Writing Guide: Three Ways to Write Introductions and Conclusions

Introductions have only one crucial component: the thesis at the end, which offers a (re)solution to a problem you’ll explore throughout your paper.

The job of the introduction, then, is to demonstrate the problem that the rest of your paper—and the thesis—will solve. Like the opening scene of a crime film, the intro guides the reader’s expectations. While even the most basic summaries of plots and themes can work to establish your central problem, here are three ways to introduce a central question creatively, so that you have room to answer it in both your body paragraphs… and your conclusion.

The Zoom-Out Introduction

Imagine the beginning of a movie in which we see the heist performed, but we’re not sure who the criminal is. This is the Zoom-Out Intro. We start with the scene of the crime, and then we spend the rest of the movie (or paper) figuring out how we got there.

- Start with the Scene of the Crime: Single out a particularly revealing moment or line. However, note that some high school teachers don’t like quotes in introductions. (College professors don’t usually care).

- Zoom-out to the problem: Show what question the quote raises. Is Hamlet apathetic or scared? Is Holden a phony?

- Note the Suspects: Indicate what different answers may be right based on surrounding evidence.

- Propose a Solution: Offer a thesis indicating which answer is most compelling.

How to write a corresponding conclusion:

- Return to the moment you started with in your introduction.

- Show the correct way to interpret what’s happening.

- Indicate why this interpretation seems accurate given the surrounding text—or what this interpretation reveals about the rest of the text.

The Zoom-In Introduction

Imagine the beginning of a movie in which we see the hero perform some amazing feat. This is the Zoom-In Introduction. The intro establishes our hero’s values and techniques that will soon be tested.

- Establish an overarching claim about a feature of the text. Atticus embodies integrity.

- Offer some anecdotal evidence from within the text. After all, Atticus defends Tom despite the objections of his community.

- Zoom-In on a particular passage that will test this claim. So why does he lie about Ewell?

- Resolution: Show how the original claim holds true despite — or because of — how it’s tested. Ultimately, Atticus shows that in a world of falsehoods, lies may be as necessary as truth-telling to preserve one’s integrity.

How to write a corresponding conclusion:

- Zoom out now. Show how the point you made is relevant to other characters or situations in the text.

- Zoom farther out. Show why this theme is relevant to the time, place, or background of the text and/or the author.

- End with a question: What does the question raised by the text mean today? (One sentence max—don’t abuse this strategy).

The Straw Man Introduction

Imagine the beginning of a court film in which the lawyer addresses the jury, and the lawyer tells the jury to expect that his client will be called a murderer. This is the Straw Man Introduction. By offering a counterargument to your claim, you give yourselves the terms to refute it. Better yet, you sound brilliant for moving beyond an obvious argument.

- Open with: “At first, it may seem as though…” and follow the Zoom-In-Intro

- However, unlike in the Zoom-In intro, your thesis should resolve how claim you made doesn’t hold true

How to write a corresponding conclusion:

- Zoom out. You’ve argued a counterintuitive point. Show how it’s true of other characters or situations. How so?

- Zoom in: Explain why the character(s) or situation(s) you discussed in your paper were the best choices to understand this point.

- Zoom in further: Return to your straw man introduction, and show why the point you originally made is wrong.