In what ways does your opening engage your reader?

Writers who produce engaging openings keep their audience in mind from the very first sentence. They consider the tone, pace, delivery of information, and strategies for getting the reader’s attention. Many teachers generally recommend that students write their introductions last, because oftentimes introductions are the hardest paragraphs to write.

They’re difficult to write first because you have to consider what the reader needs to know about your topic before getting to the thesis.

In what manner have you reiterated your ideas? What have you left your reader to think about at the end of your paper? How does your paper answer the “So what?” question?

As the last part of the paper, conclusions often get the short shrift. We instructors know (not that we condone it)—many students devote a lot less attention to the writing of the conclusion. Some students might even finish their conclusion thirty minutes before they have to turn in their papers. But even if you’re practicing desperation writing, don’t neglect your conclusion; it’s a very integral part of your paper.

Think about it: Why would you spend so much time writing your introductory material and your body paragraphs and then kill the paper by leaving your reader with a dud for a conclusion? Rather than simply trailing off at the end, it’s important to learn to construct a compelling conclusion—one that both reiterates your ideas and leaves your reader with something to think about.

Use metalanguage to help your readers understand your organization and reasoning. Clarify logical relationships, temporal relationships, and spatial relationships by using metalanguage.

The term "metalanguage" refers to language that helps writers explain relationships between ideas or words that explain how texts are presented. Phrases like "for example," "as a result," and "therefore" are examples of metalanguage. Like an impatient TV watcher clicking through hundreds of channels, readers tend to be impatient, always ready to put their work aside.

As a result, throughout a document, you must ensure that readers will understand how different ideas relate to one another. You don't want your readers to ask

  • "So what?"
  • "Who cares?"
  • "Jeez, just what is this text about?"
  • "What's going on in the world today?" i.e., tangential thoughts.

Successful writers maintain a sense of their readers' likely responses to their documents. Just as writers commonly summarize their message in their introductions, highlighting its significance, writers frequently repeat their main ideas throughout a document, reminding readers of what's been discussed, what will follow, and how new information relates to old information. Your essay shouldn't be a spinning top, wandering from one topic to another--not if you want readers (or a good grade), anyway. Of course, peppering your language with metadiscourse--such as "thus," "therefore," "consequently," and so on--will not provide logic. By itself, metalanguage cannot provide missing logic; it merely provides the glue to help readers better understand how ideas cohere.

Below is a list of common metalanguage terms. Ideally, your ideas relate so well that you do not need extensive metalanguage.

TRANSITIONAL CUES

COMMON TRANSITIONS

To guide readers

  • You might first conclude
  • Please consider the possibility that
  • As you recall
  • Consider now

To order ideas and structure texts

  • To begin...next...furthermore
  • First, second, third...

To place emphasis

  • More importantly
  • Without doubt
  • Surprisingly
  • Remarkably

To provide examples

  • For example
  • For instance
  • In fact
  • Additionally
  • Also
  • Similarly
  • In other words

To show logical connections

  • If...then
  • Consequently
  • However
  • Furthermore
  • Hence
  • As a result
  • On the other hand...
  • In contrast
  • Nonetheless
  • Still
  • While

To hedge

  • Perhaps
  • We may conclude
  • Possibly
  • This suggest
  • It may seem

To summarize

  • In conclusion...
  • To summarize
  • As a result
  • As I have demonstrate

Use an inductive organizational structure to surprise readers or to address controversial topics.

While writers are under increasing pressure to organize information deductively, they can--and do--write inductively. Typically, writers employ a more inductive style when the topic is controversial or when they wish to surprise readers.

Controversial Issues

When writing documents that address controversial issues or matters that threaten the beliefs of their readers, writers may find it strategic to place their arguments in their conclusions rather than their introductions.

Surprise Readers

Readers of novels expect to be delighted with surprise endings. In contrast, readers of nonfiction don't expect the surprise ending, so they can be especially appreciative of a carefully constructed surprise. Note below, for example, the way Dianne Lynch surprises you with the line, "you are using the Internet to fight back"--a line in direct juxtaposition to the first 122 words of her short essay "Afghan Women Reach Out Via the Web."

  • You can't laugh or talk aloud in public, and even your shoes must make no sound. Wearing cosmetics or showing your ankles is punishable by whipping; women have had their fingers amputated for wearing nail polish.
  • You paint the windows of your house black so you cannot be seen from the outside. You are forbidden from walking on your balcony or in your backyard. It has been years since the sun shone on your face. And all public references to you have disappeared.
  • You are a woman in Afghanistan today, living under the regime of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban.
  • And if you are one of the nearly 2,000 women who belong to The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, or RAWA, you are using the Internet to fight back.

When writing essays for school contexts, be sure to check whether your instructor will permit an inductive organization. While an inductive approach can be an effective strategic approach, some readers--particularly in academic and business contexts--define "good writing" as writing that follows a deductive structure.


"Specific to General (Inductive)" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida

 

Provide thesis and forecasting statements in the introduction to help busy readers focus.

Approximately 100,000 books and millions of journal articles are published each year in the United States (see Bowker Annual). Digital Archivists estimate the size of the Deep Web at over 7.5 billion documents. The Internet Archive has archived 10 billion pages of the Open Web--over 100 terabytes of information. Now that the Internet has made it possible for   just about anyone to publish and potentially reach millions of readers, we are truly overwhelmed by information.

Hook Your Readers - Get to the Point!

Accordingly, writers are under increasing pressure to get to the point, to grab the prospective reader's attention and deliver the goods. In many writing contexts, across genres, readers expect writers to define the purpose, organization, and significance of a document in a thesis statement that is provided in the introduction. As a result, most documents follow a deductive organization in which the authors make a general statement and then support it with specific examples. In other words, writers summarize their thesis and often forecast how they've organized a document. Here, for example, is a headline from today's newspaper:

"Self-Amputation. Frustrated Man Plans to Cut Off His Legs Online" by Paul Eng (ABCNEWS.COM)

This headline is designed to hook readers, enticing them to read the essay. Now, in the past--that is, long ago (read after the Ice Age but before the Internet)--readers may have given writers several pages to get to the point. Nowadays, you've got seconds. Literally seconds. The time it takes to click onto something more informative or entertaining.

Here, for example, is an abstract of "Cybersex and Infidelity Online: Implications for Evaluation and Treatment" prepared by Kimberly S. Young, James O'Mara, and Jennifer Buchanan for the 107th annual meeting of the American Psychological Association:

Prior research has examined how marital relationships can result in separation and divorce due to Internet addiction. This paper examines how the ability to form romantic and sexual relationships over the Internet can result in marital separation and possible divorce. The ACE Model (Anonymity, Convenience, Escape) of Cybersexual Addiction provides a workable framework to help explain the underlying cyber-cultural issues increasing the risk of virtual adultery. Finally, the paper outlines specific interventions that focus on strategies for rebuilding trust after a cyberaffair, ways to improve marital communication, and finally how to educate couples on ways to continue commitment.

Here's another example of an introduction that gets right to the point, extracted from "Blinded by Junk Food":

Over indulging in fat-filled snack foods may heighten the risk of developing advanced age-related muscular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness and vision impairment in the United States for those over 55, researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary said in a new study.

By the way, you should know that readers expect you to provide deductive summaries throughout a document, particularly in lengthy documents. Each time you begin a new section, consider:

1. Providing a quick, perhaps one-sentence review of what you've discussed.
2. Explaining ways the new topic relates to what has been discussed.
3. Explaining how one section relates to another section.

Why is it important to organize a paper logically?

Academic writing—like many types of writing—is typically more effective when the writer’s ideas are presented logically. For the sake of clarity and cohesiveness, a logical plan should inform the paper’s organization from beginning to end at the global (big picture) and local (zoomed in) levels. The target audience is more likely to become engaged, and maintain their engagement, when the conversation is clearly organized and purposefully presented.