Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Academic Essays 2 - Importance of Introductions and Conclusions

First impressions can make or break you; the same holds true for your introduction.

At the very onset of your essay, you must draw the reader in - into your topic, into your style, and into your purpose (their reason for reading) - in a way that makes them one to continue reading.

Some of the weakest introductions start off, "In this essay, I will examine." While some courses might suggest this way of starting an essay or even starting your thesis, it doesn't draw a reader into the piece.

We can draw a reader in by...
  • starting with an anecdote. We all love stories - telling and hearing them. If there is an anecdote that ties into your essay's topic, use that to begin your introduction.
  • starting with a quote. I had a student last year who loved quotes, and no matter the essay topic, she had a knack for finding the most perfect quote to start her introductions. If there is a quote that resonates your topic or your opinion of your topic or that sets the tone for the essay, definitely use it. Keep in mind, the quote doesn't act as your introduction; it merely begins it.
  • starting with a question. It's almost innate for us to answer a question, even when it's not directed toward us. What question does your essay answer? Develop that question and start your introduction with it. It will alert the reader's mind and activate him/her to keep reading.
  • starting with a fact. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who will argue a fact. And a strong, startling fact can give readers a wake up call that will keep them reading.

The point is the introduction of an academic essay does not have to be boring; in fact, you will lose a reader if you are boring.

The introduction invites readers into your work. The body presents all the bells and whistles that support that invitation. The conclusion tells them why it was important to come along for the ride.

As stated in the first post, I've had students who cut and pasted introductions into conclusions. A conclusion does more than simply restate the thesis or summarize the body. A conclusion, in a way, puts what's been written into the hands of the reader; it gives them the option to take the information and make it theirs. For example, in an essay that explores the effects of divorce on children, a conclusion might offer suggestions on how to keep a marriage strong and intact to avoid divorce and its ramifications. An essay that explains why it's important to be a part and have a voice in the political world might conclude with ways in which a person can get involved. An essay on the types of losers a woman might meet in the dating world can conclude by showing what NOT to do to avoid meeting these "losers."

The point is a conclusion shifts the power from the writer to the reader. The conclusion propels a reader to think, to feel, and to act.

So, for you the writer, you need to ask yourself, "Why would someone read this essay?" "What do I want a reader to do with this information?" Finding answers to these questions will help you develop a conclusion that closes out the essay and evokes a thought, feeling, or action from your reader.
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

Bookmark and Share


  1. I love hearing speakers start with anecdotes and I think it would work well with the printed delivery, too.

    This series is interesting to me...thanks for sharing it.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Thanks Shon. This is a very interesting series you're doing. As I was reading today about conclusions, it made me think of fiction. I could see how that idea could be used to conclude a book of fiction as well.

    Straight From Hel

  3. I agree with you gals. Joanna Campbell Slam says just that in her book about public speaking. Start with a story! Since everyone loves a good story--you catch them right up front.

  4. I love the way you describe conclusions.

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    And you know, we're such a story-driven society. We see "narratives" on the highway in regards to accidents and want to pull over and see what the story is. We get narratives from our friends and family who call and say, "You'll never guess what happened to me today." Everywhere we turn are stories, and it's one of the best ways to make a person sit up and listen - especially if the story is a good one.

  6. I definitely have trouble with ending anything I write. This was helpful.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook