Doyle Online Writing Lab

Introductions, Transitions, and Conclusions

Introductions, transitions, and conclusions are opportunities to use the power of rhetoric to convey your argument directly.  They alert the reader to the underlying logic of your argument, they summarize the most salient points, and they connect your ideas in a cohesive way.  The following pages explore each of these components separately.

Introductions

A strong writer is not only aware of what she is saying, but how she is saying it.  Decisions about diction, organization, and focus affect the reader.

Papers are generally more coherent and persuasive when the argument is easy to follow - that is, when the reader knows where the writer is coming from and where he is going. An introduction should do just that: describe what the subject of the paper is and why the reader ought to be concerned about it.

According to Wayne C. Booth et. al. in The Craft of Rhetoric an "explicit" introduction includes three elements: (1) a sketch of a context for the issue to be addressed in the composition, (2) a direct statement of the research problem (especially some aspect of that problem that has been left up to debate), and (3) a statement of your response to that problem (in essence, your thesis statement).

Some Basic Forms for Introductions

A story or anecdote
Recount a story that will somehow shock your audience or that can serve as an analogy for the situation that your paper addresses. Be sure to explain how the story is related to the thesis of your paper.

Use a quotation
Quote an article, a literary work, an interview, etc. and explain how that quotation is related to the thesis of your paper. Sometimes you can really surprise the reader by quoting an unlikely source and proceeding to evaluate it in terms of your argument. For example:

"What a dull and dreary trade is that of critic," wrote Diderot. "It is so difficult to create a thing, even a mediocre thing; it is so easy to detect mediocrity." Either the great philosopher was deliberately exaggerating or else Americans have always lived in an entirely different continuum from Europe. For us the making of mediocre things is the rule while the ability to detect mediocrity or anything else is rare (Horton, 66).

A simple statement (or series of simple statements)
So many important academic, political, and social issues become obscured in the course of discussion that introducing your argument by stating it in the simplest manner possible may make it seem like a revelation to your reader. For example:

He killed his brother. He married his brother's wife. He stole his brother's crown. A cold-hearted murderer, he is described by his brother's ghost as "that incestuous, that adulterate beast" (I.v.42). The bare facts appear to stamp him an utter moral outlaw. Nonetheless, as his soliloquies and anguished asides reveal, no person in Hamlet demonstrates so mixed a true nature as Claudius, the newly-made King of Denmark (Trimble, 34).

Posing a question
Pose the reader with a question, evaluate that question, and propose an answer to it in your thesis.

Sample Introduction

Some description needed here

In the 1950s, in order to investigate the extent of depth perception, Eleanor J. Gibson and her colleagues developed a "visual cliff," a table apparatus that was able to produce the visual effect of a cliff abruptly descending.  Gibson observed that infants as young as a year old reacted to this visual illusion. Of the babies tested, the vast majority halted before the visual cliff and refused to proceed over it.
Why bring up this experiment in an essay that centers on a Roman philosopher's conception of death?  Because Gibson's experiment, like Lucretius, raises questions why and how human beings seek to avoid pain and death.  Gibson demonstrates that even before we are able to perceive morality or identify sexually or racially--even before we are able to walk or talk--as young as the age of three months, we are instinctively able to avoid falling, and the pain or death that might result.  In On the Nature of Things, Lucretius also describes the physical world and the perceptions the human body and mind form of it. But Lucretius believes that humans fear and avoid death not for instinctual reasons but because of cultural misperceptions: first, because they mistakenly perceive death as a state of loss, especially of material possessions; and second, they worry that death will bring eternal damnation. In contrast to the commonplace "superstitions" of his day, Lucretius argues that death is not to be feared because body, mind and soul all terminate at death and so death is a state of nothingness that allows for eternal repose from mortal woes.

Transitions or "Flow"


What is often called “flow” in a paper, referring to the seamless and engaging transitions between two sentences or between one paragraph and the next, is not the product of magic or luck.  Rather it is the product of logic—the ability to recognize and make explicit the logical relation between two sentences or two paragraphs.  Logic generally depends on one of several strategies for reasoning. These strategies include seeing similarities, making distinctions, identifying hierarchies, and constructing either analogies or syllogisms.  In the absence of logic, most students will resort to merely listing their thoughts: new paragraphs will start with words like “another,” “one other,” or "moreover."

Here is one example of a weaker and stronger paragraph transition taken from a Hum 110 paper on Lucretius.

Weaker transition: “One other false belief about death that Lucretius believes humans experience is their concern for the loss of tangible and earthly possessions.”

Stronger transition: “The final and most prominent false belief about death Lucretius critiques is the common and superstitious fear that the afterlife consists of being placed in Tartarus for eternity.

Below are lists of words used in English to convey logical relations: these words may illuminate the logical connection you are searching for to link one claim to the next in your reasoning.

Transitional words and phrases that suggest similarity between ideas:

  • furthermore
  • moreover
  • in addition

Transitional words and phrases that suggest contrast between ideas:

  • on the other hand
  • in contrast
  • by comparison
  • yet
  • rather

Transitional words and phrases that suggest a hierarchy of ideas:

  • above all
  • in particular
  • more specifically

Transitional words and phrases that suggest deductive, syllogistic, or analogical reasoning:

  • therefore
  • these findings indicate
  • consequently
  • so
  • thus
  • just as... so...
  • if this... then this...

Conclusions

An effective conclusion seeks to solidify a paper's argument in the reader's mind as succinctly as possible. It provides a basis for further reflection on the issues addressed by the composition, but ensures that the reader will consider these issues with the final sentence of your essay resounding in his head.

The conclusion of your paper should accomplish three things:

It should briefly summarize your argument: Try to avoid simply rehashing your argument.  Instead, devote a sentence or two on bringing the argument (your thesis) into sharp focus, and then add value by exploring new ground.

It should offer new insight: Your conclusion should be distinct from the body of your paper, but should build on the evidence you've explored.  When you bring up new ideas, be sure they demonstrate how your essay fits into a larger context. For example, you might mention (1) how the issues discussed are particularly important to consider (perhaps they affect the reader in a profound manner?), (2) the current status of the issue if your paper addresses some contemporary controversy (are things being done to resolve the issue? are they sufficient? Get your reader to ask these questions), or (3) how an academic argument can be applied to non-academic issues (e.g., what does Lear's revelation tell us about ourselves?)

It should provide the reader with a sense of closure: By the time a reader has finished a piece of writing he should both understand the argument put forth in that piece and be relatively well-equipped to reflect on the issue independently. The last sentence of your paper concludes your attempt to make an impression on him: the last sentence is what, in the words of F.L. Lucas, "reverberate[s] in the reader's mind." To give the reader a sense of closure, you might: (1) end with a clever turn of phrase (as in the above example) or reinvent a clicheé, (2) end with an appropriate quotation that you find particularly eloquent (this can be extremely effective if it contains imagery that is important elsewhere in the paper and that is redefined or reemphasized by the quote), (3) return to your introduction (if you told an anecdote reinterpret it in light of what your paper has explained; if you described a scene demonstrate how the reader's perception of that scene has been changed by what he has just learned, etc.), or (4) if your essay has been a discussion of a problem, propose a possible solution.

When writing a conclusion, it is helpful to re-read your introduction and ask yourself if you've lived up to the goals you established in the first paragraph.  Because writing is an act of discovery it is not uncommon to realize at the end of your paper that your conclusions don't match what you set out to do.  When this is the case, adjust your introduction and conclusion to more accurately reflect what your paper argues.


BIBLIOGRAPHY/RESOURCES

Costello, Jean. Techniques for Writing More Interesting Conclusions. Unpublished.
Marius, Richard. A Writer's Companion. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1991.
Trimble, John. Writing With Style. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975.