Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The anatomy of an essay Part 4 - Introductions and conclusions

Hi Grammophiles

Yes, indeed, Brady this blog is subjective but, then again, what piece of writing isn't? In my view, even the most technically-laden report has a degree of subjectivity. Authors make decisions on the basis of what is left in, what is left out, how numbers are represented, the nature of references used.

However, for now, we need to turn our attention back to the essay.

Firstly, ask yourself this question: 'when I read a long body of work, do I start from the first syllable and end at the last?'

If you really think about it, you probably read a paper in sections. In a journal article, it is likely you'll read the abstract and maybe jump straight to the reference list or the conclusion. Perhaps you skim the paper first by looking at the topic sentences. In an essay, though, you may well gain an overview by starting with the introduction and glancing over the conclusion and reference list before you tackle the body of the paper.

Anyway, the point I am making here is introductions and conclusions really COUNT. They are like the bookends of your work, providing a strong basis for the volumes of ideas held within.

Introductions and conclusions can make or break your paper. If they don't grab the reader's attention straight away, it is likely they will lose interest pretty quickly. Some lecturers say that these two sections should take around 10% of your paper.

Here are a few pointers you can use to strengthen these two very important aspects of your work. (Note: These examples are fictitious, but hopefully you'll get the general idea.)


  • Begin with a clear statement of aim
The aim of this paper is to discuss the role and nature of postoperative care for cardiac patients.
  • Include academic definitions - that is, definitions of your key terms drawn from the literature

According to Rolland (2007, p. 5) postoperative care can be understood to mean the period of time between a patient's surgery and discharge from the hospital. However, Jones (2005) points to some periods of care extending as long as a year, depending on the regime required. In the case of cardiac surgery...

  • Sometimes, the scope might be required. Are there particular forms of cardiac post-operative care? Are there particular 'cardiac patients' Will you discuss these and not others? It is important to outline this in the introduction.

In the context of this paper, 'cardiac patients' are those who have undergone...

  • Give a snapshot introduction of each section of your paper and follow this through with a parallel construction (that is, discuss each point in the order in which it is introduced)

There are three key aspects to postoperative care in relation to cardiac patients. This paper will firstly describe... Secondly... Thirdly...

  • Sometimes, you might use a key author, report or theory to help frame some of your discussion. If so, this needs to be discussed in the introduction.


  • Summarise your key points in the order in which they appeared in your work.
  • Refer back to some of the key literature. Do this sparingly.
  • Emphasise one or two very important points. Conclusions should pack a final punch.

It is essential when considering postoperative care that patients...Further....

  • Sometimes it is useful to point to the future or speculate about what is important for further research or action.

The future of postoperative care is likely to include... With imminent cuts in Government funding to health, it is likely patients will receive less quality care following discharge from hospital...therefore...It must be emphasised

Introductions and conclusions from UniSA will give you some fresh ideas about your approach to these two very important sections - the bookends of your essay.

Andrea Duff

Pictures courtesy Microsoft ClipArt Thank you!


Lynsin said...

Hi, this is a terrific blog and I am so excited to be here. However I must take you to task on one of my pet 'hates'! In your introduction you say "it is the aim of this paper to..." the paper can't have an aim only the writer can have an aim. It is important, for accuracy, for the passive to be used...or some other phraseology like 'in this paper an argument in favour of...' or something. I only raise this because I have been taken to task about this by other academics and I must say they are perfectly correct!!

Keep up the good work - I am sure my students are oging to benefit hugely from this.

Andrea Duff said...

You're right!!

And I, of all people (who hate academic jargonese with a vengence) wrote that blog post!

Here are some others to try:

'The argument in this paper centres on'

'Three aspects of .... will be explored in this paper'

Actually, I don't entirely agree with your point about the passive -I think it has a place in strong writing. However 'the aim of the paper' is a bit trite and overdone.