becomes concrete. Any attention getting method ensures that the readersâ€™ curiosity is stimulated because the writer has demonstrated that the topic/problem/issue is critical.
- Adequate background information — Since strong topics are complex, the reader needs to understand all the intricacies. Assume that the reader is not familiar with the history and relevant facts which influence the issue. Be specific. What is the issue exactly? Why is it important to understand?
- Controversy — In order for a topic, even a purely informative one, to be interesting, there must be some opposition to the status quo. The introduction should include the oppositionâ€™s arguments. Use charity; describe their strongest arguments. In doing so, you will create the tension so necessary for an assertive thesis.
- Thesis — The thesis makes your claim clearly. Your position on the issue is stated directly, often in the last sentence of the introduction. Remember, there must be a transition between the oppositionâ€™s point of view and your thesis. Words like however, but, nevertheless, and in spite of indicate that your position is in disagreement with others. Or your thesis may be posed as a question which will be addressed in the body of the essay.
The end of the essay is important because it will be the last part a reader reads; it should be memorable. There are five concluding strategies which will work in almost any academic writing assignment. Remember that in a short (less than a thousand word) essay, a simpler summary of your thesis and your reasons will not only bore the reader, it may insult their intelligence. Always remember the key to a strong conclusion: AUDIENCE AWARENESS.
- Summary — In many instances, a summary is necessary to review complex ideas or reintroduce the thesis. A bit of summary may be appropriate in a shorter essay to focus the reader’s attention on the issue. But do not rely on a simple summary of your arguments to be a strong conclusion.
- Web — This type of conclusion is the most common and can be very convincing because the topic is put in the context of larger and more significant issues. Ask yourself, “Why is this topic important?” or “What other issues does this issue remind me of?” Relate your topic to other relevant topics which it may resemble. For example, if you are arguing against the cultural genocide in Tibet, you might demonstrate that this problem mirrors other human rights issues all over the world. But be careful you don’t introduce new, misleading information; however, you can slip in those more abstract arguments that were difficult to argue logically in your preceding paragraphs.
- Proposal — A writer can suggest a specific course of action which may solve a problem inherent in the issue. By suggesting a solution to the problem, the writer demonstrates his or her commitment to the subject matter. Many conclusions call for further study or social and political action.
- Anecdote — A strong writer can conclude with a relevant story to illustrate the significance of the issue. But this strategy is tricky because the essay may lose its focus if the story isn’t directly related to the thesis and the rest of the essay.
- Hook and Return — This strategy may use anecdote also, but the narrative story is directly related to the introduction’s initial attention-getter. The writer could continue the personal narrative in the introduction to illustrate the issue’s importance. Or the writer could adopt a different point of view than is expressed in the introduction in order to better explain the implications of the issue. Any time a writer refers back to the introductory strategy in the conclusion, it is a hook and return ending.
About the author: Helen Hadley Porter is the director of the Montana State University Writing Center.