When I was a boy, I always helped my dad with home-improvement projects. Since he was a plumber by trade and a carpenter and an electrician through experience, he performed all of the difficult tasks while I handed him tools and brought him sodas. Then, when he finished, he allowed me to complete one of the most important tasks of all: “Jim, clean up this mess.”
As a boy, of course, I thought cleaning up was simply a menial task that anyone could perform. Now that I’m a grown man, however, I realize that the cleanup is an important part of the process, and not everyone can perform the task thoroughly and well. In fact, cleaning up the three major parts of an essay or a term paper may be the most difficult task of all.
First, you should make sure that your introduction is interesting and strong. Too many students settle for a bland opening statement such as “This paper will be about . . .” or “The subject of this paper is . . .” Some students have a weak introduction because they aren’t willing to dig up anything interesting, but others simply don’t know how to begin or what they’re trying to accomplish.
Basically, a strong introduction should accomplish four objectives: grab the readers’ attention, present the general plan of development for the paper, provide some basic background information, and make the thesis — or main idea — clear. An effective introduction may use one or more of the following techniques: a question, a joke or a story, a quotation or a bit of dialogue, a detailed description, a comparison, a vivid example, a definition, an allusion, or a startling statement, statistic, or fact.
If you’re writing about Stephen King, for example, you might take a quotation from one of his works. If you’re writing about the Battle of Saratoga, you might include an interesting statistic. Or, if you’re writing about depression, you might start with a definition. The introductory device that is appropriate for you and your paper will depend in large part on the topic of your paper.
Next, you have to look at the body paragraphs of your text which support the main idea of your paper. As you evaluate each paragraph, you should ask yourself these questions:
· Does the paragraph have a transitional word or phrase?
· Does the paragraph have a strong topic sentence?
· Does the paragraph support the thesis?
· Does the paragraph reinforce a previous point or make a new one?
· Does the paragraph give specific evidence to develop its point?
· Does the paragraph use outside sources to support its point?
· Does the paragraph indicate the credibility or expertise of the outside source?
· Does the paragraph cite the source properly?
· Do the paragraphs fit together seamlessly with all the other paragraphs?
Lastly, you need to look at your conclusion. Again, many students are content to simply write “In conclusion” or “To summarize” and, then, restate the thesis. While you should definitely restate your main idea, your overall conclusion should be more powerful. After all, the conclusion is the last thought your reader will grasp, and you want that final thought to be memorable. Thus, you may want to use one of the techniques mentioned earlier (a question, a story, a quotation, etc.), or you may want to use a call to action.
For instance, you may want to use a final story about Stephen King to reiterate your thesis. You may want to ask a thought provoking question about the Battle of Saratoga to intrigue your reader long after the paper has been read. Or you may want to recommend that major health plans cover the cost for the treatment of depression. Again, the concluding device you use will depend on your topic and your thesis.
Overall, you want your introduction, your main text, and your conclusion to work neatly together. What often happens, unfortunately, is that many students are finishing the main text as the deadline approaches, and they have little time to write a strong introduction and conclusion. Ideally, you want to leave yourself plenty of time before the deadline, so you can write a few introductions and conclusions before choosing the most effective. After all, if you don’t leave yourself enough time to clean up and polish all those messy paragraphs, you’ll probably feel more like the helping child and less like the master craftsman.