Note: this how-to guide only applies to essays that are scholarly and formal. For example, think English, sociology, environmental, humanities, history, gender studies…the list goes on. But there will be essays that require you take a different approach to introductions and conclusions.
Tips from and English major and writing tutor.
I know not everyone loves English and writing. That’s why I’m here to help. I will be writing a series short blog posts to simplify essays so that you know exactly how to ace your next paper. Today, we’re talking about my favorite paragraphs—the most important, the ones that will make or break your paper—the introduction and conclusion.
Yeah. Probably your least favorite to write. I will admit, they are the hardest to nail, but it’s imperative that your introduction and conclusion are strong, or else it won’t matter how good your body paragraphs are. Once you perfect your introduction and conclusions, you will leave your teachers remembering your essay long after they finish grading it.
Remember the triangles.
A “formula” for thinking about essays has been helpful for myself and my tutees.
I think the easiest way to think about introductions and conclusions is to look at them as triangles. Triangles visually represent how general or specific the information should be within each section of the paragraphs. Let me show you what I mean:
The triangles represent specificity. The introduction is a triangle flipped upside-down because it starts of more generally, and then the paragraph gets much more specific by the last sentence in the intro: the thesis. The specificity is illustrated by the point in the triangle.
I have a blog post on how to construct your thesis if you need it.
The conclusion starts with the most specific sentence to clearly reiterate the thesis. The paragraph then transitions seamlessly into the argument you’ve been making the whole time. Finally, you express the text or film’s importance in the world today.
Let’s look at my essay as an example: “Thoreau’s Political Activism: The Construction of Unconventional Masculinity.” I want to use this essay of mine as an example because it illustrates that your introduction can be two paragraphs. Especially in upper-level college English classes, your introduction probably should be two paragraphs. However, never add a third introductory paragraph. And you’re safe with one if it does the job.
1st Intro Paragraph
Hook: In “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau asks his audience: “How many men are there to a square thousand miles in this country? Hardly one” (70).
Slow, smooth transition to topic (reveal gender focus): This question forces us to ask in turn, what type of masculinity does Thoreau consider to be ideal? Since gender is a societal construct, people have equated different traits with “femininity” and “masculinity” depending on the time and place in which they lived.
Conclusion sentence: Since no characteristics are inherently feminine or masculine, Thoreau was able to construct his own unique unconventional ideal of masculinity throughout Walden and his political essays.
2nd intro pargraph
Continue transition to thesis, and provide roadmap: Thoreau’s constructed masculine ideal favors the politically active, independent, and virtuous man, which can be seen by analyzing Thoreau’s critique of conventionally masculine men and his idealization of John Brown.
Thesis (reveal race analysis focus): However, although Thoreau constructs this new ideal of masculinity in order to aid society in abolishing slavery, his texts reflect and perpetuate the racial biases that were held by society during his time.
Conclusions, unlike introduction paragraphs, should always be limited to one paragraph.
Another hook (optional) and restate thesis in a new, interesting way: In “Slavery in Massachusetts,” Thoreau wrote, “They persist in being the servants to the worst of men, and not the servants of humanity” (103). But couldn’t we argue that Thoreau himself was a servant to the worst of men through his perpetuation of the oppression of people based on race and gender?
Transition to less specific to paper to more general terms, and relate to present-day issue: Ironically, although he was attempting to aid in abolishing slavery, his political essays perpetuate racism by excluding non-white men. Similarly, although he was glamorizing the politically active John Brown, he never once mentions his mother or his sisters, who founded the Concord Antislavery Society (Petrulionis 19). How could he overlook the participation of his own mother and sister in the abolitionist movement, yet never fight for their rights at all?
Conclusion sentence describing the importance of essay in the real world: So, rather than glamorizing the politically progressive Thoreau, we should instead analyze the ways in which his texts both reflect and perpetuate the oppression of people based on race and gender.
Extra Intro & Conclusion Tips:
- If you have more than one text or film to analyze, include all the titles in your thesis. Introduce each author or director in the introduction.
- Always know what present-day issue you will be relating your text or film to before you write anything. Great lenses to analyze your text or film include gender, race and ethnicity, ecocriticism, Marxist, religious, or historical. Know the importance of your paper.
- Always make a new, interesting argument. Read what literary critics have written about your text or film through the same lens you want to focus on, and find a way to make your argument better. Whether you agree or disagree with the articles, include some in your essay to show you did background research, and to make your argument stronger. Express your opinions on their opinions.
- Write your introduction and conclusion after you write every other paragraph.
- Make your introduction and conclusion as concise as possible. Present your argument thoroughly, but don’t explain or dive too deeply into your topic yet. Your body paragraphs will do the work for you. This balance of being thorough, yet concise, can be the hardest to strike. Definitely write multiple drafts of your thesis statement.
- Write a draft on a loose-leaf piece of paper. Draw the triangles and brainstorm sentences next to them. How can you get your words to flow in a way that represents your introductory and conclusion paragraphs as triangles?
Now you should know how to write your own perfect introduction and conclusion paragraphs! Aim to leave your teachers stunned at how much effort you put into analyzing the text or film.