Sometimes when we write an essay we forget that we're speaking to someone (a reader). We also forget that the beginning of our essay is technically the first impression that we make on the reader, while the conclusion is our last chance to get the reader's attention. Rather than focusing on writing an essay that is simply "correct" (in terms of grammar, following your assignment requirements, etc.) good writers also consider whether or not they've left a lasting impression on their reader.
Think about it: the movies you've seen and the books you've read, the ones that really stand out in your mind, probably had an intriguing opening and a compelling ending. Your essay topic may not be as exciting as your favorite movie, but that doesn't mean you can't make sure that your ideas stand out in the reader's mind.
If you're not sure how to begin and end your essay, consider using what's often called the "hook" technique. The idea behind this method is that if you hook your audience (get their attention) in the beginning of the essay, they'll want to continue reading so that they can find out how everything will turn out in the end.
For example, to use the hook technique you might begin by saying: Students are often surprised to know that many of their instructors were not high-ranking students in their own graduating classes. In fact, one of the most well-respected Composition instructors here at Madeup University flunked Freshman English not once, but twice!
Then, you might conclude your essay by saying: Any student at Madeup University will tell you that the teachers who once struggled in their subject area are the most helpful. Remember that Composition teacher who flunked Freshman English twice? That was Mrs. Somebody--a popular Composition teacher and well-liked tutor in the Writing Center on campus. The best guides are those who've experienced the struggle themselves; these teachers truly help students climb toward academic success.
Remember, it is not enough to hook your audience in the beginning. You also have lead them on a journey that comes back around in your conclusion. There is no such thing as “next season” in papers- so NO CLIFF HANGERS!
Making the RIGHT Impression
Simply put, your introduction and conclusion are the first a last chance you have to grab your reader. They are crucial in the development of trust, likability and agreement.
Below are some helpful hints to get you on your way towards becoming an impression master!
- Write the body paragraphs before you write the introduction and conclusion
- People often get hung up on how to begin their papers, and this means more time staring at a blank screen getting discouraged. Instead try writing your thesis and your body paragraphs first. Once you have written your body, go back and read over it asking yourself, “What is it I really want to say?” or “How do I want my reader to feel about my topic?”
- Save one or two interesting quotes or insights for your introduction and conclusion
- Be careful here. Quotes are great, but the reader wants to hear what you have to say about the topic. Sometimes it’s better to find a great quote that goes against your position/topic. That way you set yourself up as a real scholar, and you create and interesting “conflict” for your reader from the beginning.
- Catch the reader's attention by beginning with a "hook," then conclude or resolve that concept in your conclusion.
- Remember, readers aren’t going to be interested just because your name is at the top of the paper. The hook is how you show your personality to your audience, and resolving that hook is how you show your intelligence. Like a good person, a good paper should be well- rounded!
- Think about your audience! Demonstrate that you care about their interests, opinions, and ideas in your introduction and conclusion
- No one cares about someone who doesn’t care about them. A carefully thought out introduction shows readers that you as a writer care about their enjoyment and understanding rather than just pontificating ideas.
Introduction and Conclusion Checklists
A good introduction should…
A good conclusion should…
Describe what you plan to write about
Remind the reader of the main ideas that were discussed in the essay
Give the reader some idea of how you plan to discuss or approach your topic
Tie up any loose ends by resolving any unresolved questions, statements, or ideas
Give background information on your topic (when appropriate)
Discuss what can be done about your topic in the future (when appropriate)
Include a clear, concise thesis statement
Offer suggestions on ways that the reader can get involved with your topic/cause (when appropriate)
Establish a connection between the writer and the audience
Try, one last time, to convince the reader to agree with you (when appropriate)
It is extremely difficult to know what to put in your concluding paragraph without knowing what your thesis statement for your essay as a whole was and without knowing what sorts of arguments you have made in your essay. This is because a conclusion is generally meant to reinforce your thesis and the main points of your essay.
Therefore, it would be important to know what the topic of the essay was. Were you supposed to say which cause of the Depression was most important? Were you just supposed to describe the most important causes? It’s also important to know what you said as a thesis. Did you say something like “In this paper I will describe the main causes of the Depression” or did you take a stand like “The main causes of the Depression were the stock market and overproduction?”
In general, what you want to do is to sum up the main points of your paper. You do not want to bring in any new arguments or any new facts. Instead, you just want to reiterate the most important points. You might want to include one idea from each of your body paragraphs. Ideally, you would do so in a way that fits with your thesis statement.
Here is an example which may or may not fit with what you have written in your essay:
- The Great Depression had many causes. It was caused in part by problems in the farm economy and in part by excessive production in the industrial sector. These problems caused weaknesses in the foundations of the US economy. When the stock market crashed, the weaknesses were exposed and the Depression began.