Essays—the beginning and the endIntroductions
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
Three steps to summarize writing conclusions:
- Begin with the thesis, not a clone of the one at the end of the introduction, but the same idea.
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,
- The conclusion' last sentence should let the reader know that he or she is done; it shouldn't leave the reader hanging.