Posts Tagged introduction
We’ve talked about answering the question – perhaps narrowing the question, using nuanced arguments, and remembering to use the wording of the question as a motif throughout your essay. Answering the question ensures that your essay is eligible to get marks; the other techniques make hard questions easier, conceive higher quality essays, and speed up the process so you have more free time.
It’s important that each paragraph is well structured in its own right, though. This goes beyond knowing when to split or combine thoughts into paragraphs or ordering the paragraphs well. Each paragraph is a mini-argument. So each paragraph has elements which work together to guide your reader through so that they reach your conclusion – or at least appreciate it and give you lots of marks!
Mini-introductions and conclusions
One important ingredient that strengthens a paragraph is an opening and closing topic sentence. This pair of topic sentences holds the paragraph together; making it easier for the reader to ‘pick up’ and digest its contents (the evidence that supports your argument). Topic sentences do this by introducing the main argument of the paragraph, which improving clarity. Then the closing topic sentence summarises, evaluates, and re-emphasises an important “take-out” point at the end of the paragraph. This makes the paragraph more compelling.
Using a pair of topic sentences is sort of like having an introduction and conclusion, on a smaller scale, for each paragraph. Essay writing is often like putting together a babushka doll; each component resembles the one that it’s inside, but it’s smaller and simpler. Repetitive? Perhaps, but that makes it clearer and more compelling. Balance the downside of repetition by using varied expression – but that’s a topic for a future post.
First attempts at topic sentences
Opening topic sentences share a similar function to headings, like the ones in this post. When considering your essay plan, think of the main point of each paragraph as being a heading. Of course, in most academic essays, you won’t use headings (some course lecturers will allow this – check with them before you submit your work). Instead, you can write ‘full sentence’ headings as the first lines of each paragraph – this is a good first attempt at nefarious “topic sentences”, but the two types of topic sentences is a topic (eek) for another time. For an example of topic sentences which shows how well they summarise the main strands of the essay’s argument, see this bird’s-eye-view of an essay.
I encourage you to use topic sentences – while they can be a challenge to write initially, with practice writing them will become second nature. Effective topic sentences can lift the rest of a paragraph. Results are far better than expected, based their proportion of words – try it!
Photo credit: ** Maurice ** via Flickr
So you’ve taken your break and now you’re back at your computer with your essay in front of you. So what should you check first?
Wait, one read through isn’t enough?!
Nope, you should definitely read through your essay a couple of times before you hit the print button. Checking, editing, and proofreading your work is extremely important. Remember your mark is based not just on what you write but also the marker’s impression of you – if there are grammatical errors and typos in your essay their impression won’t be very favourable!
Okay, so what do I need to check first?
First up is looking at the essay as a whole and focusing on content.
You are checking that:
- the introduction roughly follows the formula
- it introduces your argument and the topics of your body paragraphs effectively
- your body paragraphs are well constructed – don’t forget topic sentences!
- they are all similar in length – zoom out or use print preview to check this
- your conclusion roughly follows the formula
- it concludes your argument effectively and mentions what you discussed in your body paragraphs
- most importantly, you are answering the essay question throughout your essay!
While this is a broad check of what you’ve written, if you do see a typo or grammatical error – fix it up as you go. If there is something that doesn’t sound quite right or you think should be re-written better, don’t dwell on it – highlight it in yellow (or whatever colour takes your fancy); you’ll have time to fix this up on the next check.
But then why not just check everything at once?
Well, because the more things we focus on, the more likely we are to miss something. So focus on the big picture first, get that right and then go after detail. Also, that way you save time; because if you start with the detail you may ending up fixing parts of paragraphs that get deleted at the big picture checking stage.
Getting the big picture right is the easiest and the most important thing you should do. Over the next few weeks we will look at the detail and making sure what you hand in is perfect.
Photo Credit: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons
Over the last couple of months I have looked at how to write brilliant introductions and conclusions and there seemed to be a lot of similarities in the purposes of the sentences in their respective formulae.
So is a conclusion an introduction in disguise? Vice versa? Or are they very different beasts?
Well lets take a look at the formulae again:
1. Hook them!
2. Set the scene
3. Show you’re smart
4. Give the game away
5. Sum it up
1. Re-state the scene
2. Answer the question
3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist
5. End with a bang!
At a surface level each sentence of the introduction pairs up with a sentence from the conclusion. So we will chronologically go through the introduction and pair it up with the sentence from the conclusion that it is most similar too:
Introduction – Conclusion
1. Hook them! with 5. End with a bang!
Similarities: both sentences are broad like the extreme ends of a Greek column and should be powerful.
Differences: the first sentence of your introduction introduces the broad topic only; in addition the last sentence of the conclusion contains what the essay argued with regards to the broad topic. Also, the first sentence of the introduction is neutral whereas the final sentence of your conclusion most probably is not.
Introduction in disguise? Nope.
2. Set the scene with 1. Re-state the scene
Similarities: both sentences have the same purpose – introduce/conclude what the essay will/has talk(ed) about. Also, they both use the same or similar signpost.
Differences: just the tense.
Introduction in disguise? Yup.
3. Show you are smart with 3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist
Similarities: both have the same purpose – show your intelligence, but…
Differences: …they achieve this is very different ways. The third sentence of your introduction does this by talking about the context of the essay, whereas the twist makes a judgement call on the evidence and information presented in the body of the essay.
Introduction in disguise? Nope.
4. Give the game away with 2. Answer the question
Similarities: both deal with the essay’s argument; however…
Differences: …the way it does this is slightly different – in the introduction you state your argument, whereas in the conclusion you go one step further by comprehensively answering the essay question and concluding your argument.
Introduction in disguise? Sort of.
5. Sum it up with 5. End with a bang!
Yes we have already compared “End with a bang!” but since it’s the last sentence of the introduction, let’s see whether it is similar to the last sentence of the conclusion:
Similarities: both have the same purpose – sum up the essay, and use the same or similar signpost.
Differences: tense and with “End[ing] with a bang! You need to, well, end with a bang…
Introduction in disguise? Yup.
So is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?
Based on this analysis we have two “Yup’s”, two “Nope’s” and a “Sort of”. Though the last sentence of the conclusion, “End with a bang!” is most similar in function to the last sentence of the introduction, so really there is just one key “Nope” – the two sentence 3’s: “Showing you are smart” and “Delivering a twist”.
Both have a similar purpose, so next week we will look at an example of an essay’s introduction and conclusion and I’ll provide my answer to the question.
In the meantime, what do you think – is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?
Below is an example of a well-constructed conclusion:
Sentence 1: Re-state the scene
This essay has looked at the key issues of the 2009 Review of the Holidays Act 2003.
Know what the essay was about?
The sentence is short, simple, and clearly states what the essay did. For comparison here is the second sentence of the introduction, “This essay will examine the positions that the employer organisations and trade unions took, in regards to the key issues reviewed by the Working Party, within the Employment Relations’ frameworks of unitarism and pluralism.” Both sentences are very similar, as they should be, but the sentence in the introduction goes into a lot more detail. The reason is because in the introduction you haven’t said anything yet and so need to introduce the topic to the marker in a bit of detail. However, by the time they have got to the conclusion they don’t need to have it spelt out again in so much detail. All you need to do is refresh the marker’s memory, not try and put them to sleep!
Sentence 2: Answer the question
Looking in particular at where the employers and unions stood on these issues, this essay has shown how the reasoning behind their positions is a product of their unitarist or pluralist viewpoints.
See the answer?
The sentence follows on from the first sentence and narrows its focus before providing the answer to the essay question: “In 2009, the Government undertook a review of holiday entitlements in New Zealand. What were the key issues addressed by the Working Party? What positions did employer organisations and trade unions take on these issues? What does your reading of the debate on holiday entitlement suggest to you about the principal analytical frameworks used in Employment Relations?”
Once again, you are providing a broad answer to the essay question here – you don’t need to go into too much detail.
Sentence 3 (and 4): Deliver a twist
This was most strongly apparent when they disagreed on the major issues of relevant daily pay and the selling of holidays.Interestingly enough, despite the employer’s unitarism, the review itself was a product of the pluralist model – it was a bargaining session. That is one of the reasons the subsequent Holidays Amendment Bill (2010) has been strongly opposed by the unions, they feel betrayed by the Government’s decision to not uphold the recommendations they bargained for during the review (“Unions urge Government to protect worker leave entitlements”, 2010). In fact, in some regards, while initially portraying a democratic pluralist approach to fixing the Holidays Act (2003), the Government has now switched to a unitarist approach to do what it feels is best for New Zealand as a whole.
See what the most important evidence was?
The first sentence is essentially the twist – it chooses from all the evidence and examples presented in the essay the most important. The next three sentences show the student”s intelligence. It is a different way of looking at the evidence in order to answer the essay question and shows the marker that the student has thought very carefully and understood the topic he is writing about.
When I introduced this formula in my last post I suggested two sentences but in this example the twist takes up four sentences. With the formulas we have discussed the most important thing is what the sentences are about, not how many sentences you write. The twist is the most important part of the conclusion and so here it takes up four sentences total. Make sure, though, that it is taking up more sentences because it contains important content – not because you’re waffling.
Sentence 5: End with a bang!
Overall, it appears that in New Zealand Employment Relations, unitarism and pluralism are going to continue to fight to gain the upper hand, with the Government’s job to try and balance the opposing views because of our democratic pluralistic political system.
Hear the bang?
Probably not quite what you were expecting. Ending an essay with a bang is not quite as dramatic as ending a fiction novel – but you want the same effect. This sentence ties the whole essay context together and doesn’t waste words.
To finish off, here is the conclusion in full:
This essay has looked at the key issues of the 2009 Review of the Holidays Act 2003. Looking in particular at where the employers and unions stood on these issues, this essay has shown how the reasoning behind their positions is a product of their unitarist or pluralist viewpoints. This was most strongly apparent when they disagreed on the major issues of relevant daily pay and the selling of holidays. Interestingly enough, despite the employer’s unitarism, the review itself was a product of the pluralist model – it was a bargaining session. That is one of the reasons the subsequent Holidays Amendment Bill (2010) has been strongly opposed by the unions, they feel betrayed by the Government’s decision to not uphold the recommendations they bargained for during the review (“Unions urge Government to protect worker leave entitlements”, 2010). In fact, in some regards, while initially portraying a democratic pluralist approach to fixing the Holidays Act (2003), the Government has now switched to a unitarist approach to do what it feels is best for New Zealand as a whole. Overall, it appears that in New Zealand Employment Relations, unitarism and pluralism are going to continue to fight to gain the upper hand, with the Government’s job to try and balance the opposing views because of our democratic pluralistic political system.
Well that’s the formula in action, give it a try and let us know how you get on.
Photo Credit: US Embassy New Zealand via Flickr
Now we will put it all together to create a formula for your conclusions like we did with the introduction.
Sentence 1: Re-state the scene
Aim: Summarise your essay broadly, what did it do?
Start with a signpost such as “This essay has [examined/considered/discussed]…”
This sentence is essentially the past tense version of Sentence 2 in your introduction. Don’t copy it word for word though! Paraphrase it, show you understand what your essay has done.
Sentence 2: Answer the question
Aim: State the broad conclusion to your essay’s argument – what has your essay proved?
Carry on from Sentence 1 and move into specifically what your essay looked at and finish up the sentence with your broad answer to the essay question. This sentence can sometimes get quite long so don’t be afraid to split it into two sentences. However, as we keep stressing, be concise! The marker will have read tens if not hundreds of essays – you want your conclusion to stand out.
It is similar to Sentence 4 in the introduction.
Sentence 3 (and 4): Deliver a twist
Aim: Make your conclusion interesting and demonstrate your knowledge and understanding to the marker.
Everything you need to know about the one thing you need to include in your conclusion can be found in my previous post.
Since this is such an important part of the conclusion it usually takes up a couple of sentences. It has a similar purpose as Sentence 3 in the introduction.
Sentence 5: End with a bang!
Aim: To summarise your conclusion.
Be succinct and concise. This is the last thing the marker is going to read; you want them to remember it. So start with a signpost, “Overall…” and end with a bang!
It follows along the same lines as Sentence 5 in the introduction.
This formula is a great guide for writing your conclusions and is based off Ian Hunter’s book.
Next week we will look at an example of this formula in action.
You never include new information in your conclusion. Everything that appears in your conclusion must have been mentioned in your introduction or body paragraphs.
Remember an essay is not supposed to contain suspense, the marker should not get all the way to your conclusion and then be surprised by a new piece of evidence. If they wanted suspense or surprise, then the marker would have picked up the latest thriller and not your essay.
What if I have just remembered a really key piece of evidence that I absolutely must put in my essay?
Go back to your body paragraphs and fit it in. Then if it is really that important it should also appear in your introduction. Makes sure that it fits; don’t just tack into onto the end of a paragraph. But most importantly, don’t add it only to your conclusion!
In conclusion, never ever include new information in the conclusion of your essays.
essay: the conclusion.
Many people find writing conclusions difficult, but they do not need to be.
The purpose of your conclusion is to sum up your essay and nearly everything you need for your conclusion you have already written. You are taking all the arguments, information, and evidence you have presented throughout your essay and are tying it all together.
So before you start your conclusion you need to refer back to your:
- introduction – did you write about what you said you would?
- body paragraphs – how does what you wrote answer the essay question convincingly?
If the answer to either of those questions is ‘No’ then you need to go back and fix them up. You cannot write an effective conclusion without being able to answer ‘Yes’ to both these questions because this is where you will draw your content from.
Just as a poor introduction will lose you lots of marks, so too will a poor conclusion. In fact, if written well, your conclusion can gain you a lot of marks by aiding the marker’s understanding of what you have written in your body paragraphs.
So just because you are sick of writing after 2500 words of introduction and body paragraphs or you are running out of time in your exams, doesn’t mean you can write a half-arsed conclusion and you’ll get away with it.
Over the next few weeks I will look at how you can write effective conclusions which will give the marker no choice but to award you a top mark.
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You have planned your essay, you pick up your pen or sit down at your computer, and then what?
If you know what you are doing, the introduction is actually relatively easy to write because for academic essays it follows a rough formula. English essays don’t necessarily follow this structure quite as rigidly but for university essays it is very useful.
Below is an elaboration from Dr. Ian Hunter’s book, Write That Essay! For an average length essay five sentences is usually enough and each of them has a specific purpose.
Sentence 1: Hook them!
Aim: Introduce the general topic to the reader.
This sentence is a neutral sentence. It contains facts and information that is generally agreed to be correct – as tempting as it may be, you do not want to spark controversy here.
Sentence 2: Set the scene
Aim: Introduce what topic(s) your essay is going to specifically focus on.
You want to start this sentence with something like “This essay will [examine/consider/discuss]…”.
While this sort of sentence might sound a little stupid, throughout your essay you need to place signposts to help the marker follow your argument and not get lost. This is the first signpost in your essay, it lets the marker know what topics to expect in the body paragraphs.
Sentence 3: Show you are smart
Aim: Mention the context of your essay.
You want to show the marker that you know what you are talking about and are not just bluffing through the essay question because you spent your research time on Facebook. However, there is a fine line between proving your intelligence and showing off. If you cross that line this early in your essay, you will have severely damaged the marker’s impression of you. Not a good move!
Sentence 4: Give the game away
Aim: State your argument.
An essay is not a thriller and you are not John Grisham. Right here in the fourth sentence of your essay you want to tell the marker your argument. Without reading any further they should know what happens at the end – suspense has no place in your essay – it is an essay after all!
Sentence 5: Sum it up
Aim: Summarise the conclusion of your argument.
Two sentences after the first ‘signpost’, we come to another one (after all no one wants to get lost in an essay!). Here, in a nutshell, you are summing up your essay. Your sentence should start with something like:
“Overall, this essay will argue…” or “In summary, this essay will suggest that…”
This is a very good guide for writing your introductions and one that I always use. Learn it, use it, then you can adapt it a little too (remember English essays don’t have to be as formulaic). Just make sure you fulfil the aims of an effective introduction.
Also, check out Dr. Hunter’s book for more help and tips on writing essays.
So to better understand how an essay should be structured here is one:
An essay is like an Ionic Greek column (from Ionia – the southwestern coastland and islands of Turkey, nothing to do with Chemistry).
Introduction: Is the top of the column, called the capital, and is artistically crafted to draw the reader in (Number 14 on the diagram).
Body: Is the shaft of the column. It is narrower than the capital as the essay has moved from the more general introduction to the specific discussion of the body paragraphs. The shaft is continuous just as the essay must flow uninterrupted with the paragraphs linking together. It also must bear the weight of the roof and therefore must be strong, just as your arguments must be strong and backed up by valid evidence (Number 17).
Conclusion: Is the bottom of the column, called the base (who would have guessed?), and is of a simpler design than the capital. The reader should already have been hooked and therefore the conclusion should be clear and persuasive – there is no need to get fancy here. Like the introduction the conclusion focuses on the general rather than the specific but in reverse – moving from the specific body paragraphs to an overall sum-up of the essay’s argument (Number 23).
If you structure your essay well it will be pleasing to the marker’s eye and will stand up to their critique. So make sure your essays are as well designed as the Greek columns were.
What other analogies can you think of for essays?