Introductions and Conclusions

      First and last impressions are important. Your introduction creates a first impression, and, obviously, your conclusion creates a last. Unfortunately, introductions and conclusions are difficult to teach, for the simple reason that they depend on the hundreds of variables in the purpose, audience, and body of the essay.
      Perhaps the most important point to remember about introductions and conclusions is that they should be written last -- after you have drafted the body of your essay. You can't introduce something until you know what it is you are going to introduce. Better writers sometimes scribble down something as a tentative introduction, but they usually go back and heavily revise. If this works for you -- and you don't mind doing the extra scribbling -- fine. But remember to re-view your introduction after you have finished the draft of the body of the essay.


      As they probably told you in high school, introductions may capture your reader's interest, but most of the stuff that we actually read is stuff that we either have to or want to read anyway. The introduction is probably not going to affect whether or not we read it. Perhaps the most important function of introductions is usually not taught -- they give your reader a few seconds to focus on reading. Watch yourself. When you first sit down to read, you are adjusting pillows, clothes, etc., or you are thinking about what you were just doing. You are not giving full attention to the text. (When my eyes start reading your paper, my mind is still on the previous paper. If I miss your thesis because you put it in the very first sentence, the problem is yours, not mine.) 
      The length of introductions (and conclusions) is usually relative to the length of the paper, book, etc. For a 500-750 word essay, a single paragraph is usually enough. (Remember that fewer than five sentences will result in a very weak paragraph.) The following may help you with introductions: (The tone of the examples is meant to be humorous: I do not hate babies.)

1. Check your brainstorming notes for an idea. If you did a decent job of brainstorming, you will often find ideas that are closely related to your final topic but that did not quite fit. Sometimes they can be adapted to make excellent introductions.

2. Consider your intended audience and write an introduction that explains why they will be interested in your essay. For example, the following introduction might be directed to Expectant Parents magazine: 

           For most young couples, married life is wonderful. Although work may separate them for a few hours most days, the rest of their life is often shared -- dinner, dancing, movies, parties, vacations, whatever they like to do, they get to do together. And then comes a baby! Soon they will realize that a baby is an adult's first taste of hell.
3. Make a general statement about your topic to establish a context for your essay. Then use three or four sentences to move to your thesis. For example: 
          Most people love babies. Parents show off their baby's picture. Politicians hold and kiss them. We smile when we see them. But this love for babies doesn't make sense. A baby is an adult's first taste of hell.
4. Begin with an anecdote. An anecdote is simply a brief story. If your essay includes narrative examples, you can often take a short one and move it into the introduction. For example:
           I was sleeping soundly, as I always do, but suddenly had a sharp pain in my arm. I dreamed that a student was smashing my right arm with a hammer, but I awoke to hear my wife say, "He's awake again, and I'm too tired. You rock him." So I got up and rocked, and rocked and rocked. Rocking Paul to sleep, while trying to stay awake myself, wasn't easy. It was then that I realized that a baby is an adult's first taste of hell.
5. Begin with a question. For example:
          Why do women love babies? There must be something wrong with them (the women, not the babies). Men accept babies. Men will smile at babies. But women want to hold babies, talk about babies, show pictures of babies, even look at pictures of other people's babies! There has to be something wrong with women because a baby is an adult's first taste of hell.
6. Turn your conclusion into your thesis
          Some writers work their way into their ideas as they draft. In other words, even though we stress outlining in this course, these writers don't see where they are going until they get there. As a result, they end up with what is known as an inductive essay, which simply means that the essay leads into the thesis. Although such essays are acceptable, and in some cases even highly praised by some teachers of writing, such essays can probably get you into trouble in most of your other courses. In those courses, your instructor will probably want to know where you are going with the essay right from the beginning. That way, the instructor can check, point-by-point, to see if your arguments and ideas are acceptable. 
          It is for this reason that I want your thesis up front. (Part of my job is to prepare you for those instructors, and this is a Freshman, not an advanced, composition course.) Ideally, you should have written the draft of the body of your essay before your wrote your introduction. Try writing your conclusion next, and then see if it would work better, with a little revision, as your introduction.
7. Do something else.


      An essay needs a conclusion as a sign of the ending of an interpersonal event. You do not generally walk away from people you have been talking to without saying "Good-bye." On a date, a guy does not simply dump the girl out of the car at the end of it. Although you usually cannot see the people who will be reading what you wrote, writing still needs some sort of ending note. Otherwise the reader will feel that the interaction is incomplete. (Do you really want the people who read your papers to feel that the papers are incomplete, simply because you did not tack on an ending?) Teaching students how to write conclusions is difficult, because conclusions depend on the paper that went before them. There are thousands of possibilities. The following suggestions may help.

1. Check your brainstorming notes for an idea. You are even more likely to find something in your brainstorming notes that you did not use which can be adapted for a conclusion. For example, if you are writing about the advantages of hunting with a bow and arrow, the conclusion might suggest a few good local places to do such hunting.

2. Consider your intended audience and attempt to reemphasize how the essay related to them. The essay that began this way (See the second suggestion for Introductions, might conclude this way:

           Sleepless nights, missed parties, minor arguments ("It's your turn to change the diapers.") will certainly change the tone of new parents' lives. Babies may be beautiful, but they come with built-in frustrations for parents. Most parents adapt, however, and the baby's smiles, "ga-ga's," and first steps usually more than offset the frustrations. At least they do until the baby hits the" terrible twos."
3. Place the paperís thesis in a larger context. For example:
           Sleepless nights, stinky diapers, cramped schedules, could hell be much worse? But then perhaps the baby-as-first-taste-of-hell is a good experience for the new parent. Later will come the mid-life crisis (parents', not baby's), possible career problems, financial crises, and all the unexpected flames of fate. At least a baby arrives with a great deal of love.
4. Suggest how the thesis could be considered from different perspectives. For example:
           According to one Greek legend, humans were originally a-sexual. As humans progressed, the gods began to worry that humankind might overthrow them. To avert that, the gods cut every human in half, thereby creating males and females. According to the legend, the idea was that males and females would be so busy trying to reunite, that they would no longer pose a threat to the gods. The legend was obviously wrong: males and females reunite easily and frequently. But the gods still had the right idea: humans can't threaten them since we're so busy taking care of the products of our reunions.
5. If you cannot think of anything else, summarize, but do not tell the reader that you are doing so. Concluding a three to four page paper with a summary can insult many readers. In essence, you are telling the readers that they are too stupid to remember three pages of material. If you can't think of anything else to do, then summarize, but do not use "In conclusion," or "In sum." These phrases mark your writing as that of a weak high school student (who couldn't think of any other way of ending the essay).

6. Do something else.

Assignment # 1

This border is a based on Giotto di Bondone's (1267-1337)
Scenes from the Life of the Virgin. 
The Presentation at the Temple, detail of an angel
1305-13, fresco, Arena Chapel at Padua, Italy.
Carol Gerten's Fine Art -
[For educational use only]
Click here for the directory of my backgrounds based on art.