The basic paragraph contains the elements of unity, coherence, adequate development and usually a topic sentence. But not all paragraphs are the same. Paragraphs have special functions; the purpose determines the type of paragraph you write. Students often learn that paragraphs must have six, or 10, or 14 sentences. The truth is that paragraphs contain the right number of sentences to make good writing, and good writing considers the purpose of the paragraph to determine its style, content, and length.
Whether it is one paragraph or an entire chapter, the purpose of the introduction is to grab your readers’ attention and coax them to continue reading. The introduction also sets the tone, whether it be light-hearted or serious. Make sure you draw your readers in with a set of strategies appropriate to your topic. If readers are not intrigued from the very beginning of the piece, they will quickly become distracted and avoid reading any further.
What is the difference between a good and a bad introduction? A bad introduction is misleading, rambling, incoherent, boring, or so hopelessly vague that you know less about the topic than you did before you read it. On the other hand, a good introduction gives the reader a reason to keep on reading, and sets the stage for a really exciting performance. An introduction is like a first impression; it is crucial to your image and, once presented, you never get a second opportunity. Your essay's introduction is your reader's first impression of your ability as a writer. Even if you are brilliant and have great ideas, a muddy or boring introduction will turn away many of your readers. One caution: Do not use tedious openers such as “in today’s society” or openers that merely relay what the assignment is; change the opening. Additionally, do not directly state your intentions by saying, “In this essay I will…” Also, avoid clichés; you want your writing to be fresh and original. And finally, be careful not to write a wordy or overly dense introduction; your introduction should merely set the stage for the rest of the paper. Your introduction should provide a hook and relate to the issue at hand.
In developing your introduction, a mix of strategies can be used:
- An anecdote, a brief story, that hints at the topic of the essay;
- A definition, though one of your own making. Do not quote the dictionary because these definitions are too simplistic and trite;
- A set of facts or statistics that you will develop further in your essay;
- Quotations from subject matter experts regarding your topic. Any quotes should be specific to your issue and the discussions that surround it, not something pulled from “famous quotations” Internet sites. Do not, however, let another’s words open your essay. The quote should be in the body of the introduction, not the first sentence;
- Background that sets the stage for the discussion of your topic;
- Examples that demonstrate your topic.
Each body paragraph, or set of paragraphs in a longer essay, should focus on a single topic and develop it thoroughly with a mix of details or evidence. Types of evidence include facts, data, examples, and expert testimony.
After all the work you have exerted on your paper, you want to end with a good conclusion. For many writers, this is the hardest part of the essay to write. A beginning writer often learns that one should restate the thesis and sum up the main points. A more sophisticated conclusion uses a variety of strategies available, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.
To begin a solid conclusion, incorporate the following key elements.
- Reference any elements offered in the introduction.
- Do not simply restate your thesis; instead, emphasize the significance of your thesis.
- Sum up your main points.
- Reflect on the information presented.
To expand your conclusion and drive home your main point, you can also incorporate creative elements. Some suggestions are as follows:
- Ask a thought-provoking question;
- Present a “call to action,” telling your readers what you want them to do with the information you have presented;
- Provide a quotation that captures and confirms the assertion you made in your thesis. The quote should be from an authority on the subject, however; don’t just go to quotes.com and choose a random quote.
Often, this choice will be determined by the genre, audience, or purpose of your paper. Nevertheless, your conclusion should accurately reflect the paper’s subject and provide the reader with closure.
One final point: Be sure not to end a paper with new ideas or a thesis you have not already supported or explained in the paper. Remember, a conclusion is meant to reiterate the paper’s main argument and then return the thesis to the larger issue the paper is addressing and should not present any new arguments or topics in the process.
Short paragraphs between longer paragraphs are sometimes needed to link sets of information or transition from one idea or set of ideas to the next. The transitional paragraph can sum up previous points or draw conclusions then lead into the ideas to follow. An example of a transitional paragraph occurs in previous section of this chapter in the description of conclusions:
“Often, this choice will be determined by the genre, audience, or purpose of your paper. Nevertheless, your conclusion should accurately reflect the paper's subject and provide the reader with closure.”
While not all essays need transitional paragraphs, do not be afraid to use them in more complex writing.