Set-Up: Last Wednesday, each of you took part in your first (of many!) in-class writing assignments. While Mr. Long knows that each of you will grow a great deal as a writer between now and the end of the year, it is vital that we begin to look at various strategies that will help our reader(s)/audience appreciate our best ideas.
Probably the most important thing that all of us can work on is understanding how vital the first paragraph — the introduction — is to the success of every essay. Figure out how to write these 3-5 sentences well, and the rest of the essay will fall into place over time.
To put it bluntly, if the reader is a) not intrigued/drawn into the paper in the opening sentences of the introduction and b) cannot identify a clear argument (a.k.a. thesis) that analyzes the story/text in a unique manner, the reader will not be confident about the rest of the paper — no matter how well written it may be.
- Type your original introductory paragraph precisely as you hand-wrote it in class. That means, if there were spelling mistakes or missed punctuation in the original, include those exact mistakes in this typed version. Do not add or subtract anything. Keep it — in other words — just as it looks in the paper copy that Mr. Long still has in his possession. Making changes will make him nervous/suspicious.
- Identify 3-5 major changes you would like to make if you were given a chance to re-write it for a better grade overall. Explain how each change would help your reader better appreciate your ideas/argument. Note: simply pointing out spelling or minor punctuation changes won’t alter the way a reader is trying to understand your argument. It would be best to focus on the specific text (not outside history), your language style, transitions between ideas/sentences, avoiding plot summary, setting up your argument in a logical way, the overall flow of ideas, your thesis statement, etc.
- Optional: Feel free to then re-write your introduction after your list of 3-5 things. If you do so, keep an eye on making sure the reader will be interested enough to want to read the rest of the paper. While this is not mandatory, Mr. Long would be intrigued to see if you are already in a position to improve your first draft.
- Just enough, but not too much: 3-5 sentences is a good goal for an in-class essay introduction. In longer papers, you can add to this sentence count.
- Avoid fluff: Every word counts. Cut out anything/everything that is not absolutely vital to helping your reader understand exactly what you are trying to say in this essay. Treading water helps you survive in the middle of the ocean; it has zero value as an essay writer.
- Start universal; end specific: Allow your first sentence to introduce the text/author and to help the reader put things into perspective. Your middle sentence(s) should help narrow down the reader’s attention so that they are ready to read the heart of your argument. Your final sentence should be a unique argument that helps to understand the story/text in a unique way.
- Answer the question: If your thesis does not state or imply an answer, it is not complete. Your reader will start your paper lost, confused, and possibly not interested. Do not save the answer for the end of your essay. It is not a surprise party. Your goal is to prove your argument, not keep it hidden.
- Stay inside the story/text: Avoid (like the plague) any temptations to talk about history, the author’s childhood, how society works then/now, or to make bland generalizations about mankind. You have very few sentences to work with; do not waste a single one.
- No lists: If you read it aloud and it ‘sounds’ like a list, think about transitions between sentences and altering how you start each sentence.
- Ask yourself, “Who Cares?!” Seriously. Ask yourself this question at the end of your intro. If you honestly don’t believe that anyone would care about what you’ve written…re-write it. And if everything you’ve already said is pretty obvious or simply a generic plot summary…re-write it.