Essays—the beginning and the end

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It is said that we form an opinion about people within the first two minutes of meeting them.  The same is true of writing.  A bad beginning prompts a quick, negative opinion of what will follow.  That’s why introductions are so important.  They have to grab the reader’s attention in a positive way and hold it so the writer’s main idea or thesis will easily enter the reader’s mind.  There are several ways to accomplish this.

All introductions have a general to specific structure.  In other words, they don’t smack the reader immediately with the main point, but they begin with statements that are in the general area and get closer and closer (more specific) to that idea.  Some introductions begin in a more general way than others.  First, let me show you the general to specific structure without any special method.


General to specific
      Love is a wonderful thing.  Most people wouldn’t want to live in a world devoid of love.  It makes living a whole lot easier.  However, some would question how it is shown sometimes.  Here at LHS, the library closes for half a day so that flower shops can deliver flowers to loved and loving teens on Valentine’s Day.  Like many events, the logic behind this one has heretofore gone unquestioned.  Given a little thought, it becomes obvious that this massive flower shower is not the product of love but of vanity and boastfulness.

     Note the general nature of the first sentence.  A reader wouldn’t have a clue that the reader was going to take a persuasive stand about Valentine’s Day silliness.  However, its general topic of love puts the reader’s mind “in the ballpark.”  The next sentences go from statements about “most” to statements about “some”—a surefire way to get more specific.  The next sentences go from love in general to its expression to the logic and appropriateness of  said expression and finally gives a very definite opinion that it promises to discuss in the essay’s body paragraphs.

     The rest of the introduction types follow this same general to specific structure but employ a specific method.


Real or hypothetical stories
     This special method plays on people’s general fondness for a story.  Parents programmed us to like a good story, and they consequently get our attention.  For example…

     Debbie’s first love would last a lifetime.  At least, that’s the way she felt before Valentine’s Day.  That look in Tommy’s eyes told her so.  All afternoon, her friends received colored flower delivery cards, and she looked forward to hers.  Finally, she received one.  At 2:40 she entered the library as girls left it with bundles of roses and teddy bears.   Debbie finally found her delivery, a single carnation with a card that said “I love you.  Tommy”.  Debbie was irate and gave Tommy  a severe tongue lashing after school.  Tommy argued saying, “Hey, do you love me or flowers?”  Tommy realized a little late that Debbie’s kind of love wasn’t simply the kind felt between two people but the kind that allowed her to brag about how much money  was spent on her, the kind of love where trophies meant more than feelings.  Tommy later realized that Debbie wasn’t the only girl who felt this way.  Most of her gender felt that love can be measured through money spent on dead plants and stuffed animals.  However, this kind of love is the cheap variety that smacks more of vanity than true emotion.

      Whether it’s real or hypothetical, the story has to lead the reader to your point.


Startling fact or statistic
     Sometimes showing just how noteworthy or huge a situation is can grab the reader.

      It’s no secret that Valentine’s Day is the single biggest business day for florists.  $260 million  are spent in America each year on flowers alone.  Candy and stuffed animal manufacturers flood stores with their best hope for profits as well.  Most of these items are perishables or consumables and presumably don’t last as long as the love they’re meant to symbolize.  Given these facts, it’s hard to understand why people put so much stock in how many roses are sent by unknown delivery people to work sites and schools as opposed to a face-to-face delivery by the lover their self.  However, a little thought shows these plants and sweets are not symbols of passion so much as food to feed the egos of women everywhere whose vainer qualities demand the spoils of love.


Rhetorical question
       A rhetorical question is one that demands no immediate or direct answer and often is simply a statement in question form.  “Aren’t we all human?” is an example.

     Isn’t it possible that true love demands nothing in return but true love?  The obvious answer would seem to be yes, but ask nubile members of the fairer sex this question on Valentine’s Day, and the answer will be a resounding no.  On that passionate date, roses, candy, cards, and stuffed animals are the truest measure of love to be found.  Feelings of love are subordinate to these trophies a girl must have to proudly flaunt in the faces of love’s less fortunate.  This blatantly flawed premise is so widely spread that few question its existence, but a close examination shows this isn’t love; it’s vanity.

   Quotes are best used if they’re widely known.  However, they can be fictional if typical of some group.

     “What’s love go to do, got to do with it, Baby?  What is love but a second hand emotion?”  Tina Turner’s lament makes a great pop lyric, but it also points to real life issue.  Each Valentine’s Day, women of all ages expect and usually receive not just a token but a trophy of their loved one’s affection.  Dozens of roses, boxes of candies, and herds of stuffed animals are sold and delivered to work sites and schools because without them, love is intangible and unproven.  If this sounds asinine, it’s only because it is.  That these same gifts should and could be personally and privately delivered by giver to recipient but are not shows what these gifts really are—the symbols of vanity.

     An analogy is an extended metaphor, a comparison in several ways.

     In laboratories, scientists attempt to qualify and quantify substances.  They apply litmus tests to substances to help them discover the chemical makeup of unidentified compounds.  Some people believe there is also a litmus test for love.  Red no longer indicates an acid but a passion in the form of flowers.  Blue doesn’t denote alkaline but should be the color of the ribbon around the teddy bear’s neck or the facial color of the girl as she attempts to carry away her plunder.  Without these tangibles, love is thought to be absent.  This may sound ludicrous until one explores the contents of LHS’s library on Valentine’s day.  The girl who receives no trophies from her loved one is livid.  However, these items should be used only as a litmus test for vanity, not love.

     Go back in time and look at the history of your subject.  It can be real or creative.

     The first Valentine was sent when Oog hit the lovely Moogle with a heart-shaped rock and said “Hubba, hubba.”  When Moogle also said “Hubba, hubba,” their love was fated to last as long as the bruise the Valentine created. Since that time less painful shows of affection have become the norm.  However, while Oog sent his Valentine in the direct, personal way, lovers today prefer the indirect approach paying a middleman to deliver what they should deliver themselves.  Oog didn’t care who saw his Valentine arrive, but today’s passion-filled people care more about who sees them carry their roses and candy than who sent them.  This shows the vanity involved in what was an ego-free event.


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    My conclusions are usually shorter than my introductions since I’ve already made all my points in the essay’s body.  The conclusion gives the thesis in its first sentence, making it difficult for the reader to forget the point I’m trying to get across.  The remaining sentences aren’t as specific and gradually get more general.  This is why a  point-first triangle can represent the conclusion. The conclusion should bring the essay to a satisfying ending. 

 These three examples should amply show the technique for conclusions:
Specific to general (formerly general to specific)
     Vanity and boastfulness have intruded into a holiday meant to target a nobler trait.  If people thought before they acted, our library would fulfill its intended purpose and flowers could fulfill theirs—to show their recipient, not the world, how much they’re loved.  Love is important part of life, and it shouldn’t be sullied by negative traits. It deserves our best efforts.

[Conclusions, like introductions, have the same structure regardless of the special techniques employed.  If the writer chose a real or hypothetical story to begin the essay, the conclusion will remind the reader of that story.]

Real or hypothetical stories
     Vanity and love shouldn’t be mixed.  Too many girls feel as Debbie does—that they should receive trophies rather than tokens of love.  After discovering Debbie’s definition of love, Tommy will search for that atypical girl who values him, not his money.  His search may not be easy, but the payoff will make the effort worthwhile.  The type of love Tommy will find will be the real deal. 

Startling fact or statistic
      Breaking the tradition of vanity and love demanding solid, expensive proof will be difficult; the flower, stuffed animal, and candy industries certainly want their $260 million tradition to continue.  However, true love may demand this tradition be downplayed.  A face-to-face, private giving of gifts has to be better than a showy display meant to boast, but the truest love needs no tokens to prove its existence.  The feelings themselves serve that purpose.

Three steps to summarize writing conclusions:

  1. Begin with the thesis, not a clone of the one at the end of the introduction, but the same idea.
  2. If the writer used a special technique in the introduction, not the generic general-to-specific structure, that technique is continued in the conclusion with reference to that historical event, quote, analogy, etc.
  3. The conclusion' last sentence should let the reader know that he or she is done;  it shouldn't leave the reader hanging.
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