They tend to be the most emotional, the most dramatic, the most inspiring, and the most thought provoking. Simultaneously, they are the most difficult, the most challenging, and the most dreaded. What am I talking about? Beginnings and endings.
We are all familiar with the scene: a sobbing mother stands outside her son’s kindergarten classroom as the youngster scampers off to his first day of school. Fast forward several years and the same mother is sobbing over his last day of school. Why? Because beginnings and endings are hard!
The First and The Last
Just as a child’s first day of school and last day of school are memorable, your first paragraph and your last paragraph need to be noteworthy. Here are some tips to make your academic writing more successful.
The first paragraph of your essay could be the most important. You need to find a creative “hook” to grab – and keep – your readers’ attention. Otherwise, there is very little chance they will proceed.
In The New Writer’s Handbook: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career, author Brandi Reissenweber commented:
“Your reader is not a penniless and weary traveler who will be happy to take any bed you can offer. They are discerning, with plenty of money for a night’s sleep and if you show them something uninspired, they’re off to the next inn. You have to work to get them to stay with you.”
How can you keep readers from going to the next inn? Here are three examples of quality essay hooks:
Use an Introduction that Exposes the Author
This technique allows the author to be vulnerable, making the readers feel they are getting an inside glimpse at the writers feelings and emotions. This all-access pass gives readers something they couldn’t get anywhere else.
“I cried at work today. I couldn’t help it. My boss was going on and on about an error I made in one of his precious reports. Before I could stop it, my chin began to quiver. I bit down – hard – on my lip to try to stem the tide. However, that just seemed to make things worse.”
Use an Introduction that Infuses Humor
Before you can begin writing your essay, you must determine who your audience is. Once you are focused on who you are writing for, you can find a way to connect with them. Get inside their heads. Meet their needs. Relate to what they are going through. Embrace those feelings and put a humors spin on it.
“Before I had children, I was the perfect mother.”
Use an Introduction that Asks a Question
Used effectively, a question can make readers beg for more. Spark their curiosity and you’ve almost created a guarantee they’ll make it to the end of your essay. Just make sure the question relates to the overall theme of the story. Otherwise, readers will feel duped.
“Last week, I learned the secret to parenting. The last ten years of my life would have been so different if only I had known this one piece of information! It changed my life. Do you want to know the secret?”
If the first paragraph of your essay is the most important, the conclusion is the second most important. You want your readers to leave with a feeling of closure. You don’t want any loose ends. The conclusion needs to develop naturally from the essay; it can’t be an afterthought.
How can you leave readers feeling satisfied?
End with a Startling Statement
You don’t want to use anything too radical in the conclusion. After all, if the information was that important, you should have featured it prominently earlier in the piece. However, leaving them with something to think about can be good.
“A recent study showed that women are more sensitive to a key stress hormone. Just a tiny amount can send their emotions into overdrive. Meanwhile, men seem immune to this chemical. I think today’s incident proved that nicely.”
End with the Beginning
Bring your essay full circle. While your introduction and conclusion shouldn’t be interchangeable, they could be similar. Book-end your essay with the same thought.
“Now you know the secret to parenting, what will you do with the information? Will you share this life-changing information with others or will you keep it to yourself?”
End with a Summary
This is probably the most textbook answer to your problems. At the very least, it could be Speech Writing 101: tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. While this standby method will get you by in a pinch, don’t rely on it too often. It’s…well…boring.
“In this article, we focused on one of the most difficult tasks in writing. Composing an introduction and conclusion for an essay can be quite challenging. However, you always want to write an opening paragraph that will hook the readers and a closing paragraph that will wrap up all your lose ends.”
See? That was boring, right? Wouldn’t you rather I said…
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