Introductions, conclusions, and titles are like on and off ramps on the highway. They need to be clear, so you and your reader know where you’re going, when you’ve gotten there, and why it matters. In general, you write introductions, conclusions, and titles after you create your thesis, topic sentences, and body of support for an essay. Especially with introductions and titles, you may not be able to figure out the best way to prepare a reader for your ideas until the main portion of that essay is written and you’ve identified the ideas themselves. And obviously, a conclusion needs to build logically on the foundation of ideas in the rest of the essay.
Introductions set the topic and tone for your essay, and also can set the context for your thesis: what current conversations are happening around your topic? Why is it important? Introductions let you show your audience what piece of that bigger topic you are going to be working with in your essay and how you will be working with it. Additionally, introductions need to be interesting because they engage your reader in reading the rest of your text.
Introductions have three jobs:
- capture your reader’s attention
- introduce the focus and purpose of your writing
- narrow that focus down to present and/or plan for your thesis sentence
Strategies to Capture Attention and Introduce your Focus
- Share an interesting, shocking, or little known fact or statistic about your topic.
Starting your essay with a fact or statistic that gives your readers insight into your topic right away will peak their curiosity and make them want to know more. It will also help you establish a strong ethos, or credibility, from the very beginning.
Example: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68 percent of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.
- Tell an anecdote or story that will help readers connect with your topic on a personal level.
Sharing a human interest story right away will help readers connect with your topic on a personal level and will help to illustrate how your topic matters.
Example: Today, Jimmy Santiago Baca is a well known American poet, but when he was twenty he entered prison illiterate and had to teach himself to read over the five years he spent behind bars.
- Ask a question to make readers curious about the answer.
People tend to want to answer questions when they’re presented with them. This provides you with an easy way to catch a reader’s attention because they’ll keep reading to discover the answer to any questions you pose in the introduction. Just be sure to answer them at some point in your writing.
Example: Can prisons rehabilitate prisoners so they’re able to return to their communities, find jobs, and contribute in positive ways?
Narrowing an Introduction to Present your Thesis
A usual, although not required, place for your thesis is at the end of your introduction. The end of the introduction is a usual place for a thesis because your introduction will have laid the groundwork for the main idea you want to prove in the essay, and stating that main idea clearly will help prepare your reader for the information that follows. In a graphic representation of traditional essay structure, the introductory paragraph is usually depicted as an inverted triangle which starts with a “hook” to engage your reader, and narrows progressively to offer your assertion or thesis, like this:
Placing your thesis at the end of the introduction also ensures that, as a writer, you’ve got your main idea in a prominent place to serve as a touchstone, to which your topic sentences and units of support relate. It’s a “safe” location for your thesis, especially if you are a new or returning-after-a-long-hiatus academic writer. However, know that a thesis sentence can actually be anywhere in an essay, or can even be implied, as long as that main assertion becomes obvious to your reader.
Conclusions reconnect to your main idea/thesis. Studies have shown that the human brain is more likely to remember items at the beginnings and ends of lists, presentations, and other texts. When people recall the last thing they read or hear, that’s called the “recency effect” because they’re remembering the most recent information they’ve encountered. This is why the last thing you write is so important. It’s your final chance to make an impression on your readers.
Conclusions re-state your thesis in some form. However, you should not simply copy your thesis from earlier in the text, as this doesn’t acknowledge the bigger, more involved conversation you developed in the body of your essay. Instead, conclusions point back to the main idea in a new way. A “new way” does not mean new information; you don’t want to start making new claims or sharing new research. Instead, you’ll want to help readers see how they relate to your subject matter. Conclusions provide your last chance to leave an impression on your reader. What do you want them to leave this text thinking about? What action do you want them to take? What is the larger context of your main idea in the thesis sentence? Conclusions should answer the “so what?” question, to help your reader understand the significance of your thesis idea and to keep that reader thinking about your idea after they move away from your essay.
Conclusions have two basic jobs:
- leave readers with something to think about
- clarify why your topic matters to them and the larger community (whether that be the class, their neighborhood or the whole wide world)
Conclusion Strategies to Keep Readers Thinking about your Thesis
- Make a call to action
The goal of a call to action is to prompt readers to do something.
Example: Citizens who agree that music education should be a part of all public schools in the United States can make a difference by writing their representatives, going to a school board meeting, and when a ballot initiative comes around, voting to fund music education.
- Ask a rhetorical question.
A rhetorical question is meant to make people think, but not necessarily come to an answer. Often, the answer to rhetorical questions is clear right away, but the deeper significance needs to be pondered.
Example: Should schools in the United States be concerned with the kind of emotional and cognitive development that music education prompts? If we’re interested in educating the whole child, not just the most academic parts of the brain, then the answer is yes, and we have to reconsider our priorities when it comes to school funding.
- Share an anecdote or story that will keep the issue in the forefront of the readers’ minds
An interesting snapshot of someone’s life or story about an intriguing character will help humanize the topic and help the readers remember your message. If you used an anecdote or story in the introduction, this is an opportunity to reconnect with that at the end of your piece.
Example: Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, says that arts education saved his life. He went to an elementary school where the sixth grade put on a famous play every year—everything from Fiddler on the Roof to The Wizard of Oz—but by the time Miranda’s class was in sixth grade, the teachers had run out of plays appropriate for children, so they had the sixth graders write their own musicals in addition to performing all the musicals from the previous years. That four-hour-long musical extravaganza was Miranda’s first experience of writing and acting in his own production (Raskauskas). The opportunity that his teachers provided him turned into a lifelong passion. All students should have that same opportunity to connect with the arts in meaningful ways.
(For more of Miranda’s story, see this article from Wolf Brown, “The Case for Arts Education: Don’t Take Away Their Shot.”)
- Share a quote by an expert or historical figure
Choose a quote from someone who is well known in a relevant field and who has expertise on your topic. This will lend your conclusion credibility and leave readers with something powerful to consider.
Example: As Oliver Sacks notes in his book Musicophilia, “Rhythm and its entertainment of movement (and often emotion), its power to ‘move’ people, in both senses of the word, may well have had a crucial cultural and economic function in human evolution, bringing people together, producing a sense of collectivity and community” (268). Our schools aim to foster that same sense of community, which is why music must be part of a well rounded education.
While introductions and conclusions are like on and off ramps on the highway, titles are like signs that let you know something is coming, e.g., road work, school crossing, curvy road ahead. Effective titles capture your interest in a succinct way.
I once had a student who wrote a humorous essay about his family’s experience with a tomato grown from seeds that had been in outer space (his child’s school participated in the Tomatosphere / Space Station Explorers educational program). The student entitled his essay “My Wife and the Space Tomato.” Everyone in the class wanted to read and comment on that essay, and years later, I still remember the title.
What Titles Can Do
- Titles can offer your point of view and indicate your thesis assertion, e.g., “The Importance of Sleep.”
- Titles can also offer the topic without indicating your thesis assertion, e.g., “Sleep Deprivation.”
- Titles can indicate the tone and approach of the essay, e.g., “ZZZs and Zestfulness.”
Tips for Creating Titles
- Consider your purpose, audience, and tone.
- Keep the title simple and easy to read.
- Use a key word or phrase that indicates the topic of the essay.
- Accurately indicate what the essay is about, so that there is “truth in advertising.”
Important to Remember about Titles
- A title is not and should not be exactly the same as your thesis sentence.
Summary: Introductions, Conclusions, Titles
The following video summarizes main points to remember about introductions, conclusions, and titles. (Note that it was created for a specific course at a specific college, so please disregard the information about using a worksheet and about numbers of sentences and paragraphs required.)