PART I: THE INTRODUCTION
An introduction is usually the first paragraph of your academic essay. If you’re writing a long essay, you might need two or three paragraphs to introduce your topic to your reader. A good introduction does three things:
- Gets the reader’s attention. You can get a reader’s attention by telling a story, providing a statistic, pointing out something strange or interesting, providing and discussing an interesting quote, etc. Be interesting and find some original angle via which to engage others in your topic.
- Provides necessary background information. Don’t start too broad, for instance by talking about how literature helps us understand life, but do tell your readers what they need to know to get their bearings in your topic, e.g. who wrote the story you’re writing about, when it was published, where it was published, etc.
- Provides a specific and debatable thesis statement. The thesis statement is usually just one sentence long, but it might be longer—even a whole paragraph—if the essay you’re writing is long. A good thesis statement makes a debatable point, meaning a point someone might disagree with and argue against. It also serves as a roadmap for what you argue in your paper.
PART II: THE CONCLUSION
A conclusion is the last paragraph of your essay, or, if you’re writing a really long essay, you might need two or three paragraphs to conclude. A conclusion typically does one of two things—or, of course, it can do both:
- Summarizes the argument. Some instructors expect you not to say anything new in your conclusion. They just want you to restate your main points. Especially if you’ve made a long and complicated argument, it’s useful to restate your main points for your reader by the time you’ve gotten to your conclusion. If you opt to do so, keep in mind that you should use different language than you used in your introduction and your body paragraphs. The introduction and conclusion shouldn’t be the same.
- Explains the significance of the argument. Some instructors want you to avoid restating your main points; they instead want you to explain your argument’s significance. In other words, they want you to answer the “so what” question by giving your reader a clearer sense of why your argument matters.
- For example, your argument might be significant to studies of a certain time period.
- Alternately, it might be significant to a certain geographical region.
- Alternately still, it might influence how your readers think about the future. You might even opt to speculate about the future and/or call your readers to action in your conclusion.
PART III: THE BODY PARAGRAPHS
Body paragraphs help you prove your thesis and move you along a compelling trajectory from your introduction to your conclusion. If your thesis is a simple one, you might not need a lot of body paragraphs to prove it. If it’s more complicated, you’ll need more body paragraphs. An easy way to remember the parts of a body paragraph is to think of them as containing the MEAT of your essay:
Main Idea. The part of a topic sentence that states the main idea of the body paragraph. All of the
sentences in the paragraph connect to it. Keep in mind that main ideas are…
- like labels. They appear in the first sentence of the paragraph and tell your reader what’s inside the paragraph.
- arguable. They’re not statements of fact; they’re debatable points that you prove with evidence.
- focused. Make a specific point in each paragraph and then prove that point.
Evidence. The parts of a paragraph that prove the main idea. You might include different types of
evidence in different sentences. Keep in mind that different disciplines have different ideas about what counts as evidenceand they adhere to different citation styles. Examples of evidence include…
- quotations and/or paraphrases from sources.
- facts, e.g. statistics or findings from studies you’ve conducted.
- narratives and/or descriptions, e.g. of your own experiences.
Analysis. The parts of a paragraph that explain the evidence. Make sure you tie the evidence you provide back to the paragraph’s main idea. In other words, discuss the evidence.
Transition. The part of a paragraph that helps you move fluidly from the last paragraph. Transitions
appear in topic sentences along with main ideas, and they look both backward and forward in order to help you connect your ideas for your reader. Don’t end paragraphs with transitions; start with them.
Keep in mind that MEAT does not occur in that order.The “Transition” and the “Main Idea” often combine to form the first sentence—the topic sentence—and then paragraphs contain multiple sentences of evidence and analysis. For example, a paragraph might look like this:
TM. E. E. A. E. E. A. A.
Step 6: Write introduction and conclusion
Introductory and concluding paragraphs function together as the frame around the argument of your essay. Or, using the visual image of book-ends holding the books – the body of your essay – together. It is important to write the introduction and the conclusion in one sitting, so that they match in mirror image to create a complete framework.
The Introductory Paragraph
When you’ve finished writing the middle paragraphs, the body of your essay, and you’re satisfied that the argument or case you’ve presented adequately supports your thesis statement, you’re now ready to write your introduction.
- Introduces the topic of your essay,
- ‘Welcomes’ the reader with a general statement that engages their interest or that they can agree with,
- Sets the scene for the discussion in the body of the essay,
- Builds up to the thesis statement,
- Prepares the reader for the thesis statement and your argument or case, but does not introduce points of argument,
- Concludes with the thesis statement.
In preparing the reader for the thesis statement, there are many approaches in writing an introduction that can be taken. The following are just a few:
- Provide historical background,
- Outline the present situation,
- Define terms,
- State the parameters of the essay,
- Discuss assumptions,
- Present a problem.
The following examples from Model Essays One and Two show how introductory paragraphs are developed.
The first six sentences in this introductory paragraph prepare the reader for the thesis statement in sentence 7 that the three key elements of a successful essay are ‘focus, organisation, and clarity‘
- Sentence 1 makes the generalisation that students ‘find essay writing difficult and frustrating’, and
- Sentences 2 and 3 expand on this generalisation.
- Sentence 4 reinforces the idea of difficulty.
- Sentence 5 turns the paragraph away from the difficulties of essay writing towards a way of addressing the difficulties by breaking the essay into components. (The word ‘however’ signals this change of direction.)
- Sentence 6 suggests that there are three of these components, preparing the way for the thesis statement that ‘focus, organisation, and clarity’ are these components.
Just as the introductory paragraph is written after the argument or case of the middle paragraphs has been written, so the title is written after the essay is completed. In this way, it can signpost what the reader can expect from the essay as a whole.
Note that the thesis statement has been re-worded, picking up the idea from the first sentence that the essay has had a long history in the phrase ‘continues to be‘ and strengthening ‘valid’ to ‘valuable‘.
The first four sentences in this introductory paragraph prepare the reader for the thesis statement in sentence 5 that the essay ‘continues to be a valuable learning and assessment medium’.
- Sentence 1 makes the generalisation that despite the age of the genre, essays are still set as assessment tasks.
- Sentence 2 notes that the genre has changed but some characteristics remain, and;
- Sentence 3 lists some of these characteristics.
- Sentence 4 asserts essay writing is demanding, but the ‘learning dividends are high’, which leads into the thesis statement.
The Concluding Paragraph:
The concluding paragraph completes the frame around the essay’s argument, which was opened in the introductory paragraph.
- Begins by restating the thesis,
- Should be a mirror image of the first paragraph,
- Sums up the essay as a whole,
- Contextualises the argument in a wider scope, but does not introduce new points,
- Leaves the reader with a sense of completion.
The following examples from Model Essays One and Two show how concluding paragraphs are developed.
- Sentence 1 restates the thesis that focus, organisation, and clarity are the key elements of a successful essay. The phrase ‘Clearly then’ implies that, having read the case for focus, organisation, and clarity being identified as the ‘key elements’, the reader agrees with the thesis.
- Sentence 2 acknowledges the importance of the essay’s content but asserts that sound content isn’t enough for success.
- Sentence 3 sums up the points made in the middle three paragraphs.
- Sentence 4 restates the generalisation the essay started with – that students find essay writing difficult – but then ends on a high note with the prediction that addressing the key elements discussed in the middle paragraphs will ensure success.
- Sentence 1 restates the thesis that the essay continues to be a valuable learning and assessment medium.
- Sentences 2 and 3 summarise the main points of the middle three paragraphs.
- Sentence 4 picks up the reference to the age of the essay genre, with which the essay begins, but then affirms the essay’s continuing relevance.
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