Unrequired modesty

Revisions

image from DC Comics Statues

“This is only my opinion, . . .”
“I could be wrong, but . . .”
“I guess maybe . . .”

No matter how brilliantly reasoned the remainder of these sentences might be, the person reading such a hesitant opening (or worse, the person grading it) thinks, “uh oh.”

The introduction doesn’t have space for your modest disclaimers. Please stop begging our indulgence and get straight to the punch, er, point.

Go!

An introduction, if you will pardon the obvious, introduces. Readers, meet the essay. Writers, be prepared to make a good first impression. Try one of these:

  •  Quote from your research of the topic. It invites someone else to help you speak and shows readers you have done some homework.
  • Tell a story. Make an anecdote do some of your persuading by choosing one that inspires whatever emotional reaction will help your essay. Do you want your readers offended by a condition? Proud of someone? Worried about a problem? Thrilled by an event? Moved by something?

Find a story fresh enough to surprise your readers. If you give readers something well known, you risk boring them. If you absolutely must tell a well known story, tell it with as fresh a perspective as you can manage.

An anecdote doesn’t have to be overtly emotional, however. When writing about something controversial, for example, tell a simple story. Pick one that makes each side of the issue feel certain applies to them. If all readers feel you are speaking to their side of something in the beginning, you have a better chance at holding their attention when you begin narrowing your focus.

  • Give some needed background. If you believe the territorial dispute Venezuela had with Guyana is key to understanding the Orinoco River delta, put that thought into readers heads right away.
  • Make a comparison. Writing about something complicated? Use an analogy to ease readers in:  “Astronomers have bumped Pluto down to the kiddie table.”

There are two kinds of writers regarding introductions. Some write it first and use it as inspiration for all that will follow. Great idea if you have stumbled on the perfect hook for readers’ attentions. Also doable if you are a writer who is good at outlining. The other camp writes them last. If the introduction forecasts all that follows, shouldn’t the writer wait until “all that follows” has indeed, um, followed before writing it?

Stop!

If I ask you not to begin with disclaimers, I insist you not end with them, either. Readers have been carefully following your points. Don’t interrupt them to say you might not have known what you are talking about.

The introduction and the conclusion are the bookends for your essay. You may not need the ZAP! KAPOW! of the Green Lantern and Sinestro, but you need far more than a utilitarian brick. Here’s what goes in a conclusion: your best point, positioned as something easily believable now that an entire essay has made its case. This is most obvious for a persuasion essay, but it is just as true for a definition or description. Say what must be said before the conversation stops.

Use the conclusion to expand on your introduction’s quote/story/background/comparison. Take your cue from your introduction and you will “frame” your topic. (It isn’t required, but framing provides a sense of closure to your discussion. A framed essay feels well and truly finished — and that can’t hurt at grading time, can it?)

You can read more about introductions here or see slides of the way some authors have done them here.