Allow me to introduce my little friend, the introduction.

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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.

These 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 the consequences.

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 logically possible.

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 stress-causing world.

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.

What 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 you.

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.

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