Introduction Paragraphs For History Essays Meme

© Damen, 2002

24. Introduction and Conclusion.

These represent the most serious omission students regularly make. Every essay or paper designed to be persuasive needs a paragraph at the very outset introducing both the subject at hand and the thesis which is being advanced. It also needs a final paragraph summarizing what's been said and driving the author's argument home.

These are not arbitrary requirements. Introductions and conclusions are crucial in persuasive writing. They put the facts to be cited into a coherent structure and give them meaning. Even more important, they make the argument readily accessible to readers and remind them of that purpose from start to end.

Think of it this way. As the writer of an essay, you're essentially a lawyer arguing in behalf of a client (your thesis) before a judge (the reader) who will decide the case (agree or disagree with you). So, begin as a lawyer would, by laying out the facts to the judge in the way you think it will help your client best. Like lawyers in court, you should make an "opening statement," in this case, an introduction. Then review the facts of the case in detail just as lawyers question witnesses and submit evidence during a trial. This process of presentation and cross-examination is equivalent to the "body" of your essay. Finally, end with a "closing statement"—that is, the conclusion of your essay—arguing as strongly as possible in favor of your client's case, namely, your theme.

Likewise, there are several things your paper is not. It's not a murder mystery, for instance, full of surprising plot twists or unexpected revelations. Those really don't go over well in this arena. Instead, lay everything out ahead of time so the reader can follow your argument easily. Nor is a history paper an action movie with exciting chases down dark corridors where the reader has no idea how things are going to end. In academic writing it's best to tell the reader from the outset what your conclusion will be. This, too, makes your argument easier to follow. Finally, it's not a love letter. Lush sentiment and starry-eyed praise don't work well here. They make it look like your emotions are in control, not your intellect, and that will do you little good in this enterprise where facts, not dreams, rule.

All in all, persuasive writing grips the reader though its clarity and the force with which the data bring home the thesis. The point is to give your readers no choice but to adopt your way of seeing things, to lay out your theme so strongly they have to agree with you. That means you must be clear, forthright and logical. That's the way good lawyers win their cases.


A. How to Write an Introduction.
The introduction of a persuasive essay or paper must be substantial. Having finished it, the reader ought to have a very clear idea of the author's purpose in writing. To wit, after reading the introduction, I tend to stop and ask myself where I think the rest of the paper is headed, what the individual paragraphs in its body will address and what the general nature of the conclusion will be. If I'm right, it's because the introduction has laid out in clear and detailed fashion the theme and the general facts which the author will use to support it.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. The following is an introduction of what turned out to be a well-written paper, but the introduction was severely lacking:

The role of women has changed over the centuries, and it has also differed from civilization to civilization. Some societies have treated women much like property, while others have allowed women to have great influence and power.

Not a bad introduction really, but rather scant. I have no idea, for instance, which societies will be discussed or what the theme of the paper will be. That is, while I can see what the general topic is, I still don't know the way the writer will draw the facts together, or even really what the paper is arguing in favor of.

As it turned out, the author of this paper discussed women in ancient Egypt, classical Greece, medieval France and early Islamic civilization and stressed their variable treatment in these societies. This writer also focused on the political, social and economic roles women have played in Western cultures and the various ways they have found to assert themselves and circumvent opposition based on gender.

Given that, I would rewrite the introduction this way:

The role of women <in Western society> has changed <dramatically> over the centuries, <from the repression of ancient Greece to the relative freedom of women living in Medieval France. The treatment of women> has also differed from civilization to civilization <even at the same period in history>. Some societies <such as Islamic ones> have treated women much like property, while others <like ancient Egypt> have allowed women to have great influence and power. <This paper will trace the development of women's rights and powers from ancient Egypt to late medieval France and explore their changing political, social and economic situation through time. All the various means women have used to assert themselves show the different ways they have fought against repression and established themselves in authority.>

Now it is clear which societies will be discussed (Egypt, Greece, France, Islam) and what the general theme of the paper will be (the variable paths to empowerment women have found over time). Now I know where this paper is going and what it's really about.


B. How to Write a Conclusion.
In much the same way that the introduction lays out the thesis for the reader, the conclusion of the paper should reiterate the main points—it should never introduce new ideas or things not discussed in the body of the paper!—and bring the argument home. The force with which you express the theme here is especially important, because if you're ever going to convince the reader that your thesis has merit, it will be in the conclusion. In other words, just as lawyers win their cases in the closing argument, this is the point where you'll persuade others to adopt your thesis.

If the theme is clear and makes sense, the conclusion ought to be very easy to write. Simply begin by restating the theme, then review the facts you cited in the body of the paper in support of your ideas—and it's advisable to rehearse them in some detail—and end with a final reiteration of the theme. Try, however, not to repeat the exact language you used elsewhere in the paper, especially the introduction, or it will look like you haven't explored all aspects of the situation (see above, #7).

All in all, remember these are the last words your reader will hear from you before passing judgment on your argument. Make them as focused and forceful as possible.

 


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Step 6: Write introduction and conclusion

Introductory and concluding paragraphs function together as the frame around the argument of your essay. Or, using the visual image of book-ends holding the books – the body of your essay – together. It is important to write the introduction and the conclusion in one sitting, so that they match in mirror image to create a complete framework.

The Introductory Paragraph

When you’ve finished writing the middle paragraphs, the body of your essay, and you’re satisfied that the argument or case you’ve presented adequately supports your thesis statement, you’re now ready to write your introduction.

The introduction

  • Introduces the topic of your essay,
  • ‘Welcomes’ the reader with a general statement that engages their interest or that they can agree with,
  • Sets the scene for the discussion in the body of the essay,
  • Builds up to the thesis statement,
  • Prepares the reader for the thesis statement and your argument or case, but does not introduce points of argument,
  • Concludes with the thesis statement.

In preparing the reader for the thesis statement, there are many approaches in writing an introduction that can be taken. The following are just a few:

  • Provide historical background,
  • Outline the present situation,
  • Define terms,
  • State the parameters of the essay,
  • Discuss assumptions,
  • Present a problem.

The following examples from Model Essays One and Two show how introductory paragraphs are developed.

Analysis

The first six sentences in this introductory paragraph prepare the reader for the thesis statement in sentence 7 that the three key elements of a successful essay are ‘focus, organisation, and clarity

  1. Sentence 1 makes the generalisation that students ‘find essay writing difficult and frustrating’, and
  2. Sentences 2 and 3 expand on this generalisation.
  3. Sentence 4 reinforces the idea of difficulty.
  4. Sentence 5 turns the paragraph away from the difficulties of essay writing towards a way of addressing the difficulties by breaking the essay into components. (The word ‘however’ signals this change of direction.)
  5. Sentence 6 suggests that there are three of these components, preparing the way for the thesis statement that ‘focus, organisation, and clarity’ are these components.

Title

Just as the introductory paragraph is written after the argument or case of the middle paragraphs has been written, so the title is written after the essay is completed. In this way, it can signpost what the reader can expect from the essay as a whole.

Note that the thesis statement has been re-worded, picking up the idea from the first sentence that the essay has had a long history in the phrase ‘continues to be‘ and strengthening ‘valid’ to ‘valuable‘.

Analysis

The first four sentences in this introductory paragraph prepare the reader for the thesis statement in sentence 5 that the essay ‘continues to be a valuable learning and assessment medium’.

  1. Sentence 1 makes the generalisation that despite the age of the genre, essays are still set as assessment tasks.
  2. Sentence 2 notes that the genre has changed but some characteristics remain, and;
  3. Sentence 3 lists some of these characteristics.
  4. Sentence 4 asserts essay writing is demanding, but the ‘learning dividends are high’, which leads into the thesis statement.

The Concluding Paragraph:

The concluding paragraph completes the frame around the essay’s argument, which was opened in the introductory paragraph.

The conclusion

  • Begins by restating the thesis,
  • Should be a mirror image of the first paragraph,
  • Sums up the essay as a whole,
  • Contextualises the argument in a wider scope, but does not introduce new points,
  • Leaves the reader with a sense of completion.

The following examples from Model Essays One and Two show how concluding paragraphs are developed.

Analysis

  1. Sentence 1 restates the thesis that focus, organisation, and clarity are the key elements of a successful essay. The phrase ‘Clearly then’ implies that, having read the case for focus, organisation, and clarity being identified as the ‘key elements’, the reader agrees with the thesis.
  2. Sentence 2 acknowledges the importance of the essay’s content but asserts that sound content isn’t enough for success.
  3. Sentence 3 sums up the points made in the middle three paragraphs.
  4. Sentence 4 restates the generalisation the essay started with – that students find essay writing difficult – but then ends on a high note with the prediction that addressing the key elements discussed in the middle paragraphs will ensure success.

Analysis

  1. Sentence 1 restates the thesis that the essay continues to be a valuable learning and assessment medium.
  2. Sentences 2 and 3 summarise the main points of the middle three paragraphs.
  3. Sentence 4 picks up the reference to the age of the essay genre, with which the essay begins, but then affirms the essay’s continuing relevance.

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