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Essay introduction, conclusion and structure

The key to writing a strong essay is to ensure that your introduction, structure and conclusion are cohesive and written well. 10 tips when writing your essay are below, which should ensure that you will produce not only a piece of work that will earn a good grade, but also a piece that you will be proud to call your own.

Step 1 - Knowing Your Topic

Before you can even think of beginning your essay, make sure you have done your research. Examine the topic or question carefully, and make certain you fully understand what your essay will be hoping to achieve. What is it you are setting out to do? Explain this to yourself, and once you have this in mind, skim through key sources on the topic of your essay, and write down any prominent elements and supporting quotations. If you do this, you should begin to get a good idea of how you want to write your essay, and the structure it will follow.

Step 2 - Set out your structure

A good structure is vital to composing a good essay. Once you have completed your initial research, you can begin to organise your notes into some type of logical, progressive order. The best way to do this is to group key ideas that relate to one another together. Examples of this include if you have a number of sources that all cite one particular argument, then you should group those sources together when you discuss them. Not only will this strengthen the point you are trying to make, it will also prove that you have identified how those sources might support one another. As you begin to make connections between your initial notes and ideas, you may find that you need to research certain ideas further, so don't hesitate to do this at it can only make your essay stronger in the long run.

Step 3 - Follow your structure

Once you have determined the general points that your essay will follow, put that plan into action and begin writing. By this point you should have quite a firm idea of how your essay will be addressing your chosen topic or question, but don't be surprised if your initial thoughts change as you write. It's during this process that you should identify how you wish to begin and conclude your essay, so be sure to make notes and underline key passages that you think could be used in your introduction and conclusion, as these will come in handy later.

Step 4 - Make a strong conclusion

Your conclusion is the fruition of all of your writing, so don't finish your essay weakly. For instance, it is often tempting for some to simply summarise their findings, but this in itself doesn't make a well written conclusion. If you've done thorough research, you should have formed a strong opinion, so don't be afraid to really push your own thoughts on the subject coupled with relevant supporting evidence. If you haven't been able to form a strong opinion, then explore why not. If there are too many conflicting sources, then don't be afraid to point this out - after all, if you are going to sit on the fence, then support that stance properly.

Your conclusion is a good time to re-iterate key points, so if they are important, then make sure to emphasise their importance to the topic. A strong quotation that really echoes your own thoughts can make a lot of impact at this point too, so make sure to capitalise on this if it exists. Sometimes you may find that you are exploring new territory, without much scholarly opinion to back it up - so if this is the case, go back to the hard facts that you've discovered during your research and make it evident by contrasting it with a weaker view.

This is the point where you tie everything together, so don't let yourself down by underestimating the importance of a good conclusion. A good tip is to use short, succinct language to really emphasise your point. Remember, the conclusion is the last thing your audience will read, so make sure it's memorable.

Step 5 - Start at the beginning

It might seem a little backward, but it is actually strongly recognised that writing an introduction is a lot easier once you have written the main body and conclusion of your essay. After all, by this point you know exactly what type of argument or view you will be talking about, thus making the introduction a lot easier to write. You can use the introduction to highlight key themes and ideas, and possibly foretell the conclusions you will make.

Given that your introduction is the point at which you will either grab your audience's interest or lose it, try to keep it punchy and efficient, whilst compelling your audience to read on.

Step 6 - Polish, polish, polish

Once you have your essay written, go back to it and read it through. Even reading it aloud can actually be of great benefit, because you will be able to hear for yourself if the structure is cohesive and if there are any sentences or paragraphs that do not flow as well as they should. Print off a hard copy and make notes. There are bound to be little mistakes such as spelling errors and typos, so take the time to correct them. You might also realise that you have repeated a certain word or phrase too many times, so correct it. If you have taken the time to research and write your essay, it seems silly to pull yourself down at the final hurdle by failing to fix any obvious mistakes.

Step 7 - Find a second opinion

This step might not always be practical, and it depends on the type of essay that you are writing, but if you get the opportunity, ask someone else to check it out. A second pair of eyes will often spot issues or mistakes that yours will not. How to use this advice is up to you, but if you feel it will improve your essay, then go for it.

If your essay is a particularly important one, like a dissertation, then make sure to get opinions from your tutor as not only will they be able to help out with mistakes, but they may be able to suggest other ideas and themes that you may have missed in your own research.

Step 8 - Is there room for improvement?

At this point, you can go back to your essay and see if there are any areas where you want to add any further points or elaboration. There may be a particular theme or idea which you feel you need to explore further, or perhaps there is a section which is a little long winded. Though it can sometimes be painful, do not be afraid to cut out parts of your essay which are superfluous or do little to support a point. Ask yourself if a point needs to be there, and if you find it does not then take it out, even if it does feel a bit ruthless! There may also be points where it may make more sense to rearrange the order of your essay, so if you spot them, make use of the copy and paste function in your document editor!

Step 9 - Final Tweaks

This is almost a re-tread of step 6, but it's important once you've made any changes to your essay to check it again. Make another hard copy and go through it thoroughly. If there have been a few days between you making the initial draft and making any amendments, there is a possibility that you might have inadvertently repeated yourself or made a sloppy mistake, so make sure you catch them. At this point it's also a good opportunity to make any final checks on your introduction and conclusion, and seeing if there are any loose ends that you have possibly failed to address.

Step 10 - Complete your final draft

A guide to knowing when your essay is complete doesn't exactly exist, it will be a gut feeling. If you have the luxury of time, sit on your essay for a day or two, before returning to it for one final read through. If you find yourself enjoying and understanding what you've written, then chances are, you've done a good job. Look for good flow, and for an introduction that ties in nicely with the conclusion.

By following the above steps, you are well on your way to writing a good essay that you can be proud of. Of course, as your write more essays you will no doubt find other ways of improving and writing them yourself, but as a starting point, these steps should prove useful.