Academic Writing: Part 2
Introductions and Conclusions
Most students know that essays should start with an introduction and end with a conclusion. However, beginning and ending the essay is often far more difficult than writing the main body. Introductions are especially difficult because they give the examiner his or her first impression of your essay writing skills. Conclusions are the last thing the examiner will read before deciding your grade! Therefore, it’s important to know what should and should not be included in each of these sections.
The purpose of an introduction is to clarify what you understand the title to mean. You may also want to mention briefly why this is an important issue. Finally you need to outline how you intend to answer the question. Let’s examine each of these ideas in more detail.
1. Clarifying the meaning of the title
What are you being asked to do? Define any keywords. If there are no words which require a definition, it is still a good idea to interpret any keywords in the title. Look at this essay title, for example:
Illiteracy has traditionally been viewed as a third world problem. However, in developed countries, illiteracy is increasing. Examine possible causes for this and its effect on society.
You should define ‘illiteracy’ in the introduction. It’s also important to make it clear that you understand the difference between ‘third world’ and ‘developed’ countries. You also might want to interpret the word ‘society’. What exactly does ‘society’ mean in the context of this essay? Clarifying this will help you to write a focused, relevant essay.
2. Mention briefly why this is an important issue.
You may want to include one sentence addressing why this issue is interesting or important, and to whom. However, take care. Students often begin essays with a statement such as ‘Illiteracy is a hot topic in today’s society’. Try to avoid this. It sounds as if you are reciting a phrase you have learnt and you are not thinking about the issue itself. Consider why illiteracy is important, who it affects and whose job it is to solve the problem.
3. Outline how you intend to answer the question
This is a very important part of the introduction. The last sentence of your introduction should outline exactly what you aim to do in your essay, and how you aim to do it. This sentence is called the Thesis Statement. The thesis statement is very similar to the title. For example, a suitable thesis statement for the title above could be:
This essay will firstly describe some reasons why illiteracy is increasing in developed countries, and then examine the effect of illiteracy on society.
A good thesis statement will show the reader how the essay will be structured. For example, by reading the thesis statement above, the examiner will know the number of sections in the essay, and the topic of each paragraph. He or she will also know that the writer understands the question in the title and is addressing it directly. Obviously, you cannot write a good thesis statement unless you have planned your essay outline first.
One more important thing to remember is that you must not start answering the question in the introduction. Do this in the main body of the essay.
Conclusions are actually quite simple. The purpose of the conclusion is to answer the question in the title. Do this by referring to the points you have already made in the main body. Don’t repeat whole sentences, just summarise the main points. It is also important that you do not raise any new ideas in the conclusion. The conclusion need not be long. Keep it brief and make sure it is directly related to the question.