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Perhaps no other aspects of writing and presenting cause more headaches than introductions and conclusions, and perhaps no other parts of the essay/presentation are as important. Instead of trying to write the standard five-paragraph essay/presentation introduction and conclusion, though, you should be attempting to create prose that is as exciting and interesting as every other part of your essay/presentation.

Function of the Introduction:

  • To get the reader interested
  • To introduce the topic of the essay

Some standard introduction styles:

General—You introduce your thesis and several related points you intend to write about.

Example: “Catherine MacKinnon, a tenured professor at the University of Michigan and a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, has recently begun to protest what she claims are false allegations and defamation. The self-proclaimed radical feminist now states that she never said the much-attributed comments, “All sex is rape” and “All men are rapists.” MacKinnon says she has spent 13 years fighting these lies and now wants to set the record straight.”

Anecdote—You begin by telling a brief, true story that relates to your thesis.

Example: “Tyler Hagen did the right thing. When a friend asked the 13-year-old to dispose of a dime bag of marijuana, Tyler took the pot to his parents, who contacted the local sheriff to retrieve the grass. Tyler did exactly what he should have done. However, when school authorities learned Tyler’s hand had touched reefer while his feet were on school property, they suspended him for five days under the district’s strict new zero-tolerance policy.”

Statistics—You begin by quoting startling or interesting numbers related to your thesis.

Example: “In 1994, Network Solutions, the web’s largest distributor of Internet addresses, assigned 24,000 Internet addresses. In 1998, that number had risen to 1.9 million. In only four years Internet expansion exploded, and it continues to grow to this day.”

Question—You being by asking an important question(s) that you then answer in the text of your essay.

Example: “How much freedom do Americans really have? Are we really entitled, as the Constitution says, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What about freedom of speech and religion? You might think Americans have a great deal of freedom, but you’d be wrong. Everyday federal and local politicians pass laws restricting the freedom of Americans, and often we don’t even know they’re doing it.”

Current Events—You begin by referring to well-known recent events that relate to your thesis.

Example: “The recent killings at Columbine High School in Colorado brought the country face-to-face with adolescent violence on a massive scale. But what about the adolescent killings that occur everyday in America’s inner cities? Why isn’t there more outrage over those deaths? This disparity is simply another example of the inherent racism in America.”

Quote—You begin with a famous or compelling quote that relates to your thesis.

Example: “The ancient Greek philosopher Plato said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ However, if Plato were alive today, and saw the rash of self-help books and people trying to solve their problems on national television, he may decide that people have been examining their lives long enough—and that perhaps it’s time people started living their lives instead.”

What If?—You begin by having your readers imagine themselves in a situation that relates to your thesis.

Example: “Imagine a nice young man moves in next door to you. He seems clean-cut and clearly enjoys being around children. Your daughter likes to go over to the man’s house after school to play with his dog. Now imagine this nice young man is actually a convicted child molester. Wouldn’t you want to know this? Megan’s Law, which requires all convicted child molesters to notify local police when they move into a new area, is an important element in protecting our children.”

You can also do a combination of introductions, such the above, which features “What if?” and rhetorical questions. Try a variety of introductions until you find the most effective and appropriate one.

Function of the Conclusion:

  • To signal the end of the essay
  • To wrap up the various points of your essay

There is a difference between a summary and a conclusion. A summary simply reiterates the points you made in your essay and is generally considered a boring and ineffective way to end a paper. A conclusion wraps up your essay in a clear and interesting way. While there may be some reiteration of previous points, it does not simply list or repeat what you’ve already written.

Depending on how you chose to introduce your essay, you may have a ready-made conclusion. To achieve a sense of unity, you may want to bring your readers back to some element of your introduction when you begin wrapping up your essay. For example, if you begin with an anecdote, refer back to it in your conclusion. (Such as: “Tyler Hagen was suspended for three days for doing the right thing. What kind of message is this zero-tolerance policy really sending our children?”)