Did you know? The introduction to your academic essay might just be the most important paragraph. Not only does it house the road-map of your essay (the thesis statement) along with its motivator (the motive); but it also constitutes the starting point for your reader, who is, in the end, your most valued customer! You definitely do not want to bore your reader from the first sentence, even if you feel like you may be talking about the most boring subject on the face of the planet (trust me, I’ve been there!). Whatever your subject, you should be able to introduce it with pizzazz, in such a way that your reader has to keep reading.
Here are some tricks.
- Do notsimply reword the essay prompt in your opening sentence. For example, if your essay prompt is the following:
“What are the most prominent themes in To the Lighthouse and how are these expressed in the text as a whole?”
Do not begin your essay in the following textbook fashion:
“To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, has many themes. These include…”
2. Do consider beginning with a quote from the primary text you are analyzing, especially if you are analyzing a work of literature. For example:
“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question,” Mrs. Ramsay ponders in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Mrs. Ramsay’s inquiry gestures to the novel’s larger themes of existentialism and the passage of time.
3. Do try starting with another scholar’s argument, but only if you intend to argue against that or build off of it. Consider the following example:
John Smith considers To the Lighthouse to be a “pivotal text in the realignment of the author’s thoughts about her childhood, as figured in the character of Mrs. Ramsay” (Smith 100). Yet the novel’s investment in the character of Mr. Ramsay suggests that Smith’s argument is unsupported.
4. Do make sure your thesis statement is concise and evident. Remember: for a five-paragraph essay, it should be able to fit into one smooth sentence! Ideally, this should come at the end of your introduction, so that the next paragraph can jump right into your main points. For a refresher on the thesis statement, check out my recent postings on Thesis Statements and Motives.
5. Do notopen with a question, contrary to what your teacher might advise. This is a no-no in the arena of professional academic writing. You can, however, phrase your motive—the inspiration behind your thesis statement—as a question, which is often most helpful for students in formulating their motive/thesis pair.
6. Do not begin with a personal anecdote. Personal experience also belongs to the category of subjects that are not academic essay material.
7. Do not be afraid of ‘jumping right in!’ Sometimes you will find that the first paragraph you write is a mere ‘clearing of your throat,’ when in reality, it sounds much better to just get to the heart of the matter. Fearlessly starting with your problem, outlining your method of attack, and doing so in a concise and crisp manner will be much more effective in the long run.
8. Do not begin with grandiose, generalizing statements, such as “In contemporary society,” or “Since the dawn of time,” or “In humanity.” These are overused and will not help you get to your main point efficiently.
9. Do think about writing your introduction last. Did you hear me right? Yes! Sometimes you’ll only have a better idea about your main point after you have had a crash course through the first rough draft of your essay!
10. Do make sure your introduction comes across as active and assertive. Pay attention to your word choice and verb constructions. Shorter, clearer sentences are always better than longer, rambling ones.
Still stuck? Try breaking down your introduction to the following “bare bones” and working up from there:
- “Hook:” a gripping first sentence, idea, quote, assertion.
- Brief background information, if necessary. This could include other critics’ arguments, or quite simply the long-and-short of the material with which you are working.
- Motive: problem, puzzle, issue, area of interest, conflict, etc., that either you have discovered in your research, another author has overlooked, or someone else has been unable to solve up until this point.
- Thesis Statement: your roadmap! This should include your synthesized argument and why it is important.
- (Optional): “Larger” thesis statement; a hint at another point you will be making in your conclusion.
Remember: your introduction is the same as your first impression. Make it the best it can be!
Check out the last post in this 8 part series on writing academically:
Check out the previous posts:
About the author: Kathleen McGunagle is a senior in Princeton University’s English department and Interdisciplinary Humanities Certificate Program. Concentrating in British Renaissance Literature, she will be writing a thesis this spring on Shakespeare and epistolary culture. Kathleen is an Academic Peer Adviser at Princeton, tutor through Princeton Tutoring, and avid performer. She has recently returned from a year of study at Worcester College, Oxford.
Often students feel tired from the effort of researching and writing an essay and toss in a few rushed words to finish up. But, the conclusion is the last paragraph your marker will see of your writing effort. So, it is worth putting in the last dregs of your intellectual energy to come up with a convincing conclusion. Fortunately, conclusions have a pattern (recipe) you can follow so that you can write a convincing conclusion.
About conclusion paragraphs
Conclusion paragraphs are about 5% of your essay word count (e.g. about 50 or so words per 1000 word essay). In clearly-written sentences, you restate the thesis from your introduction (but do not repeat the introduction too closely), make a brief summary of your evidence and finish with some sort of judgment about the topic. You can follow this basic pattern (recipe) for writing introduction paragraphs to help you get started.
It’s a good idea to start your conclusion with transitional words (e.g. ‘In summary’, ‘To conclude’, ‘In conclusion’, ‘Finally’,) to help you to get the feel of wrapping up what you have said. The conclusion is not the place to present new facts (should be in the body of your essay), so conclusions don’t usually have references unless you come up with a ‘punchy’ quote from someone special as a final word.
Writing pattern for conclusion paragraphs
The conclusion to an essay is rather like a formal social farewell. For example, if an ASO consultant does a guest presentation at a lecture, it would be good practice to conclude the session by tying up the key points of the lecture and leave the students with a final message about the subject of the lecture:
To conclude, students, you should now know how to apply the three main steps for analysing a question (restatement main idea). If you identify the instruction words, the topic words and the restricting words accurately, this will provide you with a framework for building your essay plan (summary of key points). Essays that are analysed accurately will have much greater success in answering the set question and assist you to get better marks (statement of benefit).
A conclusion paragraph is very much tied to the introduction paragraph and the question that has been set (see Question analysis workshop), and we use special terms to describe each stage of the conclusion.
Click or hover over the conclusion paragraph to see an analysis of its structure and how the conclusion matches the set question.
We can show this as a diagram. The triangle of the introduction is the opposite in the conclusion. It begins with the narrowest topic (sentence 1), then widens to the summary of key points of the argument in the essay (sentence 2). The last sentence of the paragraph usually makes a broad statement that may be a reflection about the essay’s argument (sentence 3).
Figure 1: A pattern for conclusion paragraphs
Read the following question and the sample conclusion paragraph. The sentences are in the wrong order for a conclusion paragraph. Match the statements to the correct sentence type.
Some students who enrol in university studies have difficulties with their writing skills. Discuss the reasons for this problem and critically assess the effectiveness of university intervention writing programs.
The main causes of student difficulty appear to be that secondary school assessment has a different focus from university expectations and that universities are increasingly attracting mature age students who may require an update on their skills. In response, universities invest considerable capital into well-run programs that effectively assist students to overcome their writing problems.
To conclude, university students who are experiencing difficulty with their academic writing skills will require assistance to reach their academic potential.
In response, universities invest considerable capital into well-run programs that effectively assist students to overcome their writing problems.
These conclusion sentences are in the incorrect order. Now that you have identified the sentence types for a conclusion paragraph, put them in the correct order (restatement of main premise -> summary of key points -> broad statement).