Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Introductions & Conclusions

There are several steps to writing an academic essay, and once you’ve written the body paragraphs of your paper, the truly hard work is over. Many writers prefer to write the introductory paragraph for an essay after having written all of the body paragraphs, as this gives them a better sense of exactly how they need to set up the paper and, therefore, what needs to go into the intro paragraph. The same goes for the conclusion. Take the opportunity when writing your intro and concluding paragraphs to hit the right note with your reader right off the bat and leave your audience with a favorable impression, respectively.

Getting Started

Some writing concepts can be a bit tough to grasp, but that’s not really the case when it comes to essay introductions. We all have a sense of why a good introduction is crucial. We want to grab the reader’s attention, or, in the case of a teacher, we want to impress upon him or her right away that our writing is of high quality.

There are a few methods you can use when crafting an introductory paragraph, but one major guideline has to do with the thesis statement, which communicates the main point of an essay and expresses the writer’s position. The guideline is that you should include your thesis statement in your introductory paragraph. Many writers make the thesis the last sentence in the intro. We’ve already developed our thesis for our sample essay, arguing that: ‘My state should completely ban all cellphone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles because such a ban would reduce distractions and save lives.’

One very common method of introducing an essay consists of presenting useful background information. What type of background information would be pertinent for this paper? We may want to establish firmly that cellphone use by drivers is, in fact, a dangerous problem, as making a case for that right off the bat would help us win over readers. We might, therefore, include a bit of general evidence, which we would elaborate on later in a body paragraph.

Our intro might go something like this:

‘Any car accident is a terrible occurrence, but even worse is an accident that very easily could have been avoided. Drivers who use their cellphones while driving are increasingly causing accidents on the road. While some people may assume that texting while driving is the only real cellphone-related danger, it’s actually the case that many types of cellphone use by drivers contribute to the number of accidents, from placing calls to checking email. Research has shown just how dangerous cellphone use by drivers can be. My state should completely ban all cellphone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles because such a ban would reduce distractions and save lives.’

This introductory paragraph is effective because it clearly establishes the nature of the problem and strongly communicates our argument.

Another common move that writers make when putting together introductions is forecasting the organizational structure of the paper. Writing one’s body paragraphs before the introduction makes this easy to do, as we could easily lay out in the intro what general points we’d make, and in what order. For our purposes, we can consult our outline to see our organized points.

If we chose to forecast the organizational structure of our paper, we might run through our major arguments from our paper in our intro. We could adapt the points made following each Roman numeral, and include those points in the intro to give a sense to our reader of what we’ll be arguing in the actual body of the paper.

A third common method for introducing an academic essay is presenting an anecdote or story to capture the reader’s interest. Note that an anecdote is just a brief, interesting story. Sometimes telling a quick story that happened to you or someone you know can be an effective way of engaging your reader. Going that route for our sample persuasive essay might look something like this:

‘I had always heard the public service announcements warning of the dangers of texting while driving, so I always avoided doing it. However, I never thought much about making calls. When a call came in to me from my roommate a few months ago while I was behind the wheel, my phone was in easy reach of me, and answering the call and chatting with her were not difficult. After we talked, though, I had to call her right back, and I glanced down just for a second to unlock my phone and pull up her name from my contacts list. Just as I did so, the car in front of me braked suddenly, and I didn’t notice it right away. I had to slam on my brakes and steer my car off the road. Luckily, I didn’t hit another car, but the incident made clear to me how dangerous any cellphone use can be for a driver.’

Note that this anecdote would lead nicely up to our thesis statement, ‘My state should completely ban all cellphone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles because such a ban would reduce distractions and save lives.’

Using an anecdote in this way to introduce a persuasive paper can be effective because it can convince the reader that the identified problem is very real and that our proposed solution is truly needed. Note that each of these introduction techniques would work well for other types of essays, including narratives, expository essays, and textual analyses. If you do write the body of your paper first, you may have a good sense of the best way to approach your intro.

Conclusion Techniques

Just as your introduction can set the right persuasive tone for your reader right from the start, your conclusion can leave your reader with a strong impression, helping you make your case. One route you can take is summarizing your main points, or running through the major points you’ve made. This would be pretty similar to forecasting the organizational structure of the paper for introductions. This method is especially useful for a longer paper, as it serves as a reminder to the reader of all of the points that you’ve argued.

Another concluding technique is referred to as bookending, in which you relate your conclusion directly to your introduction. Think about how matching bookends fit at either end of a row of books. With this method, your intro and conclusion work as bookends that are linked thematically, with the body of your essay in the middle. We could, for example, bookend our anecdotal introduction from earlier this way, with a matching concluding anecdote:

‘The day that I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting another car, I realized how close I had come to causing a serious accident. What would have made the matter even worse was that it would have been caused by something so trivial as a phone call. A law prohibiting all cellphone use for drivers might not prevent all accidents like the one I almost caused, but it would certainly make drivers think twice about casually risking their lives and the lives of others.’

Personal anecdotes like this one can appeal to readers’ emotions, perhaps winning them over in a way that data alone might not. Using the bookending technique in our intro and conclusion makes a useful thematic connection and helps drive our main point home. Again, just as with introductions, these techniques can work well no matter what type of essay you’re writing, from a persuasive essay to an expository paper.

Finally, you might close a persuasive essay with a call to action. With this type of conclusion, you would very specifically explain what solution you would propose. One very useful aspect of this technique is that it requires that you be specific with what you want to happen. One mistake that students make in persuasive papers is simply writing about how they don’t like a certain situation in society, without explaining what they think should happen.

You might write an essay, for example, in which you discuss the horrors of animal abuse. But it’s usually not enough to point out that something bad is in fact bad. Instead, you should clearly state your call to action. For instance, you might call for your state to enact certain laws with heavy fines and prison sentences for abuse, or for public awareness campaigns to try to prevent the abuses from happening.

For the purpose of our sample essay, our call to action would be that our state legislature should outlaw all cellphone use for drivers, as our thesis has stated. But we could express in our conclusion, for example, that citizens should lobby for this new legislation, or that there should be certain types of penalties for breaking the law. Your call to action is your opportunity to be concrete about your proposed solution to the problem.

Lesson Summary

Don’t pass up the chance to create a strong first impression or close on a strong note. As a general rule, you should include your thesis statement at the end of your introductory paragraph. In the rest of your intro, you might choose to present useful background information, forecast the organizational structure of the paper, or present an anecdote or story to capture the reader’s interest. In your concluding paragraph, you might summarize your main points, use the bookending technique, in which you relate your conclusion directly to your introduction, or clearly state your call to action.

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