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Now that you know when to use a semicolon instead of a comma, how do you get started writing your essay? Learning the rules that govern written English is one thing; putting your knowledge to use is another. We will discuss some specific tips in each of the essay sections later, but for now, we will look at some general techniques to make your essay the best it can be. We begin by looking at the proper structure for your introduction and for your conclusion.


Your introduction should serve two structural purposes: It should restate your topic so that the reader need not review the given question, and it should offer a clear thesis so the reader knows what your purpose is. Simply defined, a thesis states the main idea of your essay. Because the strategy you need to employ for developing your thesis differs for each type of essay, however, we will discuss it in further detail later on in this chapter.


Your introduction should, in effect, restate the given topic. In other words, your reader should be able to ascertain the issue or argument without reading the given topic. Suppose the test gives you this argument:


The following letter was sent by a group of homeowners from the Rivermill Subdivision to all homeowners in that subdivision.


“Providence Golf Community down the street has a homeowner’s association. Part of the role of this association is to develop bylaws, which dictate the outside appearance of all homes in the community. For example, according to the rules set forth in the covenant, homeowners may only build privacy fences around their yard; no chain link is permitted. Property values in this community are double property values in our subdivision. In order to raise our property values, we need to improve the look of our neighborhood. Therefore, we should start an association and develop a covenant.”


Your initial reaction to this prompt may be to begin your essay with a direct response such as This letter presents a faulty argument. However, this introductory sentence does not provide adequate information because it does not specify which letter and therefore it would leave the reader confused. Following is the beginning of an introduction that does give adequate information to the reader:


Does the adoption of covenants in housing communities result in rising property values? In a letter to the residents of Rivermill Subdivision, a small group of homeowners stated that property values in nearby Providence were double the property values in Rivermill because of such a covenant.


Not only should you restate the topic, but you should also do so in a way that will spark interest. It may seem like a tall order to restate your topic, create a thesis, AND make it captivating, but if you don’t grab your reader’s attention in the introduction, it doesn’t matter how interesting the body of your essay is because he won’t feel compelled to read on. Think of your introduction as the worm on a fishhook, just dangling there enticing the fish to bite. There are several techniques you can employ to get your reader to “bite” and, thus, read on.

  • Begin your introduction with a question. Naturally, when a question is posed to your reader, he or she will want to keep reading to find out the answer.
  • Begin your introduction with a quote. Because you will not have time to research your topic for the test, this may not be as feasible as, say, on a term paper for a graduate class; however, if you can remember a specific quote pertinent to your topic, use it.
  • Begin with an anecdote. An anecdote is entertaining and will thus draw in the reader.
  • Begin with an illustration or a hypothetical example based on the topic you are going to discuss.
  • Begin with a true-to-life example.
  • Begin with vivid description of something pertaining to your topic.

It is particularly important that, in the context of the test, you make a concerted effort to create a captivating introduction. Keep in mind that the scorers of your essays are the scorers of everyone else’s essays. They read hundreds of responses to the same issues and arguments. You must make your essay stand out. What better way to make it stand out than to make it exceptional from the beginning?


The conclusion of your essay is just as important as the introduction because it wraps up your thoughts and evidence and should leave your reader satisfied that a convincing discussion has just taken place. Your conclusion should include a restatement of your thesis and then end with a more general statement, perhaps a warning or a call for action. Tip: If time is running out and you get stuck trying to formulate a conclusion, try beginning with “In conclusion” or “In summary.” Then continue by restating your thesis.

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