WRITING INTRODUCTIONS & CONCLUSIONS
Even when you know everything about your paper's topic, it's hard to know how to create a "hook" that makes a reader want to read it. And how in the world do you end satisfactorily? The fact is that many of us anguish over our intros and conclusions. The problem of introductions and conclusions is really one problem. They are linked, not only in anguish but in content; they are almost mirror images of each other.
First, however, there are two common misconceptions to dispel. Your thesis is
not an introduction. An introductory paragraph starts with a "hook," which leads into the thesis. You do need an introduction as well as a thesis. Second, a simple restatement of your thesis is not a conclusion. To create that satisfying sense of finality in your conclusion, you must revisit the stuff of your introduction. If you start with a story, return to the story. If you start with a definition, return to the definition, even if only to contradict it.
From the TIP Sheet "How to Start (and Complete) a Research Paper," you already know to start writing your paper in the middle, with the thesis statement and body. When you are ready to finish with the introduction and conclusion, choose from several strategies:
- Illustrate: Show instead of tell.
- Challenge: Raise reader expectations.
- Quote: Make use of the wordsmiths.
- Compare/contrast: Evoke familiarity by comparing or create tension and expectation by contrasting.
- Define: Define-or redefine in a unique way.
- Make a provocative statement: Offer an amazing statistic or personal insight.
An illustration can be as simple as a personal story or anecdote. It's natural to think of a personal anecdote as an introduction to a personal narrative, but stories and anecdotes can be effective introductions to any kind of paper. The following anecdote introduces a research paper on vegetarian and vegan diets. The conclusion returns briefly to the story:
We took our sons fishing in the spillway next to the dam one moonlit night. In the hush of the night, one of them hooked a small trout. But when the landed fish screamed aloud, my son fled the scene in horror and has never eaten flesh since.
People adopt vegetarian and vegan diets for different reasons, not all of them out of horror, as my son did. Whatever their reasons, they are finding more options in grocery stores, restaurants, and cookbooks than ever before.
An example taken from local or world news events is another kind of illustration. This is the introduction and conclusion to a paper on urban growth problems in California:
The Chico city council recently approved six hundred new homes to go in on the east side of the city. The impacts this development will have are likely to be extreme, illustrating the problems all California cities face in managing growth.
How well Chico will cope with the increased traffic, pressure on schools, and impacts to the watershed is yet to be seen. But Chico is not alone in having to find solutions soon.
A composite illustration is a fiction that you create in order to make a point. (Composite means including a bit of this and a bit of that.) The advantage of a composite illustration is that it can be perfectly crafted to fit your point. A composite can illustrate extreme examples that are possible though not likely ("Suppose that..."), or distant consequences that are possible but not yet observed.
An analogy is an extended comparison between one thing and another (the development of a balanced state budget compared with a shopping list, perhaps). If you come up with an apt analogy, it can be very effective; however, a so-so analogy is better abandoned sooner than later. You are better off with a good story than with a mediocre analogy. For more on analogies, see the TIP Sheet, "Writing an Analogy."
A challenge raises reader expectations and creates tension. A challenging opening statement is effective for a thesis that calls for changes to be made in public policies or personal actions, such as in persuasive essays and argument or analysis papers:
Chances are, if you live outside city limits in any of California's twenty-one rural counties, you couldn't use public transportation if you wanted to. There isn't any.
Sure, Californians need to get over their love affairs with their cars, but having a better system of public transportation in place would help. Then, perhaps, I could get from rural Durham to rural Oroville, where I live, without putting yet another car on the road.
A question is another type of challenge:
Does it make sense to prohibit minors from carrying calamine lotion with them at school without two kinds of written permission, and yet allow them to leave campus without parental knowledge or consent for invasive medical procedures?
Even more than many of the zero-tolerance laws in place in our schools, this one should be ditched. Does it make sense? Clearly it doesn't.
Note that a question is an introductory strategy, not a thesis statement. A thesis statement should answer the question, and in some detail-not just "yes" or "no."
Make good use of the wordsmiths of history. Online quotation banks, usually searchable by topic, are a great source for quotations on practically any subject. You have some latitude in how you choose a quote for an introduction; it can be offbeat or unexpected. In the following example, an unusual quote by Albert Einstein is used to introduce an essay on restricting cell phone use while driving:
Albert Einstein once said, "Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves."
It doesn't take an Einstein to realize that cell phones are not the first, nor will they be the last, driving distraction. We don't need more restrictions on cell phones; we just need better drivers.
Song lyrics or familiar sayings sometimes make good introductions, but avoid clichés such as "Haste makes waste." If a familiar saying draws on jargon or sayings familiar only to a particular group, you have to provide the context for those who are unfamiliar with that group:
Computer programmers have a saying: "Garbage in, garbage out."
The next time you read the results of the latest poll, consider the polling method, the sample, and the source, and remember, "Garbage in, garbage out."
Compare or contrast
Comparison shows similarities and creates a sense of familiarity. Contrast shows differences and creates tension and expectation. You do not have to be writing a compare/contrast paper to use this as an introduction strategy. For example, this is a contrast intro to a personal narrative:
When I was seven, I thought my father was all-powerful and could do no wrong. When I was seventeen, I thought he was a jerk.
My father wasn't the god he seemed when I was seven, but he was sure a lot better and wiser than I thought he was when I was seventeen.
A definition can make a good introduction. You don't have to be writing a definition paper to use definition as an introduction strategy. You can use a standard dictionary if you want, but consider using books of quotations or online quotation banks for more interesting definitions:
Here is how Ambrose Bierce defines a conservative: "Conservative. noun. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a liberal, who wishes to replace them with others."
In the matter of agricultural subsidies, we are better off sticking with existing evils than replacing them with others that promise far worse results.
Another interesting use of definition is to use it as a starting point to re-define something in your own terms:
Webster says friendship is mutual feelings of trust, affection, assistance, and approval between people. However, I say friendship sometimes is knowing when to walk away.
Walking away that day was the biggest favor Mai ever did for me.
Make a provocative or startling statement
If the provocative statement is someone else's, treat it as a quotation. If the provocative statement is statistical, make sure you cite the source. If you have a way with words or an insight all your own, by all means use that:
It is ridiculous and immoral to allow congressmen to give themselves pay raises.
Restricting the ability of congressmen to vote themselves raises would go a long way to restoring morality and a sense of public service to public servants.
As you can see, introductions and conclusions are closely linked. Once you decide on a strategy, try simply over-writing the introduction (as one student we know regularly did) and then split off part of it to use as the conclusion. When you begin to think of introductions and conclusions as two pieces of a single puzzle, you will probably find them much easier to write.
Compare and contrast essays means you have to examine the similarities and differences between two or more things. In this example, I have decided to compare and contrast two cities, New York and Los Angeles, in terms of climate, housing, population and transportation. Enjoy!
An Example Essay Comparing and Contrasting Two Cities: New York vs Los Angeles
New York City and Los Angeles are two big cities found within the United States of America. Very large and populous, the cities are found in different states, New York City being in New York while Los Angeles being in California. They both attract thousands of visitors in spite of being hugely crowded and costly to live in. While the cities have some similarities and may be attractive to various people depending on their lifestyles and preferences, New York City and Los Angeles are vastly different, especially in their climate, housing, population, and transportation.
New York City’s (NY) Climate significantly differs with that of Los Angeles (LA). Halle & Beveridge (2013) note that in New York, the winter is glistening and frosty. As such, the atmosphere is classic in the Yuletide season thus making it possible to engage in such activities as snow man assembling and ice skating. In contrast, Los Angeles has winters that are extremely mild and summers that are leisurely and warm. In New York, the warmest temperatures are usually experienced in the southeastern lowlands. Noteworthy however, people who are conditioned to warm weather would still find the New York environment hospitable despite the snowfall. Los Angeles also has wet weather during winter. The rainy season occurs between November and January.
The housing characteristics are also different between New York City and Los Angeles. The median age of a home in New York is 17.2% older than the median age of a home in Los Angeles. “Homes are 5.3% less likely to be rented in Los Angeles than in New York” (Bestplaces.net, 2017). While the median cost of a home in New York is $581,400, Los Angeles has a median home cost of $583,600. This implies that it is a bit cheaper to acquire a home in NY as compared to LA. In spite of this disparity in the cost of purchasing a home, the number of homes owned in NY is lower than the number of homes owned in LA. In NY, homes owned amount to 29.02% of total number of homes whereas in LA, 34.60% of the total number of homes are owned. It is also interesting to note that the housing vacancy in NY is 9.16%, significantly higher than that of LA which lies at 6.87% (Bestplaces.net, 2017).
Further, NY and LA have populations that have significance differences. The most essential difference in this respect is that “New York is 233% more densely populated than Los Angeles” (Bestplaces.com, 2017). The implication is that NY’s population is well over double the population of LA. This has been the trend over the past two decades. Specifically, New York City has a whopping population of 8,550,405 while that of Los Angles is 3,971,883. It obviously follows that NY has a higher population density than LA. Compared to LA’s 8,475, NY has a population density of 28,259. The median age in LA is 1.1 years younger than that in NY. The median age is also higher in NY (35.7) in comparison to LA’s 34.6. In both the cities, the female population is higher than the male population. While NY has a female population of 52.40% and male population of 47.60%, LA has a female population of 50.39% and male population of 49.61% (Bestplaces.com).
Another major difference between New York City and the city of Los Angeles is public transportation. In LA, there is a huge car culture where almost everybody drives. Most people have their own cars. Although, there is public transportation in the city, few people use it. However, there is still traffic snarl up majorly because of the many personal cars. In New York on the other hand, almost everybody takes some form of public transportation. The most notable form of public transportation in the city is the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) or the “subway” through which one can access most places within the city. This means that transportation in NY is cheaper than that in LA. This is because unlike in LA where personal cars are the order of the day, one would not need regular fueling and parking fee in NY (Fung Bros, 2016).
In conclusion, New York City and Los Angeles have many differences in spite of having some similarities as large cities within the US. The cities are attractive to people from all over the world owing to their different features and characteristics. However, the climate, housing characteristics, population and public transportation spell how vastly different the cities are. In terms of transportation, NY is cheaper due to the presence of the MTA. Additionally, the cities may both be densely populated but as has been seen, NY is far much more densely populated than LA. They also have distinct housing characteristics that may inform one’s decision to live in either city or acquire or buy a home in either of them.
Bestplaces.net. (2017). Comparison: New York, New York – Los Angeles, California. Bestplaces.net. Retrieved 20 November 2017, from http://www.bestplaces.net/compare-cities/los_angeles_ca/new_york_ny/housing
Fung Bros. (2016). Differences between LA & New York. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qA_tuWfLvY
Halle, D., & Beveridge, A. A. (2013). New York and Los Angeles: The Uncertain Future. New York City, NY: OUP USA.
Comparing two Cities Essay Outline
While the cities have some similarities and may be attractive to various people depending on their lifestyles and preferences, New York City and Los Angeles are vastly different, especially in their climate, housing, population, and transportation.
New York City’s (NY) Climate significantly differs with that of Los Angeles (LA).
- In New York, the winter is glistening and frosty.
- As such, the atmosphere is classic in the Yuletide season thus making it possible to engage in such activities as snow man assembling and ice skating.
- In contrast, Los Angeles has winters that are extremely mild and summers that are leisurely and warm.
The housing characteristics are also different between New York City and Los Angeles.
- While the median cost of a home in New York is $581,400, Los Angeles has a median home cost of $583,600.
- In NY, homes owned amount to 29.02% of total number of homes whereas in LA, 34.60% of the total number of homes are owned.
- It is also interesting to note that the housing vacancy in NY is 9.16%, significantly higher than that of LA which lies at 6.87%.
NY and LA have populations that have significance differences.
- “New York is 233% more densely populated than Los Angeles”.
- New York City has a whopping population of 8,550,405 while that of Los Angles is 3,971,883.
- It obviously follows that NY has a higher population density than LA. Compared to LA’s 8,475, NY has a population density of 28,259.
Another major difference between New York City and the city of Los Angeles is public transportation.
- In LA, there is a huge car culture where almost everybody drives. Most people have their own cars. Although, there is public transportation in the city, few people use it.
- In New York on the other hand, almost everybody takes some form of public transportation.
- The most notable form of public transportation in New York is the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) or the “subway” through which one can access anywhere they would like to go within the city.
New York City and Los Angeles have many differences in spite of having some similarities as large cities within the US. The cities are attractive to people from all over the world owing to their different features and characteristics. However, the climate, housing characteristics, population and public transportation spell how vastly different the cities are.