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.
“I want to tell you about the time I almost died.”
I really don’t have such a tale to tell, but I bet I piqued your interest, didn’t I? Why? Because it’s a great opening line that makes you want to learn more. You keep reading because you want to know how the story ends.
This line is actually the first line of the movie Fallen(1998), and whether or not you like the movie, you have to admit that the opening line is killer.
A killer opening line and catchy introduction are exactly what you want for your essay. You want to write an essay introduction that says, “READ ME!”
To learn how to write an essay introduction in 3 easy steps, keep reading!
Why You Need a Good Introduction
First impressions are important!
Think about how many times you start reading an article and don’t read more than a line or two because you lose interest just that fast.
Readers are going to approach your paper in the same way. If they aren’t interested in the first few lines, they’ll stop reading. (Of course, your professor will keep reading even if she’s not very interested, but that’s not the reaction you’re hoping for.)
Without a good introduction, your paper will fall flat.
Like anything it takes a bit of time and practice to craft the perfect introduction, but it’s worth it! So let’s talk about how to write an essay introduction in 3 easy steps.
How to Write an Essay Introduction in 3 Easy Steps
Step 1: Write a catchy opening line
What do all good essay introductions have in common? They have memorable opening lines.
These opening lines (sometimes called hook sentences) grab readers’ attention. They provide just enough information to leave your audience wanting more.
What your opening line looks like will depend on what type of paper you’re writing.
You might try using a shocking quote, an interesting statistic, an anecdote, or a question you’ll answer in the essay.
If you’re writing a problem/solution essay, for example, you’ll likely be writing about a serious topic. Your tone and opening lines will reflect this, and a shocking quote or statistic might be your best option.
Here’s a quick example:
Bad opening line for a problem/solution essay: Parking on campus is terrible, and they definitely need to do something about it.
This broad, uninteresting statement doesn’t work well as opening line. The language is too informal, and readers aren’t sure who “they” might be.
Better opening line for a problem/solution essay: A 2014 Student Government survey revealed that 65% of commuters have been late to class in the past semester due to lack of available on-campus parking.
The opening line works much better. Not only is the tone much more serious, but it includes a statistic that reveals that the problem actually exists.
If you’re writing an evaluation essay, you’ll likely be writing in first person. Because this essay is more informal, you have more options for an opening line. You might use a personal story or anecdote, but might also find that a quote works just as well.
Let’s look at a few sample opening lines from an evaluation essay.
Bad opening line #1: I think Michael Keaton was a good Batman.
The most appropriate reaction to this line would be: So what?
This opening line tells readers almost nothing. It isn’t interesting and doesn’t grab readers’ attention at all.
Bad opening line #2: According to dictionary.com, Batman is “a character in an American comic strip and several films who secretly assumes a batlike costume in order to fight crime”.
This is a horrible opening line! Don’t use dictionary definitions to start your paper. Dictionary definitions are dull and boring, and in most cases, readers already know the word you’re defining, so the strategy isn’t effective.
Bad opening line #3: Ever since the days of the cavemen, we’ve told stories about our heroes.
This type of introduction makes a broad, sweeping statement that doesn’t offer any connection to the real content of your paper. Avoid such statements that start with the beginning of time.
Better opening line:Even though Christopher Nolan’s Batman has been critically acclaimed, the fact remains that the most successful Batman ever made was Tim Burton’s version starring Michael Keaton (Aspen).
This opening line cites a credible source and offers readers an arguable statement.
This type of statement will work well if readers are fans of Keaton or if readers are fans of Nolan, as they’ll want to read on to see why you think Keaton is so much better.
Step 2: Introduce your topic
Think about what readers need to know to understand the focus of your paper. Think about how narrow or how broad your introduction should be and what you’ll include in your opening paragraph to help readers understand what you’re writing about.
If you’re writing an evaluation essay about Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Batman, including details about the entire Batman franchise is too broad. Instead, focus your introduction more closely on only Michael Keaton’s interpretation of Batman.
Here’s an example.
Bad strategy to introduce the topic: Batman debuted in comic books in 1939 and has been popular ever since. Batman was a television show in the 1960’s and was also remade into many feature-length movies. These movies include Batman & Robin, Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and The Dark Knight Trilogy.
This example discusses the history of Batman and lists various movies, but the focus is broad, and it doesn’t even mention Michael Keaton. Remember, you’re writing an evaluation essay about Michael Keaton, so he should probably be mentioned in the introduction!
Better strategy to introduce the topic: Since Batman’s comic book debut in 1939, Batman has been portrayed in the 1960’s hit television show (starring Adam West) and in a number of feature-length movies, with A-list actors such as Michael Keaton, George Clooney, and Christian Bale starring in the lead role. Though all of these actors brought their own unique style to the caped crusader, Michael Keaton’s performance stands out among the others.
This example still includes an overview of the history, but it focuses on the men who starred as Batman. This strategy narrows the focus of your introduction and tells readers that you’ll be focusing on Michael Keaton, rather than the history of Batman or the other actors.
Step 3: Write a clear, focused thesis statement
A thesis statement is essentially a mini-outline of your paper. It tells readers what your paper is about and offers your opinion on the topic.
Without a strong thesis, your essay introduction pretty much falls apart.
It’s like putting together a TV stand but deciding to not use all 500 tiny screws in the plastic bag. Without all of those screws in place, the stand will fall apart once you put your TV on it.
So take the time to write a focused thesis. It will help hold your paper together.
Check out this example.
Bad thesis statement: In this paper, I’ll prove that Michael Keaton is the best Batman.
There are so many things wrong with this thesis that I don’t even know where to start.
First, in most types of writing there’s really no need to announce statements like, “In this paper…” Readers should understand the thesis without such announcements.
Second, your essay won’t “prove” the Michael Keaton is the best, so avoid such absolute wording.
Finally, the thesis is vague. How will you define “best”? What does it mean to be the “best” Batman? A thesis needs to be far more specific.
Better thesis statement: Michael Keaton’s comedic timing, on-screen presence, and ability to deliver flawless lines makes Keaton’s version of Batman one of the most effective on-screen portrayals of the character to date.
This thesis statement is much better because it gives readers a quick overview of the paper. It also tells readers that you’re writing about Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Batman, and you’re evaluating Keaton on three specific criteria.
It’s strong enough to stand on its own and strong enough to hold your paper together.
Here’s what your completed essay introduction looks like.
Even though Christopher Nolan’s Batman has been critically acclaimed, the fact remains that the most successful Batman ever made was Tim Burton’s version starring Michael Keaton (Aspen). Since Batman’s comic book debut in 1939, Batman has been portrayed in the 1960s hit television show (starring Adam West) and in a number of feature-length movies, with A-list actors such as Michael Keaton, George Clooney, and Christian Bale starring in the lead role. Though all of these actors brought their own unique style to the caped crusader, Michael Keaton’s performance stands out among the others. Michael Keaton’s comedic timing, on-screen presence, and ability to deliver flawless lines makes Keaton’s version of Batman one of the most effective on-screen portrayals of the character to date.
Not bad, is it? It hooks readers with a catchy opening line, provides a brief introduction to your topic, and includes a strong, focused thesis to let readers know what your paper is about.
Write the Introduction Last (and Other Crazy Ideas)
Even though the introduction is the first thing your audience reads, the introduction doesn’t have to be the first thing you write.
You should always start with a solid focus for your paper, but you can start writing the body of your paper first. Sometimes it can be easier to think of a clever line and strong thesis once you’ve written the main arguments of your paper.
You might also try writing the body and conclusion of your paper (minus the introduction). Once you’ve written the conclusion, think about how you might rework your concluding ideas into an amazing introduction.
Yes, this means you’ll need to write a second conclusion, but sometimes revised conclusions make the best introductions!
If you’re one of those procrastinators and need a bit of help actually starting your paper, read How to Write an Essay Fast and Well.
You might also want to read this to help with formatting.
If you’re still not sure if you know how to write an essay introduction that works, why not have one of our Kibin editors take a look at your paper?
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