As readers we see only the finished product of a writer, not all the changes that went into creating it. What finally appears as a beginning or introductory paragraph may actually be the last paragraph a writer composes. In other words it is not infrequent that the opening paragraph you write in a first draft is not the opening paragraph in the final draft. In fact, that first paragraph may not ever be used in the final draft, or it could be changed so much it no longer resembles what you started with. By the time revisions are made and the support has been established, your old introductory paragraph may be obsolete.
Most of us, however, begin writing our first drafts with what we think will be our introduction. It helps us formulate and state our thesis. Such a paragraph might help us get started, but it may not get our readers interested in what we have to say. What, then, are some effective ways to begin an essay?
Here are some suggestions that may work for you, depending on your essay audience and purpose.
1. Get right to the point, stating your thesis and your general reasons for feeling or believing as you do. One drawback to this approach is that unless your thesis is stated in such a way that your audience will be interested in reading on, it could be a boring opening.
2. Use a quotation or reference to writings that relate to your thesis, one from the reading, one by someone respected by most everyone, one that supports your point of view, or one that you disagree with and want to disprove in your essay. This can be done with an introductory block quote that is proportional in length to the length of the essay itself.
3. Tell a brief anecdote or story that relates in some way to or introduces the point of your thesis.
4. Use one or two questions that cause the reader to think about your topic, questions that you intend to answer in the body of your essay. Be careful not to overdo it with too many questions.
5. Provide some startling statistics or information that will appeal to your reader’s good sense.
6. Describe a scene that draws your reader into the subject.
7. Be creative and use a combination of the above.
The introductory paragraph is an important one. Make certain that whatever method you use, your opening draws your reader’s interest, fits into the point of your essay, and gets the reader involved in your subject.
As with essay introductions there is no one way to conclude an essay. Many students tend to repeat almost verbatim in their closing paragraph what they said in their opening one. However, the concluding paragraph of an essay should not simply duplicate what has already been written. Instead, you will usually want to do one of these three things in your last paragraph, depending on what your thesis is:
1. Summarize the major points of the essay. This can be tricky. Try to summarize by using different wording to restate the points you’ve made in a fresh but familiar way. Don’t use this method in a short essay with only three or four supporting paragraphs. This approach works best when you have written a longer piece with many points. Your summary will help your reader pull them all together.
2. Draw a conclusion based on the information you have presented. This method works best when you have been arguing for a particular viewpoint and have presented evidence that needs to be highlighted in order to draw a conclusion for the reader. Usually, you begin your paragraph with words such as, “Thus, we can see from these facts that . . . ,” or “For these reasons we must conclude that . . . ,” and then you state your conclusion.
3. Emphasize the need for change or more attention on the subject. Make a pitch for what needs to be done, based on the information you have presented in your essay. Call upon your readers to think more, care more, or act more on the subject of your essay now that you have successfully made your case.
4. Be creative and use a combination of the above.
One of the primary dangers that beginning writers encounter with composing conclusions is that they run out of steam by the time that they reach the end of their essay. Don’t fall into that trap! The conclusion is the last paragraph that the reader (grader) sees, and thus can make or break an essay. Devote the necessary time to draft a well thought out, well developed conclusion that will be worthy of all the time that you spent on the rest of the essay.