Essay writing lesson 5: Introductions and conclusions

Surprised to see introductions as the topic of our second-to-last lesson? Most writers find that it is nearly impossible to craft an essay by beginning with the introduction. The best leads often develop during and after writers have written the remainder of the essay.



Maybe a fantastic introduction or conclusion is caught floating around in the middle of your rough draft. Maybe you find that your essay does not even need an introduction or conclusion (see sidebar). More likely, however, it is in these later stages that you have a good sense of the way your essay is shaping up, all the way to the nitty-gritty details. Since beginnings and endings can be the most challenging and important part of any piece of writing, you will want to take advantage of a completed rough draft.



Part of the reason why introductions and conclusions are so difficult is that writers tend to worry about them too much. Writing teachers give so much attention to the need for a thorough introduction and a sharply drawn conclusion that anxious essayists compensate by going overboard. They feel that in order to appear mature and worldly, their essays must contain profound insights and sweeping observations.



While your introduction and conclusion need not provide the answers to every worldly problem, they do need to be engaging. Admissions officers may spend just a few minutes reading your essay. Your introduction must grab their interest from the beginning and your conclusion must make a lasting impression.




EssayEdge Extra: No Introduction??!!


Most applicants assume that a good essay must have an introduction and conclusion. While most essays do require these bookends, there are some instances in which an introduction and conclusion can actually diminish the quality of your essay. Heed the advice of one admissions officer:



"When you have finished writing the rest of your rough draft, you may discover that you don't need an introduction at all. But isn't that risky? Maybe. But believe it or not, more essays have been ruined by forced and unnecessary introductions than have been ruined by the lack of one. Largely this is because of the misconception of what an introduction is supposed to accomplish. This is especially true if you are writing your essay as a narrative. It might feel risky or uncomfortable just letting the story stand on its own. You might be afraid that your reader will miss the point. But the point should be made in the story -- through the telling -- not before or after it. If you really cannot resist, then offer your observations and explanations in the conclusion instead of the introduction, leaving you free to begin your essay with the action."





Introductions



The introduction is the first sentence of your essay and it plays the dual role of setting the theme of your essay and engaging the reader. The introduction should not be overly formal. You do not want an admissions officer to start reading your essay and think, "here we go again." Although admissions officers will try to give the entire essay a fair reading, they are only human -- if you lose them after the first sentence, the rest of your essay will not get the attention it deserves.



General Tips



  • Don't Say Too Much. Just tell the story! Your introduction should not be so complex and so lengthy that it loses the reader before they even start. You have the rest of the essay to say what you want. There's no need to pack it all into the first sentence. This leads to the next tip...

  • Don't Start Your Essay with a Summary. If you summarize, the admissions officer does not need to read the rest of your essay. You want to start your essay with something that makes the reader want to read until the very end. Once you have drawn the reader in through the first one to three sentences, the last sentence in your introductory paragraph should explain clearly and briefly what the point of the whole essay is. That is, why you are using this person, place, or thing. What does it say about you?

  • Create Mystery or Intrigue in your Introduction. It is not necessary or recommended that your first sentence give away the subject matter. Raise questions in the minds of the admissions officers to force them to read on. Appeal to their senses and emotions to make them relate to your subject matter.



Types of Introductions



Please
select a link below for examples and descriptions of various introductions.


Note: The below essays were
not edited by EssayEdge Editors. They appear as they were initially reviewed
by admissions officers.


Academic
Introduction
:
This is the type of introduction you would use for a standardized test or a
history paper. A typical standard introduction answers one or more of the
six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. It gives the
reader an idea of what to expect. You should try to stay away from simply
restating the question unless you are limited by a word count and need to
get to the point quickly. Your basic academic introduction or thesis
statement is best used as the follow-up sentence to one of the more creative
introductions described below.



Examples:





One of the greatest
challenges I've had to overcome was moving from Iran to the United States.
Iran was in deep political turmoil when I left, as it is today.




EssayEdge Says:
This introduction is clear and to the point, and will prepare your reader
for the ideas you want to discuss. However, it is rather unexciting and will
not immediately engage your reader. As mentioned, you should try to preface
it with a more creative statement. In addition, it makes one typical error.
One should usually avoid using contractions in a formal essay, for example,
"I've."



Through all of my
accomplishments and disappointments, I have always been especially proud
of the dedication and fervor I possess for my personal beliefs and values.




EssayEdge Says: This
is a very effective introduction to an essay about your personality.
Mentioning pride is a good way to indicate how important your beliefs and
values are to you. In a sentence like this, however, it would be better to
use "Throughout" rather than "Through." "Throughout" better
expresses the widespread, expansive tone you want to give this sentence.


Back to Top






Creative
Introduction
:
A
creative introduction catches the reader off-guard with an opening statement
that leaves the reader smiling or wondering what the rest of the essay
contains.


Examples:




Imagine yourself a
freshman in high school, beginning your independence. As the oldest
child, I was the first to begin exploring the worlds of dating,
extra-curricular clubs and upperclassmen. However, one afternoon my
parents sat my two sisters and me down. They said...




EssayEdge Says:
The power of this introduction is that it places the reader in your shoes,
making him or her more interested in what takes place in the rest of the
essay. Its main mistake is that its informality gives the essay a slightly
hokey or corny tone. Although a greater degree of informality is allowed
in a creative essay, you must be careful not to take it too far.



I am a dynamic figure,
often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel
train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the
area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I
write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I
tread water for three days in a row.




EssayEdge Says:
This introduction is both creative and effective. It amuses the reader by
listing a bizarre and probably fictitious set of achievements, thus
demonstrating the writer's imagination (and poking fun at the admissions
process). At the same time, its light tone avoids sounding too obnoxious.
As a note, you should remember that good use of semicolons will impress
your reader: "I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees; I write
award-winning operas; I manage time efficiently."


Back to Top






Action
Introduction:
An
Action Introduction takes the reader into the middle of an action sequence.
By not building up to the story, it forces the reader to read on to find out
not only the significance of this moment in time, but what led up to and
followed it. It is perfect for short essays where space must be conserved or
for narrative essays that begin with a story.



Examples:





I promised God I would
eat all my peas, but He didn't care. A confused eleven-year-old girl,
I sat and listened to my father pace. With each heavy step echoing
loudly throughout the silent house, my family's anxiety and
anticipation mounted while awaiting news of my grandfather's health. My
heart racing, I watched the clock, amazed that time could crawl so
slowly. Finally, the telephone interrupted the house's solemn silence.
I heard my father repeating the words "yes, yes, of course."
He then hung up the receiver and announced my grandfather's death and
cancer's victory.




EssayEdge Says:
This is the kind of introduction that will immediately intrigue your
reader because it begins with a very unusual declaration. The image of a
little girl eating peas and hoping to acquire God's help is charming
while hinting at the solemnity of the situation described.



Surrounded by thousands
of stars, complete silence, and spectacular mountains, I stood atop New
Hampshire's Presidential Range, awestruck by nature's beauty.
Immediately, I realized that I must dedicate my life to understanding
the causes of the universe's beauty.




EssayEdge Says:
The first ten words of this essay will catch your reader's attention,
mainly because they create a mental image of perfect natural beauty. Note
that you should try to avoid repeating key words. In this instance, it
would be easy to avoid repeating the word "beauty." You could simply
use "magnificence" or "loveliness" instead.


Back to Top






Dialogue
Introduction:
Like
the action introduction, the dialogue introduction brings the reader
directly into the action, only this time in the form of dialogue. If you are
writing about an influential figure in your life, you can mention a quote
from this person that exemplifies the importance that he or she had on your
life.



Examples:





"You must stop seeing
that Russian girl, " I ordered my brother when he returned home last
summer from the University of Indianapolis. Echoing the prejudiced,
ignorant sentiment that I had grown up with, I believed it was wrong to
become seriously involved with a person who does not follow the Hindu
religion and is not a member of the Indian race.




EssayEdge Says:
Multicultural awareness is a key aspect of fitting in well at a university,
and admissions officers are very aware of this. Thus, it is an excellent
idea to mention how you expanded your cultural sensitivity. Beginning the
essay by admitting that you were once less tolerant is a compelling way to
demonstrate just how much you have grown as a person.



On the verge of losing
consciousness, I asked myself: "Why am I doing this?" Why was I
punishing my body? I had no answer; my mind blanked out from exhaustion
and terror. I had no time to second-guess myself with a terrifying man
leaning over my shoulder yelling: "You can break six minutes!"
As flecks of spit flew from his mouth and landed on the handle bar of the
ergometer, I longed to be finished with my first Saturday rowing practice
and my first fifteen-hundred-meter "erg test."




EssayEdge Says:
The power of this introduction comes from its attention to detail. The
question "Why am I doing this?" gains support from every horrible
detail: the exhaustion, the terrifying man, and the specks of spit flying
from his mouth! With such strong supporting evidence, the quotation takes on
a life of its own. Your reader will find himself thinking, "Why would
anyone do that? I'd like to find out..."


Back to Top






Overarching
Societal Statements:
Rather
than using a traditional thesis statement you can put forth a societal
observation that ties into the theme of your essay. This can be very
effective if the statement is unique and gives a glimpse into how you view
the world. It can be detrimental if your statement is debatable or unclear.
Make sure that if you use this form of introduction that no admissions
office will take offense to it.



Examples:





High school is a strange
time. After three years of trying to develop an identity and friends in
middle school, students are expected to mature immediately on the first
day of ninth grade.




EssayEdge Says:
Be careful not to make statements in your introduction that seem too
exaggerated or unrealistic. After all, no one expects a student to
immediately mature on the first day of ninth grade. Moreover, if your reader
senses that you attained most of your maturity at the beginning of high
school, he or she might be less than impressed with your character
development. It would be better to state, "students are expected to enter
a new environment in which they must function with far greater maturity."



To this day, the United
States remains driven by the American Dream, and we often hear of
immigrants who come to this country to search for opportunities that their
native countries lack. In these tales, immigrants succeed through hard
work, dedication, and a little luck. As idealistic as the story may seem,
I have been fortunate enough to experience its reality in the life of one
very important man. His example has had great impact on my personal
expectations and goals, and the manner in which I approach my own life.




EssayEdge Says:
This is an excellent way to introduce a discussion of a person who has
influenced you significantly. Instead of launching immediately into a list
of this man's excellent qualities and admirable accomplishments, this
introduction lays the foundation for a comprehensive look at just why the
man had such a profound impact on you. It also places the most importance on
the American Dream, as is fitting in an essay like this one.



Art is a reflection of
one's self-identity in the most unaffected manner. Because art is very
personal, it has no right or wrong. The type of art that has influenced me
most is music.




EssayEdge Says:
The first two sentences in this introduction set the kind of tone you want
to maintain throughout your essay: introspective and creative. However, it
moves on to a very boring and stilted structure in the third sentence. To
keep the tone creative, you could replace that sentence with the following:
"Although artistic expression can take many forms, it is music that has
captivated me."


Back to Top






Personal
Introduction:
The
Personal Introduction takes the reader directly into your mind. It says,
"This is what it is like to be me. Let me take you to my little world."
Since there is a little voyeur in even the most stern admissions officer,
this type of introduction can be very effective. It is always in the first
person and usually takes an informal, conversational tone:



Examples:





At times, I think the
world around me is crumbling to the ground, but it never does. Like most
people, I face the crunches of deadlines and endless demands on my time,
but I have never encountered the type of adversity that can crush people,
that can drive people crazy, that can drive them to suicide.




EssayEdge Says:
This introduction is indeed compelling, but it raises important questions
about appropriate content. Be careful to avoid writing a personal essay that
is far too personal. You do not want your reader to think that you might
have character weaknesses that prevent you from handling stressful
situations well.



I chuckle to myself every
time I think about this. I am perceived as a mild-mannered, intelligent
individual until I mention that I am involved in riflery.




EssayEdge Says:
Did the first sentence of this introduction confuse you? This was no doubt
its intention. By creating a little mystery in the first sentence, the
reader is forced to keep reading and keep wondering, "what is this kid's
secret?" until the final word, which pops in the reader's mind, sort of
like a gunshot: "riflery."


Back to Top






Question
Introduction:
Many
admissions essays begin with a question. While this is an easy way to begin
an essay, admissions officers may perceive it as a "lazy introduction."
No one wants to read an essay that begins with such tacky material as: "To
be or not to be?" or "Are you looking for an applicant who has drive and
determination? Well, I'm your guy." If you are going to use a question,
make sure that it is an extremely compelling one and that your experiences
provide answers.



Example:





Influence? Why is it that
the people who influence us most influence us in ways that are not easily
quantified? Through her work with abused children, my mother has shown me
the heroism of selfless dedication to a worthy cause.




EssayEdge Says: With
one word, this introduction takes an essay question about the person who has
most influenced you and turns it back around to the admissions board. In
effect, you are telling them that you have thought about their question
thoroughly. You have thought about it for so long that you have a couple of
questions of your own - questions that have sparked an interesting
commentary.


Back to Top






Quotation
Introduction:
Many
writers are tempted to start their essay with a quote. You should try to
resist this temptation, as most quotes will look forced. Admissions officers
will be turned off if it is apparent that you searched through a book of
famous quotes and came up with a quote from some famous philosopher about
whom you know nothing. The quotation introduction is most effective when the
quote you choose is unusual, funny, or obscure, not too long, and from those
to whom you are closest. Choose a quote with a meaning you plan to reveal to
the reader as the essay progresses. The admissions committee is interested
in how you respond to the quote and what that response says about you.



Examples:





John F. Kennedy said,
"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for
your country." I see academics as a similar two-way interaction: in
the classroom, I will do much more than take up valuable space. Because of
the broad range of experiences I have had, my knowledge of many subjects
is thorough. These experiences will help me perform well in any class, as
I have learned how to use my time efficiently.



EssayEdge Says:
This is a risky quote with which to begin an essay. After all, it is
difficult to imagine a more time-worn or oft-repeated statement. However,
this introduction goes on to apply this quote in a relatively unique manner.
The contrast between such a standard quotation and such an interesting
application will likely catch your reader's attention.



"Experience is what
you receive when you don't get what you want." I remembered my
father's words as I tried to postpone the coming massacre. Just as
during the fall of the Roman Empire, my allies became enemies and my foes
turned into partners. In fast and furious action with property changing
hands again and again, I rested my fate on the words of one man, hoping he
would rescue me from this dangerous tailspin. Do these experts realize the
heartbreak they are inflicting on my young life? While the uncertainty of
tomorrow's attire is the most pressing concern for many
seventeen-year-olds, I must worry about much greater issues! It is August
31, the market is down over 300 points and the value of my stock portfolio
is falling fast.



EssayEdge Says:
Quoting a person with whom you enjoy a close relationship is generally
preferable to quoting a famous source. This passage's strength comes from
the brief, understated role that the quote plays. The short statement
introduces the rest of the paragraph and presents the fundamental point, and
then the essay moves on to examine specific details. This is the ideal role
of a quotation.


Back to Top





Now it's your turn. Select
one of the above styles (or make up your own) and try to write an
introduction to your essay. Spend some time picking the right style and
choosing the best words possible.







conclusions



The conclusion is your last chance to persuade the reader or impress upon them your qualifications. Endings are the last experience an admissions officer has with your essay, so you need to make those words and thoughts count. You should not feel obligated to tie everything up into a neat bow. The essay can conclude with some ambiguity, if appropriate, as long as it offers insights. The aim is for the admissions officer to leave your essay thinking, "That was a satisfying read." Here are some Do's and Don'ts as you develop your conclusion.



DOs


  • Expand upon the broader implications of your discussion. This could include the following strategies:

    • Consider linking your conclusion to your introduction to establish a sense of balance by reiterating introductory phrases.

    • Redefine a term used previously in your body paragraphs.

    • End with a famous quote that is relevant to your argument. Do not TRY to do this, as this approach is overdone. This should come naturally.

    • Frame your discussion within a larger context or show that your topic has widespread appeal.


  • Tie the conclusion back to your introduction. A nice conclusion makes use of the creativity you used in your introduction. If you used an anecdote in your intro, use the conclusion to finish telling that story.

  • Try to end on a positive note. You may want to restate your goals in terms of how they will be fulfilled at the institution to which you are applying.



DON'Ts


  • Summarize. Since the essay is rather short to begin with, the reader should not need to be reminded of what you wrote 300 words beforehand. You do not need to wrap up your essay in a nice little package. It should be an ending, not a summary.

  • Use stock phrases. Phrases such as, "in conclusion," "in summary," "to conclude," belong only in dry, scientific writing. Don't use them.

  • Try to Explain the Unexplainable. Your essay need not be so tidy that you can answer why people die or why starvation exists -- you are not writing a sitcom -- but it should forge some attempt at closure.



Before you edit and Revise your essay, you should take a break. Let your draft sit for a day or two. You need to distance yourself from the piece so you can gain objectivity. If there is anything more difficult than trying to edit your own work, it is trying to edit your own work right after you have written it. Once you have let your work sit for a while, you will be better able to tackle the final steps.


Read full story:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *