What this handout is about.
This handout will explain the functions of introductions, offer strategies for creating effective introductions, and provide some examples of less effective introductions to avoid.
The role of introductions
Introductions and conclusions can be the most difficult parts of papers to write. Usually when you sit down to respond to an assignment, you have at least some sense of what you want to say in the body of your paper. You might have chosen a few examples you want to use or have an idea that will help you answer the main question of your assignment; these sections, therefore, may not be as hard to write. And it’s fine to write them first! But in your final draft, these middle parts of the paper can’t just come out of thin air; they need to be introduced and concluded in a way that makes sense to your reader.
Your introduction and conclusion act as bridges that transport your readers from their own lives into the “place” of your analysis. If your readers pick up your paper about education in the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, for example, they need a transition to help them leave behind the world of Chapel Hill, television, e-mail, and The Daily Tar Heel and to help them temporarily enter the world of nineteenth-century American slavery. By providing an introduction that helps your readers make a transition between their own world and the issues you will be writing about, you give your readers the tools they need to get into your topic and care about what you are saying. Similarly, once you’ve hooked your readers with the introduction and offered evidence to prove your thesis, your conclusion can provide a bridge to help your readers make the transition back to their daily lives. (See our handout on conclusions .)
Note that what constitutes a good introduction may vary widely based on the kind of paper you are writing and the academic discipline in which you are writing it. If you are uncertain what kind of introduction is expected, ask your instructor.
Why bother writing a good introduction?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The opening paragraph of your paper will provide your readers with their initial impressions of your argument, your writing style, and the overall quality of your work. A vague, disorganized, error-filled, off-the-wall, or boring introduction will probably create a negative impression. On the other hand, a concise, engaging, and well-written introduction will start your readers off thinking highly of you, your analytical skills, your writing, and your paper.
Your introduction is an important road map for the rest of your paper. Your introduction conveys a lot of information to your readers. You can let them know what your topic is, why it is important, and how you plan to proceed with your discussion. In many academic disciplines, your introduction should contain a thesis that will assert your main argument. Your introduction should also give the reader a sense of the kinds of information you will use to make that argument and the general organization of the paragraphs and pages that will follow. After reading your introduction, your readers should not have any major surprises in store when they read the main body of your paper.
Ideally, your introduction will make your readers want to read your paper. The introduction should capture your readers’ interest, making them want to read the rest of your paper. Opening with a compelling story, an interesting question, or a vivid example can get your readers to see why your topic matters and serve as an invitation for them to join you for an engaging intellectual conversation (remember, though, that these strategies may not be suitable for all papers and disciplines).
Strategies for writing an effective introduction
Start by thinking about the question (or questions) you are trying to answer. Your entire essay will be a response to this question, and your introduction is the first step toward that end. Your direct answer to the assigned question will be your thesis, and your thesis will likely be included in your introduction, so it is a good idea to use the question as a jumping off point. Imagine that you are assigned the following question:
Drawing on the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass , discuss the relationship between education and slavery in 19th-century America. Consider the following: How did white control of education reinforce slavery? How did Douglass and other enslaved African Americans view education while they endured slavery? And what role did education play in the acquisition of freedom? Most importantly, consider the degree to which education was or was not a major force for social change with regard to slavery.
You will probably refer back to your assignment extensively as you prepare your complete essay, and the prompt itself can also give you some clues about how to approach the introduction. Notice that it starts with a broad statement and then narrows to focus on specific questions from the book. One strategy might be to use a similar model in your own introduction—start off with a big picture sentence or two and then focus in on the details of your argument about Douglass. Of course, a different approach could also be very successful, but looking at the way the professor set up the question can sometimes give you some ideas for how you might answer it. (See our handout on understanding assignments for additional information on the hidden clues in assignments.)
Decide how general or broad your opening should be. Keep in mind that even a “big picture” opening needs to be clearly related to your topic; an opening sentence that said “Human beings, more than any other creatures on earth, are capable of learning” would be too broad for our sample assignment about slavery and education. If you have ever used Google Maps or similar programs, that experience can provide a helpful way of thinking about how broad your opening should be. Imagine that you’re researching Chapel Hill. If what you want to find out is whether Chapel Hill is at roughly the same latitude as Rome, it might make sense to hit that little “minus” sign on the online map until it has zoomed all the way out and you can see the whole globe. If you’re trying to figure out how to get from Chapel Hill to Wrightsville Beach, it might make more sense to zoom in to the level where you can see most of North Carolina (but not the rest of the world, or even the rest of the United States). And if you are looking for the intersection of Ridge Road and Manning Drive so that you can find the Writing Center’s main office, you may need to zoom all the way in. The question you are asking determines how “broad” your view should be. In the sample assignment above, the questions are probably at the “state” or “city” level of generality. When writing, you need to place your ideas in context—but that context doesn’t generally have to be as big as the whole galaxy!
Try writing your introduction last. You may think that you have to write your introduction first, but that isn’t necessarily true, and it isn’t always the most effective way to craft a good introduction. You may find that you don’t know precisely what you are going to argue at the beginning of the writing process. It is perfectly fine to start out thinking that you want to argue a particular point but wind up arguing something slightly or even dramatically different by the time you’ve written most of the paper. The writing process can be an important way to organize your ideas, think through complicated issues, refine your thoughts, and develop a sophisticated argument. However, an introduction written at the beginning of that discovery process will not necessarily reflect what you wind up with at the end. You will need to revise your paper to make sure that the introduction, all of the evidence, and the conclusion reflect the argument you intend. Sometimes it’s easiest to just write up all of your evidence first and then write the introduction last—that way you can be sure that the introduction will match the body of the paper.
Don’t be afraid to write a tentative introduction first and then change it later. Some people find that they need to write some kind of introduction in order to get the writing process started. That’s fine, but if you are one of those people, be sure to return to your initial introduction later and rewrite if necessary.
Open with something that will draw readers in. Consider these options (remembering that they may not be suitable for all kinds of papers):
- an intriguing example —for example, Douglass writes about a mistress who initially teaches him but then ceases her instruction as she learns more about slavery.
- a provocative quotation that is closely related to your argument —for example, Douglass writes that “education and slavery were incompatible with each other.” (Quotes from famous people, inspirational quotes, etc. may not work well for an academic paper; in this example, the quote is from the author himself.)
- a puzzling scenario —for example, Frederick Douglass says of slaves that “[N]othing has been left undone to cripple their intellects, darken their minds, debase their moral nature, obliterate all traces of their relationship to mankind; and yet how wonderfully they have sustained the mighty load of a most frightful bondage, under which they have been groaning for centuries!” Douglass clearly asserts that slave owners went to great lengths to destroy the mental capacities of slaves, yet his own life story proves that these efforts could be unsuccessful.
- a vivid and perhaps unexpected anecdote —for example, “Learning about slavery in the American history course at Frederick Douglass High School, students studied the work slaves did, the impact of slavery on their families, and the rules that governed their lives. We didn’t discuss education, however, until one student, Mary, raised her hand and asked, ‘But when did they go to school?’ That modern high school students could not conceive of an American childhood devoid of formal education speaks volumes about the centrality of education to American youth today and also suggests the significance of the deprivation of education in past generations.”
- a thought-provoking question —for example, given all of the freedoms that were denied enslaved individuals in the American South, why does Frederick Douglass focus his attentions so squarely on education and literacy?
Pay special attention to your first sentence. Start off on the right foot with your readers by making sure that the first sentence actually says something useful and that it does so in an interesting and polished way.
How to evaluate your introduction draft
Ask a friend to read your introduction and then tell you what he or she expects the paper will discuss, what kinds of evidence the paper will use, and what the tone of the paper will be. If your friend is able to predict the rest of your paper accurately, you probably have a good introduction.
Five kinds of less effective introductions
1. The placeholder introduction. When you don’t have much to say on a given topic, it is easy to create this kind of introduction. Essentially, this kind of weaker introduction contains several sentences that are vague and don’t really say much. They exist just to take up the “introduction space” in your paper. If you had something more effective to say, you would probably say it, but in the meantime this paragraph is just a place holder.
Example: Slavery was one of the greatest tragedies in American history. There were many different aspects of slavery. Each created different kinds of problems for enslaved people.
2. The restated question introduction. Restating the question can sometimes be an effective strategy, but it can be easy to stop at JUST restating the question instead of offering a more specific, interesting introduction to your paper. The professor or teaching assistant wrote your question and will be reading many essays in response to it—he or she does not need to read a whole paragraph that simply restates the question.
Example: The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass discusses the relationship between education and slavery in 19th century America, showing how white control of education reinforced slavery and how Douglass and other enslaved African Americans viewed education while they endured. Moreover, the book discusses the role that education played in the acquisition of freedom. Education was a major force for social change with regard to slavery.
3. The Webster’s Dictionary introduction. This introduction begins by giving the dictionary definition of one or more of the words in the assigned question. Anyone can look a word up in the dictionary and copy down what Webster says. If you want to open with a discussion of an important term, it may be far more interesting for you (and your reader) if you develop your own definition of the term in the specific context of your class and assignment. You may also be able to use a definition from one of the sources you’ve been reading for class. Also recognize that the dictionary is also not a particularly authoritative work—it doesn’t take into account the context of your course and doesn’t offer particularly detailed information. If you feel that you must seek out an authority, try to find one that is very relevant and specific. Perhaps a quotation from a source reading might prove better? Dictionary introductions are also ineffective simply because they are so overused. Instructors may see a great many papers that begin in this way, greatly decreasing the dramatic impact that any one of those papers will have.
Example: Webster’s dictionary defines slavery as “the state of being a slave,” as “the practice of owning slaves,” and as “a condition of hard work and subjection.”
4. The “dawn of man” introduction. This kind of introduction generally makes broad, sweeping statements about the relevance of this topic since the beginning of time, throughout the world, etc. It is usually very general (similar to the placeholder introduction) and fails to connect to the thesis. It may employ cliches—the phrases “the dawn of man” and “throughout human history” are examples, and it’s hard to imagine a time when starting with one of these would work. Instructors often find them extremely annoying.
Example: Since the dawn of man, slavery has been a problem in human history.
5. The book report introduction. This introduction is what you had to do for your elementary school book reports. It gives the name and author of the book you are writing about, tells what the book is about, and offers other basic facts about the book. You might resort to this sort of introduction when you are trying to fill space because it’s a familiar, comfortable format. It is ineffective because it offers details that your reader probably already knows and that are irrelevant to the thesis.
Example: Frederick Douglass wrote his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave , in the 1840s. It was published in 1986 by Penguin Books. In it, he tells the story of his life.
And now for the conclusion…
Writing an effective introduction can be tough. Try playing around with several different options and choose the one that ends up sounding best to you!
Just as your introduction helps readers make the transition to your topic, your conclusion needs to help them return to their daily lives–but with a lasting sense of how what they have just read is useful or meaningful. Check out our handout on conclusions for tips on ending your paper as effectively as you began it!
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Douglass, Frederick. 1995. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself . New York: Dover.
You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Introductions and conclusions play a special role in the academic essay, and they frequently demand much of your attention as a writer. A good introduction should identify your topic, provide essential context, and indicate your particular focus in the essay. It also needs to engage your readers’ interest. A strong conclusion will provide a sense of closure to the essay while again placing your concepts in a somewhat wider context. It will also, in some instances, add a stimulus to further thought. Since no two essays are the same, no single formula will automatically generate an introduction and conclusion for you. But the following guidelines will help you to construct a suitable beginning and end for your essay.
Some general advice about introductions
- Some students cannot begin writing the body of the essay until they feel they have the perfect introduction. Be aware of the dangers of sinking too much time into the introduction. Some of that time can be more usefully channeled into planning and writing.
- You may be the kind of writer who writes an introduction first in order to explore your own thinking on the topic. If so, remember that you may at a later stage need to compress your introduction.
- It can be fine to leave the writing of the introduction for a later stage in the essay-writing process. Some people write their introduction only after they have completed the rest of the essay. Others write the introduction first but rewrite it significantly in light of what they end up saying in the body of their paper.
- The introductions for most papers can be effectively written in one paragraph occupying half to three-quarters of the first page. Your introduction may be longer than that, and it may take more than one paragraph, but be sure you know why. The size of your introduction should bear some relationship to the length and complexity of your paper. A twenty page paper may call for a two-page introduction, but a five-page paper will not.
- Get to the point as soon as possible. Generally, you want to raise your topic in your very first sentences. A common error is to begin too broadly or too far off topic. Avoid sweeping generalizations.
- If your essay has a thesis, your thesis statement will typically appear at the end of your introduction, even though that is not a hard-and-fast rule. You may, for example, follow your thesis with a brief road map to your essay that sketches the basic structure of your argument. The longer the paper, the more useful a road map becomes.
How do I write an interesting, effective introduction?
Consider these strategies for capturing your readers’ attention and for fleshing out your introduction:
- Find a startling statistic that illustrates the seriousness of the problem you will address.
- Quote an expert (but be sure to introduce him or her first).
- Mention a common misperception that your thesis will argue against .
- Give some background information necessary for understanding the essay.
- Use a brief narrative or anecdote that exemplifies your reason for choosing the topic. In an assignment that encourages personal reflection, you may draw on your own experiences; in a research essay, the narrative may illustrate a common real-world scenario.
- In a science paper, explain key scientific concepts and refer to relevant literature. Lead up to your own contribution or intervention.
- In a more technical paper, define a term that is possibly unfamiliar to your audience but is central to understanding the essay.
In fleshing out your introduction, you will want to avoid some common pitfalls:
- Don’t provide dictionary definitions, especially of words your audience already knows.
- Don’t repeat the assignment specifications using the professor’s wording.
- Don’t give details and in-depth explanations that really belong in your body paragraphs. You can usually postpone background material to the body of the essay.
Some general advice about conclusions
- A conclusion is not merely a summary of your points or a re-statement of your thesis. If you wish to summarize—and often you must—do so in fresh language. Remind the reader of how the evidence you’ve presented has contributed to your thesis.
- The conclusion, like much of the rest of the paper, involves critical thinking. Reflect upon the significance of what you’ve written. Try to convey some closing thoughts about the larger implications of your argument.
- Broaden your focus a bit at the end of the essay. A good last sentence leaves your reader with something to think about, a concept in some way illuminated by what you’ve written in the paper.
- For most essays, one well-developed paragraph is sufficient for a conclusion. In some cases, a two-or-three paragraph conclusion may be appropriate. As with introductions, the length of the conclusion should reflect the length of the essay.
How do I write an interesting, effective conclusion?
The following strategies may help you move beyond merely summarizing the key points of your essay:
- If your essay deals with a contemporary problem, warn readers of the possible consequences of not attending to the problem.
- Recommend a specific course of action.
- Use an apt quotation or expert opinion to lend authority to the conclusion you have reached.
- Give a startling statistic, fact, or visual image to drive home the ultimate point of your paper.
- If your discipline encourages personal reflection, illustrate your concluding point with a relevant narrative drawn from your own life experiences.
- Return to an anecdote, example, or quotation that you introduced in your introduction, but add further insight that derives from the body of your essay.
- In a science or social science paper, mention worthwhile avenues for future research on your topic.
How does genre affect my introduction or conclusion?
Most of the advice in this handout pertains to argumentative or exploratory academic essays. Be aware, however, that different genres have their own special expectations about beginnings and endings. Some academic genres may not even require an introduction or conclusion. An annotated bibliography, for example, typically provides neither. A book review may begin with a summary of the book and conclude with an overall assessment of it. A policy briefing usually includes an introduction but may conclude with a series of recommendations. Check your assignment carefully for any directions about what to include in your introduction or conclusion.
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Guide to Writing Introductions and Conclusions
First and last impressions are important in any part of life, especially in writing. This is why the introduction and conclusion of any paper – whether it be a simple essay or a long research paper – are essential. Introductions and conclusions are just as important as the body of your paper. The introduction is what makes the reader want to continue reading your paper. The conclusion is what makes your paper stick in the reader’s mind.
Your introductory paragraph should include:
1) Hook: Description, illustration, narration or dialogue that pulls the reader into your paper topic. This should be interesting and specific.
2) Transition: Sentence that connects the hook with the thesis.
3) Thesis: Sentence (or two) that summarizes the overall main point of the paper. The thesis should answer the prompt question.
The examples below show are several ways to write a good introduction or opening to your paper. One example shows you how to paraphrase in your introduction. This will help you understand the idea of writing sequences using a hook, transition, and thesis statement.
» Thesis Statement Opening
This is the traditional style of opening a paper. This is a “mini-summary” of your paper.
» Opening with a Story (Anecdote)
A good way of catching your reader’s attention is by sharing a story that sets up your paper. Sharing a story gives a paper a more personal feel and helps make your reader comfortable.
This example was borrowed from Jack Gannon’s The Week the World Heard Gallaudet (1989):
Astrid Goodstein, a Gallaudet faculty member, entered the beauty salon for her regular appointment, proudly wearing her DPN button. (“I was married to that button that week!” she later confided.) When Sandy, her regular hairdresser, saw the button, he spoke and gestured, “Never! Never! Never!” Offended, Astrid turned around and headed for the door but stopped short of leaving. She decided to keep her appointment, confessing later that at that moment, her sense of principles had lost out to her vanity. Later she realized that her hairdresser had thought she was pushing for a deaf U.S. President. Hook: a specific example or story that interests the reader and introduces the topic.
Transition: connects the hook to the thesis statement
Thesis: summarizes the overall claim of the paper
» Specific Detail Opening
Giving specific details about your subject appeals to your reader’s curiosity and helps establish a visual picture of what your paper is about.
» Open with a Quotation
Another method of writing an introduction is to open with a quotation. This method makes your introduction more interactive and more appealing to your reader.
» Open with an Interesting Statistic
Statistics that grab the reader help to make an effective introduction.
» Question Openings
Possibly the easiest opening is one that presents one or more questions to be answered in the paper. This is effective because questions are usually what the reader has in mind when he or she sees your topic.
Source : *Writing an Introduction for a More Formal Essay. (2012). Retrieved April 25, 2012, from http://flightline.highline.edu/wswyt/Writing91/handouts/hook_trans_thesis.htm
The conclusion to any paper is the final impression that can be made. It is the last opportunity to get your point across to the reader and leave the reader feeling as if they learned something. Leaving a paper “dangling” without a proper conclusion can seriously devalue what was said in the body itself. Here are a few effective ways to conclude or close your paper. » Summary Closing Many times conclusions are simple re-statements of the thesis. Many times these conclusions are much like their introductions (see Thesis Statement Opening).
» Close with a Logical Conclusion
This is a good closing for argumentative or opinion papers that present two or more sides of an issue. The conclusion drawn as a result of the research is presented here in the final paragraphs.
» Real or Rhetorical Question Closings
This method of concluding a paper is one step short of giving a logical conclusion. Rather than handing the conclusion over, you can leave the reader with a question that causes him or her to draw his own conclusions.
» Close with a Speculation or Opinion This is a good style for instances when the writer was unable to come up with an answer or a clear decision about whatever it was he or she was researching. For example:
» Close with a Recommendation
A good conclusion is when the writer suggests that the reader do something in the way of support for a cause or a plea for them to take action.
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9.4 Writing Introductory and Concluding Paragraphs
- Recognize the importance of strong introductory and concluding paragraphs.
- Learn to engage the reader immediately with the introductory paragraph.
- Practice concluding your essays in a more memorable way.
Picture your introduction as a storefront window: You have a certain amount of space to attract your customers (readers) to your goods (subject) and bring them inside your store (discussion). Once you have enticed them with something intriguing, you then point them in a specific direction and try to make the sale (convince them to accept your thesis).
Your introduction is an invitation to your readers to consider what you have to say and then to follow your train of thought as you expand upon your thesis statement.
An introduction serves the following purposes:
- Establishes your voice and tone, or your attitude, toward the subject
- Introduces the general topic of the essay
- States the thesis that will be supported in the body paragraphs
First impressions are crucial and can leave lasting effects in your reader’s mind, which is why the introduction is so important to your essay. If your introductory paragraph is dull or disjointed, your reader probably will not have much interest in continuing with the essay.
Attracting Interest in Your Introductory Paragraph
Your introduction should begin with an engaging statement devised to provoke your readers’ interest. In the next few sentences, introduce them to your topic by stating general facts or ideas about the subject. As you move deeper into your introduction, you gradually narrow the focus, moving closer to your thesis. Moving smoothly and logically from your introductory remarks to your thesis statement can be achieved using a funnel technique , as illustrated in the diagram in Figure 9.1 “Funnel Technique” .
Figure 9.1 Funnel Technique
On a separate sheet of paper, jot down a few general remarks that you can make about the topic for which you formed a thesis in Section 9.1 “Developing a Strong, Clear Thesis Statement” .
Immediately capturing your readers’ interest increases the chances of having them read what you are about to discuss. You can garner curiosity for your essay in a number of ways. Try to get your readers personally involved by doing any of the following:
- Appealing to their emotions
- Using logic
- Beginning with a provocative question or opinion
- Opening with a startling statistic or surprising fact
- Raising a question or series of questions
- Presenting an explanation or rationalization for your essay
- Opening with a relevant quotation or incident
- Opening with a striking image
- Including a personal anecdote
Remember that your diction, or word choice, while always important, is most crucial in your introductory paragraph. Boring diction could extinguish any desire a person might have to read through your discussion. Choose words that create images or express action. For more information on diction, see Chapter 4 “Working with Words: Which Word Is Right?” .
In Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” , you followed Mariah as she moved through the writing process. In this chapter, Mariah writes her introduction and conclusion for the same essay. Mariah incorporates some of the introductory elements into her introductory paragraph, which she previously outlined in Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” . Her thesis statement is underlined.
If you have trouble coming up with a provocative statement for your opening, it is a good idea to use a relevant, attention-grabbing quote about your topic. Use a search engine to find statements made by historical or significant figures about your subject.
Writing at Work
In your job field, you may be required to write a speech for an event, such as an awards banquet or a dedication ceremony. The introduction of a speech is similar to an essay because you have a limited amount of space to attract your audience’s attention. Using the same techniques, such as a provocative quote or an interesting statistic, is an effective way to engage your listeners. Using the funnel approach also introduces your audience to your topic and then presents your main idea in a logical manner.
Reread each sentence in Mariah’s introductory paragraph. Indicate which techniques she used and comment on how each sentence is designed to attract her readers’ interest.
Writing a Conclusion
It is not unusual to want to rush when you approach your conclusion, and even experienced writers may fade. But what good writers remember is that it is vital to put just as much attention into the conclusion as in the rest of the essay. After all, a hasty ending can undermine an otherwise strong essay.
A conclusion that does not correspond to the rest of your essay, has loose ends, or is unorganized can unsettle your readers and raise doubts about the entire essay. However, if you have worked hard to write the introduction and body, your conclusion can often be the most logical part to compose.
The Anatomy of a Strong Conclusion
Keep in mind that the ideas in your conclusion must conform to the rest of your essay. In order to tie these components together, restate your thesis at the beginning of your conclusion. This helps you assemble, in an orderly fashion, all the information you have explained in the body. Repeating your thesis reminds your readers of the major arguments you have been trying to prove and also indicates that your essay is drawing to a close. A strong conclusion also reviews your main points and emphasizes the importance of the topic.
The construction of the conclusion is similar to the introduction, in which you make general introductory statements and then present your thesis. The difference is that in the conclusion you first paraphrase , or state in different words, your thesis and then follow up with general concluding remarks. These sentences should progressively broaden the focus of your thesis and maneuver your readers out of the essay.
Many writers like to end their essays with a final emphatic statement. This strong closing statement will cause your readers to continue thinking about the implications of your essay; it will make your conclusion, and thus your essay, more memorable. Another powerful technique is to challenge your readers to make a change in either their thoughts or their actions. Challenging your readers to see the subject through new eyes is a powerful way to ease yourself and your readers out of the essay.
When closing your essay, do not expressly state that you are drawing to a close. Relying on statements such as in conclusion , it is clear that , as you can see , or in summation is unnecessary and can be considered trite.
It is wise to avoid doing any of the following in your conclusion:
- Introducing new material
- Contradicting your thesis
- Changing your thesis
- Using apologies or disclaimers
Introducing new material in your conclusion has an unsettling effect on your reader. When you raise new points, you make your reader want more information, which you could not possibly provide in the limited space of your final paragraph.
Contradicting or changing your thesis statement causes your readers to think that you do not actually have a conviction about your topic. After all, you have spent several paragraphs adhering to a singular point of view. When you change sides or open up your point of view in the conclusion, your reader becomes less inclined to believe your original argument.
By apologizing for your opinion or stating that you know it is tough to digest, you are in fact admitting that even you know what you have discussed is irrelevant or unconvincing. You do not want your readers to feel this way. Effective writers stand by their thesis statement and do not stray from it.
On a separate sheet of a paper, restate your thesis from Note 9.52 “Exercise 2” of this section and then make some general concluding remarks. Next, compose a final emphatic statement. Finally, incorporate what you have written into a strong conclusion paragraph for your essay.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers
Mariah incorporates some of these pointers into her conclusion. She has paraphrased her thesis statement in the first sentence.
Make sure your essay is balanced by not having an excessively long or short introduction or conclusion. Check that they match each other in length as closely as possible, and try to mirror the formula you used in each. Parallelism strengthens the message of your essay.
On the job you will sometimes give oral presentations based on research you have conducted. A concluding statement to an oral report contains the same elements as a written conclusion. You should wrap up your presentation by restating the purpose of the presentation, reviewing its main points, and emphasizing the importance of the material you presented. A strong conclusion will leave a lasting impression on your audience.
- A strong opening captures your readers’ interest and introduces them to your topic before you present your thesis statement.
- An introduction should restate your thesis, review your main points, and emphasize the importance of the topic.
- The funnel technique to writing the introduction begins with generalities and gradually narrows your focus until you present your thesis.
- A good introduction engages people’s emotions or logic, questions or explains the subject, or provides a striking image or quotation.
- Carefully chosen diction in both the introduction and conclusion prevents any confusing or boring ideas.
- A conclusion that does not connect to the rest of the essay can diminish the effect of your paper.
- The conclusion should remain true to your thesis statement. It is best to avoid changing your tone or your main idea and avoid introducing any new material.
- Closing with a final emphatic statement provides closure for your readers and makes your essay more memorable.
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Read a text summary on how to write introductions and conclusions.
- Newcastle University
- Academic Skills Kit
- Academic Writing
Introductions and conclusions can be tricky to write. They do not contain the main substance of your assignment, but they do play a key role in helping the reader navigate your writing. The usual advice is
- Introduction: say what you're going to say
- Main body: say it
- Conclusion: say that you've said it
However, this approach can feel repetitive and is not very rewarding to write or read.
A more engaging approach is to think about the perspective of the reader and what they need to know in order to make sense of your writing. In academic writing, it is the writer’s job to make their meaning clear (unlike in literature and fiction, where it is the reader’s job to interpret the meaning) so that the reader can concentrate on deciding what they think of your work and marking it. Introductions and conclusions play an important role in explaining your aims and approach, so to help you write them well, you could think about what questions the reader has for you as they pick up your work for the first time, and when they have finished reading it.
The introductions are the first part of your assignment that the reader encounters, so it needs to make a good impression and set the scene for what follows. Your introduction is about 10% of the total word count. It can be difficult to think what that first opening sentence should be, or what an introduction should include.
From your reader’s perspective, they have three questions when they first pick up your assignment.
What are you doing?
You could approach this question in a number of ways:
- Although your lecturer knows the assignment questions they’ve set, they don’t know how you have understood and interpreted it. To demonstrate that you’ve read it accurately, you can echo back the question to your reader, paraphrased in your own words so they know you have really understood it rather than just copying and pasting it.
- There might also be different ways to interpret the assignment, and clarifying for the reader how you’ve interpreted it would be helpful. Perhaps different angles on it are possible, there is more than one definition you could be working to, or you have been given a range of options within the assessment brief, and you need to tell the reader which approach you are taking.
- It’s also common to give a brief overview of a topic in the introduction, providing the reader with some context so they can understand what is to follow. Of course, your lecturer is already likely to know this basic information, so you could think of it as giving the reader confidence that you also share that foundational knowledge and have got your facts right. This aspect needs to be as brief as possible, as it can be very descriptive (which will not get you higher marks) and if it extends too far, can take up too much space in your essay which would be better used for analysis, interpretation or argumentation. A rough guide is to ask yourself which information is built on later in your assignment and cut anything that doesn’t get ‘used’ later on.
Why are you doing this?
The obvious answer to this question is "because you told me to write this assignment”! A more interesting response, though, is to show that you've really understood why your lecturer has set that question and why it’s worth asking. None of the questions you are set at University will be simple or straightforward, but will be complex and problematic, and many have no single clear answer or approach. In responding thoughtfully to the question “why are you doing this”, you are reflecting on why it is significant, complex and worth doing, that you've understood the complexity of the assignment you’ve been set and recognise the lecturer’s aims in setting it.
How will you do this?
Every student who answers a particular assignment will produce a different answer, with a different structure, making different points and drawing on different information. Your reader wants to know what your own particular approach to the assignment will be.
- You might answer this question in terms of what your structure is going to be, signalling how many sections you use and what order they appear in, signposting how you have broken the assignment down and organised it, so the reader knows what to expect.
- You might also explain to the reader which choices and decisions you have made to narrow it down to a manageable, focussed assignment. You might have chosen to set yourself particular limits on the scope of your assignment (for example, a focussing on a particular context, timespan, or type), or which examples and case studies you’ve chosen to illustrate your answer with, and why they are appropriate for this assignment.
- If relevant, you might also tell the reader about your methodology, the theories, models, definitions or approaches you have applied in order to answer the assignment question.
Your introduction may not include all these elements, or include them in the same balance or in this order, but if you address the reader’s three questions, your introduction will fulfil its purpose. Make sure you’re not jumping into your argument too early. Your introduction should introduce your argument but not actually do the work of making it yet; that is the job of the main body of the assignment.
Conclusions can feel a bit repetitive, as you need to revisit the points you’ve already made, but not include any new material. Again, the conclusion is usually about 10% of your total word count. The challenge is to make them engaging to read for your marker, but also interesting for you to write, so they feel purposeful. You cannot include any new material as conclusions should close a discussion down, not open up new avenues or leave points unresolved. If a point is important, it should be dealt with in the main body rather than as an afterthought.
As they read, your marker is focussing on each paragraph in detail, identifying the point you’re making, analysing and evaluating the evidence you’re using, and the way you explain, interpret and argue, to see if it makes sense. They’re also thinking about the quality of your work and what mark they’re going to give it, looking to see that you’ve met the marking criteria. University assignments are long enough that the reader will find it hard to give each point this kind of detailed scrutiny and keep the whole assignment in their mind at the same time. The job of the conclusion is to help them move from that close-up reading and zoom out to give them a sense of the whole.
Again, a good approach is to think of the questions that your reader has when they reach the end of your assignment.
Where are we?
Your conclusion is the overall answer to the original assignment question you were set. See if you can summarise your overall answer in one sentence. This might be the first line of your conclusion. Make sure that your concluding answer does match the question you were set in the assessment.
How did we get here?
Having told the reader where they've got to, you will need to remind them of how you got there. To strengthen their confidence in your overall answer, you can remind them of the points you made and how together they build your conclusion.
Where does that leave us?
Although you cannot include new information in your conclusion, you can show your thinking in a new light. One question your reader may have is “where does that leave me’? or “so what?”. You could therefore briefly discuss the significance of your conclusion. Now that you’ve demonstrated your answer to the question, how does that add to our overall understanding of this topic? What do we know, what can we do now, that we couldn’t before? If we hadn’t explored this topic, where would we be? Why is this conclusion important? This might resolve the issues you raised in the introduction when you answered the question ‘why am I doing this?’
A possible follow-on to this question is to examine what work might come next, if you didn’t have time constraints or word limits. This is particularly relevant in second and third year and masters level assignments, especially dissertations. This is a good way to show awareness of how your own thinking fits in the wider context of scholarship and research and how it might be developed. It might be a way to touch on aspects you had to cut out, or areas you couldn’t cover.
When to write the introduction and conclusion
You don’t have to write your assignment in order. If you find that the introduction is hard to start, then you could write it at the end of the process, which will ensure that it matches the assignment you’ve actually written. However, it might be a useful approach to at least begin by thinking about the introduction questions above, as it will help you in the planning process. Likewise, you could start with writing the conclusion if you have done extensive thinking and planning, as formulating your end goal might help to keep you on track (although be open to your overall answer changing a little in the process). Again, thinking about the conclusion questions above at the start of the process is a useful planning tool to clarify your thinking, even if you don’t write it until the end.
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Writing introductions and conclusions.
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4d. Introduction and Conclusion Paragraphs
Introductions: getting readers to bite.
The first sentence of every essay, poem, or novel is perhaps the most important because a reader will immediately use the first sentence to develop impressions and make assumptions about a writer’s style, voice, and purpose. Thoughtful writers begin every piece of writing with a unique lure (or hook) that will attract the attention of readers and entice them to “bite” (read an essay or listen to an idea). Startling examples, surprising statistics, and sophisticated questions are a few effective strategies for opening sentences of academic essays. Quotations can be useful if they are relevant to the topic and will be referenced elsewhere in the essay. Generic statements like “Throughout history,” and other clichés like “according to the dictionary” should be avoided for most essays unless you are using them to make a specific point for a specific audience and purpose.
Beginning with your first sentence, the goal of an introduction is to guide readers toward your thesis. You can effectively guide readers from your opening sentence to your working thesis summarizing your topic, identifying important authors or sources you will be analyzing or referencing, and sharing the question at issue that your thesis seeks to answer.
Introductions: Developing Context and a Thesis
A thesis is a focused sentence that provides your reader with your interpretation of a topic or text and the primary reasoning or evidence that supports your position. Context is information about your topic that you want to make sure your audience knows upfront so they can understand the argument you are trying to make in your thesis. Consider the audience and purpose of your writing task and whether you are writing to a general, specialized, or very specific set of readers. Developing context forms a connection between the creative flourish of your opening lines and the clarity and concision of your thesis.
A thesis provides your reader a controlling idea and main point of focus as they read through the body paragraphs and conclusion of an essay. What makes a thesis focused?
A thesis is focused when it is:
- Specific . A thesis for a book may consider a broad topic but multi-paragraph essays require writers to concentrate on narrow topics in order to develop depth in their reasoning and evidence. Considering the audience and purpose of your task and developing questions at issue can help you pinpoint the one thing you really want your readers to take away from your essay.
- Concise . A thesis statement must be concise enough to develop a complex and intellectually rigorous perspective on your topic in a coherent and efficient sentence or two. Concision in a thesis can become a tool for the writer to help them stay organized while developing arguments and counterarguments.
- Debatable . A thesis must present a position or point of view on topic rather than a restatement of fact or observation. Ask yourself, could any reasonable reader within my discourse community reasonably disagree with my thesis? Supporting the claim of your thesis with reasoning and evidence will help you develop its debatable aspects. Sharing your working thesis with classmates and others will help you determine whether everyone already agrees with you or not.
- Demonstrable . For any claim you make in your thesis, you must be able to show the reader the primary reason and evidence that supports your position or interpretation. Worthy arguments are backed by examples and details. Be sure you can demonstrate each reason you use to support your claim within the required length of your essay or writing task.
- Assertive . Remember that making an argument in an essay does not prevent you from shifting your perspective at a later date. Write with the confidence that you belong and are welcome in the conversation you are entering. Take a stance that provokes your readers to shift their perspective on this topic and show that you care about your topic.
- Readers appreciate directness and sincerity. When writing academic essays, there is no need to use phrases like I feel , I believe , or in my opinion because the they are unnecessary and may irritate your audience. Please note that this advice is not intended to discourage you from using personal examples in your essays if appropriate for your writing task.
Dog lovers, get your counterarguments ready. The three examples below provide a basic example of how to develop a focused thesis:
- Not a thesis : Cats are smarter than dogs.
The example sentence is a claim but not a thesis because it provides no reasoning or evidence to support the claim. Opinions like “I think everyone should take the bus to work twice a week” only become thesis statements when they are supported with reasoning or evidence. Without reasoning or evidence, a person reading this example thesis would have very little sense of how the writer will defend this claim or why the writer thinks that cats are smarter than dogs
- Unfocused thesis : Cats are smarter than dogs because they can learn how to use a litterbox, rarely run away from home, and are less clingy and more independent than dogs.
The second example sentence is off to a better start than the first example because it makes a claim and also provides reasoning and evidence to support the claim. However, there are too many reasons to develop in a relatively short essay and some of the evidence may be difficult to research or defend. Developing a working thesis, even at the preliminary stages of a writing project, can provide you with purpose and a place to start as you begin to outline and draft your essays.
- A Focused Thesis: Cats are smarter dogs because they can learn how to use a litterbox.
The third example may not be perfect but presents a position on the topic and narrows the focus of the topic sufficiently to continue the writing process. In this case, there will certainly be dog-lovers ready to provide counterarguments and alternative perspectives.
Power words like because , although , therefore , since , despite , rather than , more than , less than , along with , and considering that are all examples of transitional and metacognitive word and phrases that can be used to create specificity and complexity in a thesis. Try using different kinds of power words as you draft your thesis statement to help you connect your claim with your primary reason or evidence for making the claim. While there is no singular method or formula for writing the perfect thesis for every paper, developing a solid working thesis for an academic essay can help you be more efficient while researching, outlining, drafting, and revising. A great thesis will crystalize your idea for you reader and help them remember the most important thing you want them to take away from your essays.
Conclusions merit consideration right alongside introductions because the two types of paragraphs (or sections of longer essays) perform similar functions. Conclusions and introductions both summarize, contextualize, condense, and synthesize the main ideas you hope to convey to your readers. Conclusions discuss the implications of the thesis, defend the organization of the essay, and leave the reader with something to mull over without distracting them with new information about the topic. Writers often reach the final paragraph and feel tired or stressed as the clock ticks away toward a deadline. Having composed your introduction and body paragraphs to demonstrate your thesis, what is left to say but “That’s all folks! Thanks for reading!” Writing effective conclusions that do not simply restate but demonstrate the significance and implications of your thesis statement can help you to leave a lasting impact on any audience. Here are some tips for ensuring that lasting impact is positive.
- Tie together the threads of body paragraph reasoning and evidence to help readers understand how a writer has demonstrated their thesis
- Rephrase rather than directly restate the thesis (especially in relation to any alternative or opposing perspectives you explored)
- Consider the broader implications and/or limitations of assertions, reasoning, and evidence
- Circle the reader back to the opening sentence to create a sense of closure
- Contradict or change a thesis (this can occur through awkward transition sentences or mean that you need to revise your thesis and introduction to reflect your final thoughts)
- Restate the thesis word for word without explaining how it has been demonstrated
- Introduce new lines of reasoning and sources of evidence
- Demonstrate disregard for alternative or opposing perspectives on the topic
- Begin with generic transition statements like “in conclusion”
- Introductions and conclusions create your first and last impression on readers.
- Academic essays require a thesis statement to provide your audience with a clear sense of your position, opinion, perspective on a topic, rather than a summary of the topic.
- A focused thesis is specific, precise, debatable, demonstrable, assertive, and direct.
- An effective conclusion helps your audience understand how your essay had demonstrated the thesis and fulfilled the purpose of the writing task.
Writing as Inquiry Copyright © 2021 by Kara Clevinger and Stephen Rust is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Introductions and Conclusions
This resource focuses on writing introductions and conclusions for essays. We also have guidance for intros and conclusions in science writing.
Your introduction creates the reader’s first impression of your essay and previews the essay’s content. It serves three important functions :
- it engages the reader’s interest
- it provides context for your topic
- it articulates the argument you intend to develop, via a thesis statement.
By being clear, organized, engaging and robust, a good introduction will make it obvious to the reader that you will respect their attention and that they are in good hands for the duration of the paper.
Wondering what a good introduction looks like in practice? Pay attention to academic articles and books—and also novels, short stories, and media pieces—and notice what others do to engage your attention and invite you into a piece of writing.
Your introduction should include the basic details necessary to the reader’s understanding of your topic. For example, it should identify:
- the author and title of a literary work you are analyzing
- the time frame and geographical location of a social movement or historical event you are examining
- particular scholars or theories you will reference
- perhaps the research question that prompted your work
- any other essential contextual information.
An introduction should also provide any other context that will help the reader to make sense of the discussion to follow, such as your theoretical framework, relevant historical details, the way you will use particular terms or concepts, or the current state of debate about your topic.
Note, however, that the introduction is not the place to go into a detailed discussion of your argumentative points or minutiae related to your topic. A concise, well-focused introduction will engage your reader far more than will a wordy, rambling one. Save your detailed discussion for the body of the essay . You may provide a contextual paragraph or paragraphs following the introduction, to flesh out important context in more detail, but be concise.
Engage your reader’s interest
Beginning your essay with a general statement and narrowing to a more specific focus as the introduction progresses (the “funnel model”) is a common strategy. With this approach, ensure that your opening statement makes a direct comment about your topic; avoid opening with a statement that is too general. Statements that begin with phrases such as “Throughout human history” likely have little to do with your particular argument, and will repel rather than engage your reader’s interest.
For example, say you are writing about the representation of racialized people in Suzan Lori-Parks’ Venus . Here is an example of an opening statement that is too broad :
- In the 21 st century, many playwrights wrote about race and racial themes .
Instead, try one of these opening lines:
- Suzan Lori-Parks’ Venus considers the enduring impact of colonialization on the representation and reception of Black women’s bodies.
- Suzan Lori-Parks’ Venus demonstrates the tension between exploitation and celebrity in its depiction of Sarah Baartman’s performances in early nineteenth-century England.
These statements provide more specific starting points for your discussion (and yet they are, appropriately, broader than a thesis statement). The key to an effective opening paragraph is to signal your essay’s precise focus early .
Other effective openings
Other effective opening strategies include:
- offering an interesting quotation that is directly relevant to your topic
- posing a question to which you will offer an answer (or provisional answer) as the introduction progresses
- presenting a shocking fact or statistic that grabs the reader’s attention and anchors the topic in a concrete way
- introducing a point of view that you disagree with, to establish your own contrasting perspective
- employing an analogy or illustration to familiarize your reader with your topic, particularly if your topic is abstract or potentially outside of the reader’s experience.
Articulate the argument you intend to develop
The most important feature of your introduction is the thesis statement , which usually (but not always) appears towards the end of the introductory paragraph. Ensure that your thesis statement clearly expresses the point of your paper (your claim), and that, having read your introduction, your reader has a good grasp of what you intend to discuss and why it matters . You might lead up to your thesis statement by identifying a problem or question and how current research doesn’t fully address it. Demonstrating why this problem or question matters lends context to your paper, sets up your argument, and helps engage your reader’s interest.
You could write your introduction first, to map out the essay to follow and firm up your thesis statement as you prepare to write the body paragraphs. However, if you do write your introduction first, count on revising it after you’ve finished drafting your essay. Ensure that whatever you included in your introduction appears in the body of the essay, and that whatever you included in the body of the essay is previewed in your introduction. It is often a good idea to write the introduction last, once you have a firm grasp of the essay’s contents.
The length of your finished introduction should be in proportion to the overall length of your essay (e.g., a brief essay necessitates a brief introduction). Finally, proofread carefully—a well-crafted, error-free introduction will make a favourable impression on your reader.
Conclusions are meant to provide a satisfying and graceful close to an essay—but no-one we know of finds them easy to write. Writers often approach the end of the essay wondering what is left to say about their topic and, consequently, put the least amount of effort into the essay’s concluding paragraph(s). However, an essay’s conclusion is very important—it is, after all, the last thing a reader reads, and a poorly written conclusion can undermine the positive impression created by the rest of the essay. These are the jobs of the conclusion:
- briefly re-state your claim and its main points
- briefly explain why this research / your ideas matter
- perhaps suggest a practical application of your claim
- identify queries for future related research.
Keep your conclusion a bit shorter than your introduction, and don’t introduce new ideas at this point.
If your essays tend to end “not with a bang, but a whimper” (apologies to T.S. Eliot), the following strategies may be helpful.
- Provide a brief summary of the essay’s thesis and main points, but reformulate these ideas in a new way, focusing on the way your ideas fit together, new connections, and the growth of your understanding about your topic.
- Consider the larger implications of the argument you have presented—how does your argument fit into the bigger picture? Ask yourself, “So what?” and “What is the significance of what I’ve said?” Think of how your argument aligns with the larger themes of your course or the wider issue of which your analysis is a part. The things you write about do matter, so try to convey that significance to your reader.
- Propose a potential solution (or solutions) to a problem you have identified in your essay. You might also pose questions for further study. These strategies demonstrate that the issue you have examined is not finite, and that, rather than attempting to have the last word on the subject, you are opening the door to further inquiry.
- Include an apt quotation that reflects or expands on the essay’s thesis. If you used a quotation in your introduction, employing a parallel strategy to end your essay can provide a pleasing sense of symmetry.
- Similarly, if you began your essay with a question, return to that question in the conclusion and provide a direct answer . Using such a rhetorical strategy demonstrates your mastery of not just your essay’s content but of its structure, as well.
Try to avoid...
In writing your conclusion, avoid:
- mechanically repeating the original thesis and argumentative points.
- failing to demonstrate that, by the conclusion, you have reached a fuller understanding of the original idea.
- introducing completely new ideas, subtopics, evidence that should have been explored in the body of the paper, or minor (usually irrelevant) details.
- bringing up a contradiction. If you address the “other side” of the issue or debate in your essay, do so early on (often immediately after the introduction, before you present your own argument). Mentioning the “other side” in your conclusion will only confuse the reader and undermine what you have said in the body of the essay.
- concluding with sentimental, emotional, or hyperbolic commentary that is out of keeping with the analytical nature of the essay. Instead, offer your reader measured, thoughtful, and useful final comments that demonstrate your credibility as a writer.
We encourage you to further explore this topic via the articles and books under “Resources” below.
Booth, W.C., Colomb, G.G., Williams, J.M., Bizup, J., & Fitzgerald, W.T. (2016). The Craft of Research, Fourth Edition . Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Casson, L.E. (2012). A Writer’s Handbook: Developing Writing Skills for University . Broadview Press.
Lori-Parks, S. (1998). Venus . Dramatists Play Service, Inc.
Sword, H. (2012). Stylish Academic Writing . Harvard University Press.
Turabian, K. (2018). A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, Dissertations , 9th ed. University of Chicago Press.
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Titles, Introductions, and Conclusions
Titles should be specific and clear, and the quickest path to this is composing a title that states your exact subject. If you can also hint at your thesis in the title, it becomes that much more effective. Examples:
- The Extinction of Bees
- Peer Review in Writing Classes
- Why We Need Fantasy Literature
- Video Games and Art
- Video Games Can Never Be Art
In academic writing, it is also common to have a two-part title that consists of (1) a vivid or curious glimpse of some aspect of the subject and (2) a straightforward statement of the subject. This is generally used for longer essays, such as those comprising more than 2,000 words. Examples:
- Hashtag I’m Fired: Employment in the Era of Social Media
- Sanity in the Eye of the Beholder: The Dynamics of the Unreliable Narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart”
Remember that titles are an opportunity to control interpretation of your essay. Consider how the titles of films do this: What is the film Forrest Gump about? Most would agree it’s about the life of Forrest Gump. But what would the common answers be if the title had been Me and Jenny ? It would probably be called a love story, which it kind of is given that title. Or what if it had been titled Me and Lieutenant Dan ? Then it would probably be a buddy picture about friendship, which it would be given that title. Use this quality of titles to guide your readers’ interpretations.
Audiences want a clear idea of what they’re about to get into, what to expect, and what is so interesting about it, so use the introduction to give all of this to them. Brief introductions are typically the best, which means the first paragraph will often be the shortest in the essay.
The most common strategy in an introduction is to move from the general context to a specific point. This often feels natural for writers and readers, so much so that we even see this kind of strategy in movies and shows: visuals of the whole city first, then of the one building, then of the specific room with the focal characters. In an essay, this works by first stating general facts or ideas about the subject. Then, as you move deeper into your introduction, you gradually narrow the focus, moving closer to your thesis. Moving smoothly and logically from your introductory remarks to your thesis statement can be visualized as a funnel-like structure, as illustrated in the diagram below:
Watch closely for the excellent use of this strategy in this example:
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has sold around 150 million copies worldwide, which makes it one of the bestselling fiction novels of all time. Some even claim it is the greatest book of the twentieth century. While Tolkien’s Middle-earth novels continue to grow in popularity, many scholars still refuse to take them seriously. Most critics not only disregard, but despise them with a fiery passion. Critics of the younger generation focus on the supposed social problems in Middle-earth, such as racism or sexism. But the most astounding criticisms come mostly from the older generation of literary critics, who claim that Tolkien’s writing is just awful. Edmund Wilson argues in “Oo, Those Awful Orcs” that The Lord of the Rings is nothing but “juvenile trash.” In the introduction to Bloom’s Critical Modern Interpretations: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Harold Bloom claims that Tolkien’s writing style is “stiff, false archaic, and overwrought.” Bloom is “not able to understand how a skilled and mature reader can absorb about fifteen hundred pages of this quaint stuff.” These criticisms are as absurd are they are comical. If anything, The Lord of the Rings is anti-racist and anti-sexist and beautifully written. Of course, the merit of any work is, in essence, subjective and tastes differ. But what is the cause of both the contemptuous criticisms and unwarranted indifference toward The Lord of the Rings ?
–Lauren Stengel, “Why We Need Fantasy Literature”
Notice that the first sentence isn’t about Stengel’s point directly but is instead a way to generally contextualize what she is about to say. Then each sentence gets more and more specific until we are left with an exact notion of what her position is and what she plans to explore about it.
Another strategy is to add something of specific and immediate interest right before this general context. This is done by employing the Classical advice of beginning i n medias res , which means to start in the middle of things. Immediately offer a glimpse at a specific idea, example, or scenario that delves deep into a fascinating aspect of your subject, even if the meaning of it is not yet clear. In choosing this glimpse, consider that which is surprising, counter-intuitive, or vivid. This is often called “the attention grabber,” but that phrase is often misunderstood, for multitudes of student writers have written statements and questions that they find extremely boring yet have told themselves they are doing so for the benefit of readers in order to “grab their attention.” The problem stems from assuming that readers are boring. They aren’t; they’re interesting, and they want to read interesting ideas. So bring up the ideas that are actually interesting. Don’t use false questions, such as those about the reader’s personal experience, those that have obvious answers, and those for which you won’t attempt specific or compelling answers.
This brings up a point that demands more explanation, which means it demands the continued interest of the audience. Most audiences would like to hear what is not in the Bible that they had thought was in there. And the follow-up sentence offers some clear expectations of points to come.
After that beginning (whether or not you added the glimpse of beginning in medias res before your general context), s tate the main claim of your entire essay in a single sentence, which is also called your thesis . Your claim should take a position or make a point about the subject, often by confirming or denying a proposition. Remember not to use a question or a fragment as a thesis, for those do not state points. Also make sure to state your exact position on the subject, which is what a claim or thesis is, rather than simply stating the subject. See the section Thesis for more information.
After you have made your claim or thesis clear, offer an essay map . This is the strategy of briefly naming the main points of the paragraphs to come, stating them in the same order that they will use in the body of the essay. Avoid referencing your own essay or your own assignment, as with phrases such as, “in this essay,” or, “for my assignment,” or, “I will discuss.” Instead, state your main points by discussing the subject itself rather than by discussing yourself writing it or the essay that contains it. Remember not to get detailed here either; save the details for the body paragraphs.
Conclusions can be just as vital as any other part of an essay, and often the most vital part, so avoid the natural temptations to short-cut at the end. Two common short-cuts to avoid are mere stopping, and merely repeating. The conclusion that simply stops discussing the ideas at some point has failed to conclude them, as has the conclusion that simply re-states what has already been said in the essay.
The best way to conclude is through emphasis : find a new way to encapsulate the most important ideas that have been conveyed in the essay. This does not mean introducing new ideas, which would add confusion, but instead to help readers see what is most important in all that has been discussed, or what is the most important way to understand it all.
One good strategy for this is to use a brief and poignant phrase or quotation. Another good strategy is to use a metaphor: description of an interesting image that stands for an important idea.
As you work through your conclusion, note that this is the best place for humility . Be honest in admitting short-comings in your ideas, explanations, or comprehensiveness. This approach in an introduction can leave the impression of an unsure or unfocused writer, but after a succession of clear ideas throughout an essay, humility in the conclusion shows a writer who is honest and thoughtful. This is not to be confused with contradiction, false humility, self-deprecation, or un-rebutted opposition. Instead, the humility of honesty is the aim here.
Finally, try using the tone of elevation: hint at higher, nobler possibilities relating to your subject. Some of the greatest writers and speakers in history have used this strategy in their conclusions, as can be seen in many of the readings in this textbook and beyond. For some technical information on how to achieve this tone, see the section Rhythm of Threes.
Common errors in conclusions include the following:
- Ending on a minor point or detail
- Introducing new material
- Contradicting your thesis
- Changing your thesis
- Issuing commands, getting aggressive, or sounding exclamatory
Ending on a minor point or detail drives the entire essay off-topic because it suggests something other than the main idea as the most important. Move minor points and details to the appropriate body paragraph.
Introducing new material in your conclusion has an unsettling effect on your reader. When you raise new points, you make your reader want more information, which you could not possibly provide in the limited space of your final paragraph.
Contradicting or changing your thesis statement causes your readers to think that you do not actually have a conviction about your subject. After all, you have spent several paragraphs adhering to a singular point of view. When you change sides or open up your point of view in the conclusion, your reader becomes less inclined to believe your original argument.
Issuing commands, getting aggressive, or sounding exclamatory works against the aims and expectations of academic argument, for it shows the writer’s failure to trust the points and support the essay has offered, as well as the failure to trust in the capability of the audience to use their own minds appropriately.
The Writing Textbook Copyright © 2021 by Josh Woods, editor and contributor, as well as an unnamed author (by request from the original publisher), and other authors named separately is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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- How to structure an essay: Templates and tips
How to Structure an Essay | Tips & Templates
Published on September 18, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.
The basic structure of an essay always consists of an introduction , a body , and a conclusion . But for many students, the most difficult part of structuring an essay is deciding how to organize information within the body.
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Table of contents
The basics of essay structure, chronological structure, compare-and-contrast structure, problems-methods-solutions structure, signposting to clarify your structure, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about essay structure.
There are two main things to keep in mind when working on your essay structure: making sure to include the right information in each part, and deciding how you’ll organize the information within the body.
Parts of an essay
The three parts that make up all essays are described in the table below.
Order of information
You’ll also have to consider how to present information within the body. There are a few general principles that can guide you here.
The first is that your argument should move from the simplest claim to the most complex . The body of a good argumentative essay often begins with simple and widely accepted claims, and then moves towards more complex and contentious ones.
For example, you might begin by describing a generally accepted philosophical concept, and then apply it to a new topic. The grounding in the general concept will allow the reader to understand your unique application of it.
The second principle is that background information should appear towards the beginning of your essay . General background is presented in the introduction. If you have additional background to present, this information will usually come at the start of the body.
The third principle is that everything in your essay should be relevant to the thesis . Ask yourself whether each piece of information advances your argument or provides necessary background. And make sure that the text clearly expresses each piece of information’s relevance.
The sections below present several organizational templates for essays: the chronological approach, the compare-and-contrast approach, and the problems-methods-solutions approach.
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The chronological approach (sometimes called the cause-and-effect approach) is probably the simplest way to structure an essay. It just means discussing events in the order in which they occurred, discussing how they are related (i.e. the cause and effect involved) as you go.
A chronological approach can be useful when your essay is about a series of events. Don’t rule out other approaches, though—even when the chronological approach is the obvious one, you might be able to bring out more with a different structure.
Explore the tabs below to see a general template and a specific example outline from an essay on the invention of the printing press.
- Thesis statement
- Discussion of event/period
- Importance of topic
- Strong closing statement
- Claim that the printing press marks the end of the Middle Ages
- Background on the low levels of literacy before the printing press
- Thesis statement: The invention of the printing press increased circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation
- High levels of illiteracy in medieval Europe
- Literacy and thus knowledge and education were mainly the domain of religious and political elites
- Consequence: this discouraged political and religious change
- Invention of the printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg
- Implications of the new technology for book production
- Consequence: Rapid spread of the technology and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible
- Trend for translating the Bible into vernacular languages during the years following the printing press’s invention
- Luther’s own translation of the Bible during the Reformation
- Consequence: The large-scale effects the Reformation would have on religion and politics
- Summarize the history described
- Stress the significance of the printing press to the events of this period
Essays with two or more main subjects are often structured around comparing and contrasting . For example, a literary analysis essay might compare two different texts, and an argumentative essay might compare the strengths of different arguments.
There are two main ways of structuring a compare-and-contrast essay: the alternating method, and the block method.
In the alternating method, each paragraph compares your subjects in terms of a specific point of comparison. These points of comparison are therefore what defines each paragraph.
The tabs below show a general template for this structure, and a specific example for an essay comparing and contrasting distance learning with traditional classroom learning.
- Synthesis of arguments
- Topical relevance of distance learning in lockdown
- Increasing prevalence of distance learning over the last decade
- Thesis statement: While distance learning has certain advantages, it introduces multiple new accessibility issues that must be addressed for it to be as effective as classroom learning
- Classroom learning: Ease of identifying difficulties and privately discussing them
- Distance learning: Difficulty of noticing and unobtrusively helping
- Classroom learning: Difficulties accessing the classroom (disability, distance travelled from home)
- Distance learning: Difficulties with online work (lack of tech literacy, unreliable connection, distractions)
- Classroom learning: Tends to encourage personal engagement among students and with teacher, more relaxed social environment
- Distance learning: Greater ability to reach out to teacher privately
- Sum up, emphasize that distance learning introduces more difficulties than it solves
- Stress the importance of addressing issues with distance learning as it becomes increasingly common
- Distance learning may prove to be the future, but it still has a long way to go
In the block method, each subject is covered all in one go, potentially across multiple paragraphs. For example, you might write two paragraphs about your first subject and then two about your second subject, making comparisons back to the first.
The tabs again show a general template, followed by another essay on distance learning, this time with the body structured in blocks.
- Point 1 (compare)
- Point 2 (compare)
- Point 3 (compare)
- Point 4 (compare)
- Advantages: Flexibility, accessibility
- Disadvantages: Discomfort, challenges for those with poor internet or tech literacy
- Advantages: Potential for teacher to discuss issues with a student in a separate private call
- Disadvantages: Difficulty of identifying struggling students and aiding them unobtrusively, lack of personal interaction among students
- Advantages: More accessible to those with low tech literacy, equality of all sharing one learning environment
- Disadvantages: Students must live close enough to attend, commutes may vary, classrooms not always accessible for disabled students
- Advantages: Ease of picking up on signs a student is struggling, more personal interaction among students
- Disadvantages: May be harder for students to approach teacher privately in person to raise issues
An essay that concerns a specific problem (practical or theoretical) may be structured according to the problems-methods-solutions approach.
This is just what it sounds like: You define the problem, characterize a method or theory that may solve it, and finally analyze the problem, using this method or theory to arrive at a solution. If the problem is theoretical, the solution might be the analysis you present in the essay itself; otherwise, you might just present a proposed solution.
The tabs below show a template for this structure and an example outline for an essay about the problem of fake news.
- Introduce the problem
- Provide background
- Describe your approach to solving it
- Define the problem precisely
- Describe why it’s important
- Indicate previous approaches to the problem
- Present your new approach, and why it’s better
- Apply the new method or theory to the problem
- Indicate the solution you arrive at by doing so
- Assess (potential or actual) effectiveness of solution
- Describe the implications
- Problem: The growth of “fake news” online
- Prevalence of polarized/conspiracy-focused news sources online
- Thesis statement: Rather than attempting to stamp out online fake news through social media moderation, an effective approach to combating it must work with educational institutions to improve media literacy
- Definition: Deliberate disinformation designed to spread virally online
- Popularization of the term, growth of the phenomenon
- Previous approaches: Labeling and moderation on social media platforms
- Critique: This approach feeds conspiracies; the real solution is to improve media literacy so users can better identify fake news
- Greater emphasis should be placed on media literacy education in schools
- This allows people to assess news sources independently, rather than just being told which ones to trust
- This is a long-term solution but could be highly effective
- It would require significant organization and investment, but would equip people to judge news sources more effectively
- Rather than trying to contain the spread of fake news, we must teach the next generation not to fall for it
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Signposting means guiding the reader through your essay with language that describes or hints at the structure of what follows. It can help you clarify your structure for yourself as well as helping your reader follow your ideas.
The essay overview
In longer essays whose body is split into multiple named sections, the introduction often ends with an overview of the rest of the essay. This gives a brief description of the main idea or argument of each section.
The overview allows the reader to immediately understand what will be covered in the essay and in what order. Though it describes what comes later in the text, it is generally written in the present tense . The following example is from a literary analysis essay on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .
Transition words and phrases are used throughout all good essays to link together different ideas. They help guide the reader through your text, and an essay that uses them effectively will be much easier to follow.
Various different relationships can be expressed by transition words, as shown in this example.
Because Hitler failed to respond to the British ultimatum, France and the UK declared war on Germany. Although it was an outcome the Allies had hoped to avoid, they were prepared to back up their ultimatum in order to combat the existential threat posed by the Third Reich.
Transition sentences may be included to transition between different paragraphs or sections of an essay. A good transition sentence moves the reader on to the next topic while indicating how it relates to the previous one.
… Distance learning, then, seems to improve accessibility in some ways while representing a step backwards in others.
However , considering the issue of personal interaction among students presents a different picture.
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
- Ad hominem fallacy
- Post hoc fallacy
- Appeal to authority fallacy
- False cause fallacy
- Sunk cost fallacy
- Choosing Essay Topic
- Write a College Essay
- Write a Diversity Essay
- College Essay Format & Structure
- Comparing and Contrasting in an Essay
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The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.
The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.
An essay isn’t just a loose collection of facts and ideas. Instead, it should be centered on an overarching argument (summarized in your thesis statement ) that every part of the essay relates to.
The way you structure your essay is crucial to presenting your argument coherently. A well-structured essay helps your reader follow the logic of your ideas and understand your overall point.
Comparisons in essays are generally structured in one of two ways:
- The alternating method, where you compare your subjects side by side according to one specific aspect at a time.
- The block method, where you cover each subject separately in its entirety.
It’s also possible to combine both methods, for example by writing a full paragraph on each of your topics and then a final paragraph contrasting the two according to a specific metric.
You should try to follow your outline as you write your essay . However, if your ideas change or it becomes clear that your structure could be better, it’s okay to depart from your essay outline . Just make sure you know why you’re doing so.
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