Improving Introductions and Conclusions
from 1196 AP English Language and Composition
- 1.A Reading – Identify and describe components of the rhetorical situation: the exigence, audience, writer, purpose, context, and message.
- 2.A Writing – Write introductions and conclusions appropriate to the purpose and context of the rhetorical situation.
- 3.B Reading – Identify and describe the overarching thesis of an argument, and any indication it provides of the argument’s structure.
- 4.B Writing – Write a thesis statement that requires proof or defense and that may preview the structure of the argument.
- 6.C Writing – Use appropriate methods of development to advance an argument.
Big Ideas & Essential Knowledge covered:
- CLE-1.O A thesis statement may preview the line of reasoning of an argument. This is not to say that a thesis statement must list the points of an argument, aspects to be analyzed, or specific evidence to be used in an argument.
- REO-1 Writers guide understanding of a text’s lines of reasoning and claims through that text’s organization and integration of evidence.
- REO-1.G Methods of development are common approaches writers frequently use to develop and organize the reasoning of their arguments. A method of development provides an audience with the means to trace a writer’s reasoning in an argument.
- RHS-1 Individuals write within a particular situation and make strategic writing choices based on that situation.
- RHS-1.I The introduction of an argument introduces the subject and/ or writer of the argument to the audience. An introduction may present the argument’s thesis. An introduction may orient, engage, and/or focus the audience by presenting quotations, intriguing statements, anecdotes, questions, statistics, data, contextualized information, or a scenario.
- RHS-1.J The conclusion of an argument brings the argument to a unified end. A conclusion may present the argument’s thesis. It may engage and/or focus the audience by explaining the significance of the argument within a broader context, making connections, calling the audience to act, suggesting a change in behavior or attitude, proposing a solution, leaving the audience with a compelling image, explaining implications, summarizing the argument, or connecting to the introduction.
As promised, it is time to learn more strategies for incorporating strong, effective, and purposeful introductions and conclusions into your writing. It is often easier to think about engaging an audience in a medium other than writing. To help get your creative ideas flowing, recreate this non-graded graphic organizer somewhere in your notes. You will not submit it at this time.
Think about any movies, books, TV shows, podcasts, live shows, songs, or anything else that you have witnessed, heard, and/or read that have particularly strong openings or closings. What started and made you go, “Wow!” What ended and made you go, “Whoa…” Which conclusions just made you want to start the whole thing over again? What stopped you in your tracks when it began and dropped your jaw? Theses are the incidents you should think about for this activity. You may list as many as come to mind.
|Title||Type of Media||Introduction, Conclusion, or Both?||Describe What Happens||What is Effective?|
The powerful novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey begins with, “They’re out there.” How’s that for a hook? Any reader would be hard pressed not to wonder who is out there? And why? And who is noticing? And why all the suspense? All of that from just a few short words! The Great Gatsby concludes with a slightly higher word count, but the language is utterly beautiful: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Additionally, Fitzgerald has used a pronoun to bring his readers in and leave an impression if not several questions. How’s that for a conclusion?
Introductions and conclusions are, admittedly, often easier to compose in pieces of fiction, but that is not an absolute rule. No one says non-fiction, position, argumentative pieces have to be dull or boring. In fact, it could be argued easily that any piece that is supposed to persuade an audience should be even more engaging to be as effective as possible.
It can be difficult to find the creative energy when composing a lab report or responding to a prompt you could not control. Difficult is not impossible, though—not even close!
That First Bite!
Go back to the discussion about introductions and conclusions. What new ideas have you learned? Where are you still questioning? Because writing is a skill, there are no full rules for how any essay should open and conclude. Likewise, there is no magic strategy that will gain you a 5 on the AP Exam. Instead of searching for the perfect way to open every paper or the formula for concluding most effectively, look at the various strategies that students have shared, that you read below, or that you witness in published work. Practice them! Stick them in your writing toolbox to pull out when the occasion is most fitting. Just as you would not use a hammer only for every home improvement project (it certainly would not work well to cut wood in half, for example), a single hook idea cannot work for every essay. Instead, think about the rhetorical triangle, the organizational pattern you want to use, and any other relevant constraints (like if it is a timed scenario or not). Think about the hook and introduction as the first bite of the meal that is your essay. You want your audience to find it tasty and to want more!
- Open with a thought-provoking and relevant quotation that may have an image or concept that can be traced throughout the rest of the essay
- Use a quotation that will probe the reader to wonder about something that you can answer throughout the essay
- Start with an intriguing statement that you can unpack in the introduction and build upon throughout the body paragraphs
- Provide some shocking statistics or data that will ultimately help make your point (they could be a refutation of a counter-argument right away even!)
- Establish some contextualized information (especially if the topic is going to be confusing to your audience without it) in an interesting way (you do not want it to read like an encyclopedia entry to start)
- Pose a scenario (perhaps you could come back to the resolution of this scenario in the conclusion)
Always try to think about what purpose you want to accomplish through your hook and introduction. What could be an interesting way to start one paper may be impractical for another. Notice that in the ideas listed above they each explain some way that the introduction will connect to some other part of the paper or the paper as a whole. Truly everything in a well-written essay or argument is connected in some way.
Even when it seems like there are absolute writing rules, there really are not. The thesis does not actually have to be in the introduction, and it does not have to list the specific points. It takes an extremely advanced writer to withhold the thesis until the end (this is not advisable on the AP Exam), but it can be effective depending on the writer’s purpose.
If you do not like the idea of explicitly stating the points that will be expanded in the body paragraphs in the thesis, that is okay. The thesis, however, should always at least preview the line of reasoning you will use. You never want the reader wasting thoughts wondering what you are trying to do, say, or accomplish. You want the reader amazed and convinced by your unique claims, convincing evidence, and astute commentary!
One Final Sweet Taste
It can be daunting to realize you have to craft an effective conclusion especially since it will be the final piece with which you leave your audience. It’s the last taste of the meal that is your essay, in a way. Never leave a bad taste in your audience’s mouth! The worst thing you can do is copy/paste pieces of your other paragraphs into the conclusion. This is basically condescending to your audience; it’s like saying, “Yeah, I know you read this once, but you’re too dumb to remember it…so I’m putting it again!” What can you do instead?
- Explain the significance of your argument in a broader context or practical setting
- Make a connection to something directly related to your audience (see how you have to know your audience’s characteristics to accomplish this?)
- Challenge your audience to act and provide clear ways in which they can do that
- Suggest a change in behavior or attitude for the audience or society at large (if you are suggesting a change to your specific audience, though, be sure to do it in a respectful and approachable way!)
- Propose a solution to the problem you have outlined throughout the essay
- Leave your audience with a compelling image (perhaps this is connected to something you established earlier in the essay or in the introduction)
- Explain the implications of the argument you have detailed
- Summarize the argument (be wary of this that it is needed, though! The reason you would want to do this is if you have presented an extremely complex issue or argument, and you rhetorically want to show your audience that it actually is much simpler and attainable than it may seem otherwise)
- Connect back to your introduction (like book ends, this can be an easy way to give your paper parallel structure; it can be an easy method during timed scenarios)
Do you still feel wary when you think of trying to write impressive introductions and conclusions? First, know that this is totally normal; it does not mean you are an incapable writer at all. Even if you normally enjoy introductions and conclusions, you might find yourself stuck depending on the prompt or task you are given.
Guess what? You do not have to start with an introduction when drafting, and you do not have to save the conclusion for the end when you may be exhausting from writing! No one says essays have to be done this way. Perhaps as you are composing a body paragraph a fantastic idea will hit you for the intro! That is great. Give yourself permission to skip the stress of finding the perfect opening and jump right to your thesis/argument instead. Maybe you know exactly how you will want to conclude before you write anything else–no problem! Work on it first. Of course this may not be as possible when you are in a timed situation like on the AP Exam, but the more you practice the more you will increase your comfort and confidence with introductions and conclusions in general!
Revisiting an Essay
Hopefully you have found some new ways to spice up your introductions and conclusions. As any great writer will tell you, the revision process can be long and never-ending. In the spirit of this, we will now revisit an old essay.
Go through the essays you wrote in Modules 2, 3, and 4. Select one introduction and one conclusion (they can be in the same essay or different ones) that you feel could be improved in light of what you have learned or brainstormed in this lesson. Copy and paste the original paragraphs (no need to include the rest of the essay(s)). Revise them and proofread them!
You will submit the following:
- Name of the assignments (or Module and Lesson numbers)
- Original introduction
- Revised introduction
- Original conclusion
- Revised conclusion
Once you have fully proofread and perfected your new introduction and conclusion, you may submit all of the above in one document or separately.
Note: Students will submit their response to the assignment described above within the Virtual Virginia LMS, Canvas.
- Objectives: Adapted from AP English Language and Composition Course and Exam Description, via College Board, 2019.
- “Writing.” Kat Stokes, via Unsplash.
- “Light bulbs.” qimono, via Pixabay.
- “Dialog Tip Advice.” OpenClipart-Vectors, via Pixabay.