Introduction Body Conclusion Essay Writing

Transcript

The standard essay format that you’re introduced to in middle school and high school has a three part structure: there’s an introductory section, a main body and a conclusion.

There are conventional rules for what to include and not include in each of these sections, and if you want to improve your academic essay writing there’s no doubt that you need to understand these rules.

But I think anyone who teaches essay writing, and anyone who wants to improve their essay writing, should acknowledge that not all essays are written this way, and that the conventional rules for academic essays can be quite restrictive — there is, for lack of a better term, an expressivecost to following the rules.

In this video I want to talk about the rationale for the conventional rules, and more specifically how and when the benefits of following them outweigh the costs.

The Standard Three-Part Structure

The most striking feature of the conventional academic essay format is how introductions and conclusions are written.

(1) Introductory Section

The introductory section of an academic essay is supposed to do three things:

First, we use it to introduce the subject of the essay, and more specifically, the issue with respect to the subject. The subject might be, say, the ethics of sport hunting. The issue might be whether hunting with bow and arrow is more or less humane than rifle hunting.

If the issue is somewhat complex or unfamiliar you may need to spend a bit of time on this introductory section, providing enough background and context for the reader to understand, in rough outline, what the issue is.

Second, we state the thesis of the essay. The thesis is the position or stance that the essay is going to take, on the issue in question.

And third, it’s often recommended that the author say something about how the rest of the essay is going to be organized, so the reader has some idea of what to expect and how the argument is going to unfold. This becomes increasingly important as essays become longer and more complicated.

(2) Main Body

Moving on to the main body of the essay, the structure of the main body will differ depending on the kind of essay you’re writing. Here I’ll just review the features of a standard argumentative essay.

The primary goal of the main body is to present the central argument of the essay. There are many ways of doing this, but an essential part of any argumentative essay is to consider natural objections to the main argument, and then present replies that defend the argument against those objections.

(3) Concluding Section

Now, in the concluding section of the standard academic essay, you’re expected to restate the main thesis, review and summarize the key argumentative moves you made in the essay, and if you want you can offer some final commentary on the topic. These elements of the concluding section become more important and more prominent as essays become longer and more professional. If you look at articles written for academic journals you’ll find that these elements are standard.

"Do I Have to Write Like This?"

So these are the conventional rules for organizing an academic essay.

I don’t want to generalize, but I think we have to admit that the style of essay writing I just described isn’t one we normally associate with engaging literary style. It can be dry and stiff and predictable.

I’ve had students ask me, in all seriousness, whether they have to write like this, like there’s something obviously unappealing about these writing conventions.

I think these questions have a point, I think they deserve to be answered. So let’s push the question further.

Many non-academic essay writing styles will try to invite or entice the reader to continue reading, but they won’t disclose the main point of the essay up front — they’ll save the “punchline”, as it were, until the end, for obvious reasons.

Telegraphing your punchline in the setup of your joke would ruin the joke.

Similarly, telegraphing the main point of your essay in the introduction makes it difficult to build a narrative with the potential to surprise the reader. If every essayist felt pressured to show all their cards in the opening paragraphs of their essay, they would rightly find that a burdensome restriction.

All of this is to say that there’s nothing in the nature of essay writing per se that requires this kind of style.

But then if it’s standard in academic writing then there must be some reason for it, some benefit that outweighs the costs.

So let’s talk about what these benefits are.

The Function of the Standard Three-Part Essay Structure

The standard conventions of academic writing only make sense under the assumption that you’re writing for a certain kind of audience whose interests are served by this format.

All of this makes more sense if you realize that at the highest levels, academia is a profession, and the primary currency that this profession trades in, is peer recognition and approval.

Whether I’m a physicist or a philosopher or an English literature expert, to participate in the profession you need to produce research, and in most cases this takes the form of written research articles that are published in professional academic journals, or it takes the form of longer, book-length monographs.

In either case, your work is subject to a process of PEER REVIEW, before it can get into the hands of the broader research community or the general public.

At the first level of the peer review process, your immediate audience is an editor of some kind. The job of a journal editor is to facilitate the process of academic gate-keeping and quality control.

The journal editor receives many submissions, more than they can publish. They have to quickly assess the the relevance of the submission for their audience, which is other professional academics in their field.

If it passes this first stage of assessment then the editor has to identify qualified reviewers within the field who will conduct a more thorough review of the submission.

Their reports are sent back to the editor, who then makes a decision about whether the submission should be published, accepted for publication conditional on making certain minor changes, sent back to the author with a recommendation to revise and resubmit, or reject the submission outright.

That’s your "level 1" audience. Ultimately what you want is that your academic peers get access to your work through publication in the standard peer-reviewed venues.

Your professional peers are your level 2 audience. But they face the same predicament as journal editors, in the sense that even if your submission finds its way into a journal that they regularly read, no one has the time or energy to read everything.

So everyone needs a strategy for deciding whether a given article is relevant to your interest and worth the time and energy to read all the way through.

And if you were in that situation, it would be very much in your interest that articles are written in a standard form and in such a way that in the first few paragraphs you can quickly judge whether the article is relevant to your own research.

This gets us closer to understanding why the standard academic essay format is what it is.

It’s a form of writing that makes it easy for a person who has limited time and energy, and who has a specific interest in certain topics, to identify whether the essay is relevant to those topics. Everyone in academia, from working professionals to editors to graduate students, benefits from the standardization that is built in to the conventional three-part essay format.

So, are there good reasons why the conventions are what they are? The answer is yes, there are good reasons. There are costs, in terms of predictability and a certain utilitarian dryness, but from the perspective of working academics, the benefits clearly outweigh these costs.

But Why Impose This Convention on Students?

Now, there’s an obvious question that this analysis raises.

If the justification for these academic essay writing conventions is that they’re important for professional academic writing, why are they so often taught as though they were basic to essay writing in general?

In writing instruction guides aimed at high school students, you often see some version of this three-part structure presented without any context, like it was part of a definition of what a “proper” essay should look like.

This is nonsense, there is no such definition. There are plenty of different models for successful essay writing.

So why is it so often taught as though it was the only model?

Well, if you ask high school teachers they’ll probably tell you that it’s a good model to teach students because

  • it’s a model that students are expected to be familiar with when they enter college,
  • it’s a model that can get you a good score on the essay-writing portion of college admission tests, and
  • it’s a model that signalscompetency in essay writing — in other words, in many places it’s used as a standard for judging competency in writing skills.

And in their more cynical moods they’ll tell you that it’s challenging enough to teach justone model for essay writing, when so few students are good at even this one model.

There's obviously a lot of truth to these observations. But let’s at least acknowledge that these reasons have more to do with the practical realities of education than with good writing per se.

Good writers need to understand the rules of a conventional style and the reasons behind the rules, so that they can use them when doing so serves their communicative goals and break them when they don’t.

In the next video we’ll take a closer look at the concept of writing style, and how writing structure emerges out of a deliberate choice of style.

Contributors: Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource outlines the generally accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions in an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that this resource contains guidelines and not strict rules about organization. Your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.

Introductions, Body Paragraphs, and Conclusions for an Argument Paper

The following sections outline the generally accepted structure for an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that these are guidelines and that your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.

You may also use the following Purdue OWL resources to help you with your argument paper:

Introduction

The introduction is the broad beginning of the paper that answers three important questions:

  1. What is this?
  2. Why am I reading it?
  3. What do you want me to do?

You should answer these questions by doing the following:

  1. Set the context –provide general information about the main idea, explaining the situation so the reader can make sense of the topic and the claims you make and support
  2. State why the main idea is important –tell the reader why he or she should care and keep reading. Your goal is to create a compelling, clear, and convincing essay people will want to read and act upon
  3. State your thesis/claim –compose a sentence or two stating the position you will support with logos (sound reasoning: induction, deduction), pathos (balanced emotional appeal), and ethos (author credibility).

For exploratory essays, your primary research question would replace your thesis statement so that the audience understands why you began your inquiry. An overview of the types of sources you explored might follow your research question.

If your argument paper is long, you may want to forecast how you will support your thesis by outlining the structure of your paper, the sources you will consider, and the opposition to your position. You can forecast your paper in many different ways depending on the type of paper you are writing. Your forecast could read something like this:

First, I will define key terms for my argument, and then I will provide some background of the situation. Next, I will outline the important positions of the argument and explain why I support one of these positions. Lastly, I will consider opposing positions and discuss why these positions are outdated. I will conclude with some ideas for taking action and possible directions for future research.

When writing a research paper, you may need to use a more formal, less personal tone. Your forecast might read like this:

This paper begins by providing key terms for the argument before providing background of the situation. Next, important positions are outlined and supported. To provide a more thorough explanation of these important positions, opposing positions are discussed. The paper concludes with some ideas for taking action and possible directions for future research.

Ask your instructor about what tone you should use when providing a forecast for your paper.

These are very general examples, but by adding some details on your specific topic, a forecast will effectively outline the structure of your paper so your readers can more easily follow your ideas.

Thesis checklist

Your thesis is more than a general statement about your main idea. It needs to establish a clear position you will support with balanced proofs (logos, pathos, ethos). Use the checklist below to help you create a thesis.

This section is adapted from Writing with a Thesis: A Rhetoric Reader by David Skwire and Sarah Skwire:

Make sure you avoid the following when creating your thesis:

  • A thesis is not a title: Homes and schools (title) vs. Parents ought to participate more in the education of their children (good thesis).
  • A thesis is not an announcement of the subject: My subject is the incompetence of the Supreme Court vs. The Supreme Court made a mistake when it ruled in favor of George W. Bush in the 2000 election.
  • A thesis is not a statement of absolute fact: Jane Austen is the author of Pride and Prejudice.
  • A thesis is not the whole essay: A thesis is your main idea/claim/refutation/problem-solution expressed in a single sentence or a combination of sentences.
  • Please note that according to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Seventh Edition, "A thesis statement is a single sentence that formulates both your topic and your point of view" (Gibaldi 42). However, if your paper is more complex and requires a thesis statement, your thesis may require a combination of sentences.

Make sure you follow these guidelines when creating your thesis:

  • A good thesis is unified:
    • NOT: Detective stories are not a high form of literature, but people have always been fascinated by them, and many fine writers have experimented with them

(floppy). vs.

  •  
    • BETTER: Detective stories appeal to the basic human desire for thrills (concise).

  • A good thesis is specific:
    • NOT: James Joyce’s Ulysses is very good. vs.

    • BETTER: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious.

  • Try to be as specific as possible (without providing too much detail) when creating your thesis:
    • NOT: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious. vs.

    • BETTER: James Joyce’s Ulysses helped create a new way for writers to deal with the unconscious by utilizing the findings of Freudian psychology and introducing the techniques of literary stream-of-consciousness.

Quick Checklist:

_____ The thesis/claim follows the guidelines outlined above

_____ The thesis/claim matches the requirements and goals of the assignment

_____ The thesis/claim is clear and easily recognizable

_____ The thesis/claim seems supportable by good reasoning/data, emotional appeal

Contributors: Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource outlines the generally accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions in an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that this resource contains guidelines and not strict rules about organization. Your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.

Body Paragraphs

Body paragraphs: Moving from general to specific information

Your paper should be organized in a manner that moves from general to specific information. Every time you begin a new subject, think of an inverted pyramid - The broadest range of information sits at the top, and as the paragraph or paper progresses, the author becomes more and more focused on the argument ending with specific, detailed evidence supporting a claim. Lastly, the author explains how and why the information she has just provided connects to and supports her thesis (a brief wrap-up or warrant).

Image Caption: Moving from General to Specific Information

The four elements of a good paragraph (TTEB)

A good paragraph should contain at least the following four elements: Transition, Topic sentence, specific Evidence and analysis, and a Brief wrap-up sentence (also known as a warrant) –TTEB!

  1. A Transition sentence leading in from a previous paragraph to assure smooth reading. This acts as a hand-off from one idea to the next.
  2. A Topic sentence that tells the reader what you will be discussing in the paragraph.
  3. Specific Evidence and analysis that supports one of your claims and that provides a deeper level of detail than your topic sentence.
  4. A Brief wrap-up sentence that tells the reader how and why this information supports the paper’s thesis. The brief wrap-up is also known as the warrant. The warrant is important to your argument because it connects your reasoning and support to your thesis, and it shows that the information in the paragraph is related to your thesis and helps defend it.

Supporting evidence (induction and deduction)

Induction

Induction is the type of reasoning that moves from specific facts to a general conclusion. When you use induction in your paper, you will state your thesis (which is actually the conclusion you have come to after looking at all the facts) and then support your thesis with the facts. The following is an example of induction taken from Dorothy U. Seyler’s Understanding Argument:

Facts:

There is the dead body of Smith. Smith was shot in his bedroom between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., according to the coroner. Smith was shot with a .32 caliber pistol. The pistol left in the bedroom contains Jones’s fingerprints. Jones was seen, by a neighbor, entering the Smith home at around 11:00 p.m. the night of Smith’s death. A coworker heard Smith and Jones arguing in Smith’s office the morning of the day Smith died.

Conclusion: Jones killed Smith.

Here, then, is the example in bullet form:

  • Conclusion: Jones killed Smith
  • Support: Smith was shot by Jones’ gun, Jones was seen entering the scene of the crime, Jones and Smith argued earlier in the day Smith died.
  • Assumption: The facts are representative, not isolated incidents, and thus reveal a trend, justifying the conclusion drawn.
Deduction

When you use deduction in an argument, you begin with general premises and move to a specific conclusion. There is a precise pattern you must use when you reason deductively. This pattern is called syllogistic reasoning (the syllogism). Syllogistic reasoning (deduction) is organized in three steps:

  1. Major premise
  2. Minor premise
  3. Conclusion

In order for the syllogism (deduction) to work, you must accept that the relationship of the two premises lead, logically, to the conclusion. Here are two examples of deduction or syllogistic reasoning:

Socrates

  1. Major premise: All men are mortal.
  2. Minor premise: Socrates is a man.
  3. Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

Lincoln

  1. Major premise: People who perform with courage and clear purpose in a crisis are great leaders.
  2. Minor premise: Lincoln was a person who performed with courage and a clear purpose in a crisis.
  3. Conclusion: Lincoln was a great leader.

So in order for deduction to work in the example involving Socrates, you must agree that (1) all men are mortal (they all die); and (2) Socrates is a man. If you disagree with either of these premises, the conclusion is invalid. The example using Socrates isn’t so difficult to validate. But when you move into more murky water (when you use terms such as courage, clear purpose, and great), the connections get tenuous.

For example, some historians might argue that Lincoln didn’t really shine until a few years into the Civil War, after many Union losses to Southern leaders such as Robert E. Lee.

The following is a clear example of deduction gone awry:

  1. Major premise: All dogs make good pets.
  2. Minor premise: Doogle is a dog.
  3. Conclusion: Doogle will make a good pet.

If you don’t agree that all dogs make good pets, then the conclusion that Doogle will make a good pet is invalid.

Enthymemes

When a premise in a syllogism is missing, the syllogism becomes an enthymeme. Enthymemes can be very effective in argument, but they can also be unethical and lead to invalid conclusions. Authors often use enthymemes to persuade audiences. The following is an example of an enthymeme:

If you have a plasma TV, you are not poor.

The first part of the enthymeme (If you have a plasma TV) is the stated premise. The second part of the statement (you are not poor) is the conclusion. Therefore, the unstated premise is “Only rich people have plasma TVs.” The enthymeme above leads us to an invalid conclusion (people who own plasma TVs are not poor) because there are plenty of people who own plasma TVs who are poor. Let’s look at this enthymeme in a syllogistic structure:

  • Major premise: People who own plasma TVs are rich (unstated above).
  • Minor premise: You own a plasma TV.
  • Conclusion: You are not poor.

To help you understand how induction and deduction can work together to form a solid argument, you may want to look at the United States Declaration of Independence. The first section of the Declaration contains a series of syllogisms, while the middle section is an inductive list of examples. The final section brings the first and second sections together in a compelling conclusion.

Contributors: Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource outlines the generally accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions in an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that this resource contains guidelines and not strict rules about organization. Your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.

Rebuttal Sections

In order to present a fair and convincing message, you may need to anticipate, research, and outline some of the common positions (arguments) that dispute your thesis. If the situation (purpose) calls for you to do this, you will present and then refute these other positions in the rebuttal section of your essay.

It is important to consider other positions because in most cases, your primary audience will be fence-sitters. Fence-sitters are people who have not decided which side of the argument to support.

People who are on your side of the argument will not need a lot of information to align with your position. People who are completely against your argument—perhaps for ethical or religious reasons—will probably never align with your position no matter how much information you provide. Therefore, the audience you should consider most important are those people who haven't decided which side of the argument they will support—the fence-sitters.

In many cases, these fence-sitters have not decided which side to align with because they see value in both positions. Therefore, to not consider opposing positions to your own in a fair manner may alienate fence-sitters when they see that you are not addressing their concerns or discussion opposing positions at all.

Organizing your rebuttal section

Following the TTEB method outlined in the Body Paragraph section, forecast all the information that will follow in the rebuttal section and then move point by point through the other positions addressing each one as you go. The outline below, adapted from Seyler's Understanding Argument, is an example of a rebuttal section from a thesis essay.

When you rebut or refute an opposing position, use the following three-part organization:

The opponent’s argument: Usually, you should not assume that your reader has read or remembered the argument you are refuting. Thus, at the beginning of your paragraph, you need to state, accurately and fairly, the main points of the argument you will refute.

Your position: Next, make clear the nature of your disagreement with the argument or position you are refuting. Your position might assert, for example, that a writer has not proved his assertion because he has provided evidence that is outdated, or that the argument is filled with fallacies.

Your refutation: The specifics of your counterargument will depend upon the nature of your disagreement. If you challenge the writer’s evidence, then you must present the more recent evidence. If you challenge assumptions, then you must explain why they do not hold up. If your position is that the piece is filled with fallacies, then you must present and explain each fallacy.

Contributors: Allen Brizee.
Summary:

This resource outlines the generally accepted structure for introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions in an academic argument paper. Keep in mind that this resource contains guidelines and not strict rules about organization. Your structure needs to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of your purpose and audience.

Conclusions

Conclusions wrap up what you have been discussing in your paper. After moving from general to specific information in the introduction and body paragraphs, your conclusion should begin pulling back into more general information that restates the main points of your argument. Conclusions may also call for action or overview future possible research. The following outline may help you conclude your paper:

In a general way,

  • Restate your topic and why it is important,
  • Restate your thesis/claim,
  • Address opposing viewpoints and explain why readers should align with your position,
  • Call for action or overview future research possibilities.

Remember that once you accomplish these tasks, unless otherwise directed by your instructor, you are finished. Done. Complete. Don't try to bring in new points or end with a whiz bang(!) conclusion or try to solve world hunger in the final sentence of your conclusion. Simplicity is best for a clear, convincing message.

The preacher's maxim is one of the most effective formulas to follow for argument papers:

  1. Tell what you're going to tell them (introduction).

  2. Tell them (body).

  3. Tell them what you told them (conclusion).

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