Lesson five in the EssayEdge.com essay writing course.
Surprised to see introductions as the topic of our second-to-last lesson? Most writers find that it is nearly impossible to craft an essay by beginning with the introduction. The best leads often develop during and after writers have written the remainder of the essay.
Maybe a fantastic introduction or conclusion is caught floating around in the middle of your rough draft. Maybe you find that your essay does not even need an introduction or conclusion (see sidebar). More likely, however, it is in these later stages that you have a good sense of the way your essay is shaping up, all the way to the nitty-gritty details. Since beginnings and endings can be the most challenging and important part of any piece of writing, you will want to take advantage of a completed rough draft.
Part of the reason why introductions and conclusions are so difficult is that writers tend to worry about them too much. Writing teachers give so much attention to the need for a thorough introduction and a sharply drawn conclusion that anxious essayists compensate by going overboard. They feel that in order to appear mature and worldly, their essays must contain profound insights and sweeping observations.
While your introduction and conclusion need not provide the answers to every worldly problem, they do need to be engaging. Admissions officers may spend just a few minutes reading your essay. Your introduction must grab their interest from the beginning and your conclusion must make a lasting impression.
Most applicants assume that a good essay must have an introduction and conclusion. While most essays do require these bookends, there are some instances in which an introduction and conclusion can actually diminish the quality of your essay. Heed the advice of one admissions officer:
“When you have finished writing the rest of your rough draft, you may discover that you don’t need an introduction at all. But isn’t that risky? Maybe. But believe it or not, more essays have been ruined by forced and unnecessary introductions than have been ruined by the lack of one. Largely this is because of the misconception of what an introduction is supposed to accomplish. This is especially true if you are writing your essay as a narrative. It might feel risky or uncomfortable just letting the story stand on its own. You might be afraid that your reader will miss the point. But the point should be made in the story — through the telling — not before or after it. If you really cannot resist, then offer your observations and explanations in the conclusion instead of the introduction, leaving you free to begin your essay with the action.”
From Essays That Will Get You Into College, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan. Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.