Allow me to introduce my little friend, the introduction.The
introduction can make or break an essay. Communications textbooks state
that we form an opinion about someone within the first two minutes of
meeting them. Likewise, English teachers form an opinion about an essay
after reading the first paragraph, the introduction. The opinion formed
about a person is often inaccurate; the opinion formed about an essay
is largely justified--the writer that can write good introductions can
write an excellent essay. That is how important the introduction is.
Let me try two ways to describe introduction writing.
Before you start, you have to know what you're introducing.
That is the last sentence in your introduction, your main point or your
thesis. It's what the whole essay is about. The topic sentences of the
body paragraphs support and explain this thesis just like the
supporting sentences support a topic sentence. That's a lot of
supporting going on. In my classes you might have two choices: a thesis
that covers all your body paragraph's topics without mentioning them by
name or one that lists all three topics in the order in which they
appear in the body paragraphs. Since the second choice is the easiest,
I usually assign it to novice essay writers.
Let me try the simplest approach first.
Write a series of ever more specific sentences that slowly lead the
reader to your thesis. Use a special technique if it's helpful and
appropriate. If you understand that, you don't need to read further. If
you don't, then read on, McDuff.
Now for the long-winded approach.
I always know my thesis before I start since I brainstorm until the
brain drops have flooded my paper with ideas. Consequently, it's easy
for me to look at that very specific sentence, the thesis, and ask to what larger groups or categories is my essay's subject connected?
Those larger groups become the framework for my introduction. Suppose I
am going to write an essay about the infamous actor from the thirties,
forties, and fifties, Errol Flynn. My thesis about that rogue will be
Errol Flynn lived life on his own terms regardless of the consequences.
Knowing that, I take the thesis's subject and ask to what larger group
does Flynn belong?
Okay, Errol Flynn is one of many what? Actors.
Actors are one part of what? Movies.
Movies are one part of what? Hollywood.
Hollywood is one of many what? American cities.
groups or categories become increasingly more general. You'll remember
that introductions start with sentences that target general ideas and
gradually get more specific; consequently, I'll need to start with
American cities and slowly zoom in on Flynn. I'll just write some
smooth sentences about these categories. Some get one sentence; some,
several sentences; and some, shared sentences. Flynn gets several
sentences about him, but they get more and more specific.
Some American cities
have a bland history, but some are steeped in the rich lore created by
its citizens. Few cities can boast of the legends and history that Hollywood
can. Ever since it first become the film capitol of the world, it has
drawn the attention of Americans from coast to coast. Its silent movies became talkies; its black and white movies, color ones; its actors, stars. While the movies themselves make money, it's the actors
that have made Hollywood interesting. Some actors were discovered in
drugstores. Others started as stuntmen or cowboys. However, few made
their debut as Errol Flynn
did--as a corpse. Flynn's first Hollywood scene featured him as an
unidentified body. Flynn's career may have started on a macabre note,
but by the time it peaked, he was Hollywood's highest paid actor.
Today, few people under forty would recognize the name, but despite
that fact, Flynn still holds one claim to fame that many actors then
and now cannot. Errol Flynn lived life on his own terms regardless of
Now how tough was that? I simply placed my
subject in a group, found what group that group was a member of, and
kept going until I had enough topics to fill sentences. Actually, how
far you back away from your subject is up to you. I could have had
three categories: Hollywood's famous actors of the forties, general
Flynn sentences, and my specific Flynn thesis. If I wanted to start
even closer to the subject, I could have started with Flynn
generalities before the specific Flynn thesis. If I did that, I would
probably have achieved a little "distance" from the subject by using
time--talking about Flynn as a washed up actor in 1959 and then going
back in time to his peak in 1939 before making my point. For novice
writers who often struggle to write paragraphs of sufficient length to
please their teacher, I recommend backing up several categories to
generate as many categories and as much sentence material as is
Let me show you some more "categorizing." If
my thesis is "The Nintendo 64 system, although it had great potential,
suffered from a lack of quality games", then my categories might
be--video game systems, stress management, and a stress-causing world.
Nintendo 64 was one kind of video game system that for many is one type
of stress management that is an important part of life in a
Using the larger category or group
approach is just one way. I could also use a historical approach: video
game systems, early video games, mechanical amusement games, and the
granddaddy of them all, pinball. I could also use several other special
techniques from my introduction/conclusion handout. Check it out!
Now let's conclude with the conclusion.If
you understand the introduction, my dear Watson, then the conclusion is
elementary. While the introduction presents general ideas followed by
more specific ones, the conclusion
presents its most specific sentence first and then gets more and more
general until it ends the essay in a smooth way.
Errol Flynn paid a price for living life his way. At the end as a heroin addict who owed money to most of the people he knew, Flynn
was a pale shadow of the legend he once was. He probably wouldn't have
picked this sad end for himself. However, the other legendary actors that died sad deaths didn't pick their fate either. For some actors life was harder than the movies they made. For them Hollywood itself is the drug that damages the ego and eats away at the man from the inside. Hollywood, the most celebrated city in America, is more than the white-lettered sign on a hillside. It's the graveyard of legends.
- Write the thesis first. Don't copy it from the introduction; do rephrase it without losing its idea.
those same subjects that you wrote sentences about in your
introduction, reverse their order, and write new sentences about those
- Make sure that last sentence
lets the reader know the essay is over. Remember that my subjects were
Flynn in general, actors, movies, Hollywood, and American cities.
I have just shown you is a very basic approach to introductions and
conclusions. As you grow as a writer, you will make introductions and
conclusions more complex. However, for now this method should work for
Practice discovering the categories/subjects for the sentences in your introductions and conclusions with these theses.
Mountain Dew is the single best soft drink in America today.
Mr. Roden is a wonderful, wonderful man.
The shorthaired tabby is the best choice for a house cat.
The home computer will be the death of us all.
A Chevy truck is a man's best friend.
The American politician may not be a natural born liar, but he or she learns really fast.
The function of sports is to boost egos.
"Cross Words" is a new American classic.
Flintstone vitamins encourage cannibalism.
Black mold is a silent killer--until its victim hacks up a lung.