Since the dawn of man, writing has been used to communicate ideas. In academic settings, ideas are typically communicated using formal types of writing such as essays. Most academic essays contain an introductory paragraph, which includes a thesis.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an introduction as, “A preliminary explanation prefixed to or included in a book or other writing; the part of a book which leads up to the subject treated, or explains the author’s design or purpose. Also, the corresponding part of a speech, lecture, etc.”
Michigan State University student Sally used to have a lot of difficulty writing introductions. Once she had suffered through writing dozens of painful introductions, she decided to look up some tips on how to introduce your essay, and after that she got a lot better.
Introductions can be tricky. Because the introduction is the first portion of your essay that the reader encounters, the stakes are fairly high for your introduction to be successful. A good introduction presents a broad overview of your topic and your thesis, and should convince the reader that it is worth their time to actually read the rest of your essay. Below are some tips that will make writing an introduction a little less daunting, and help us all to write essays that don’t make our professors want to bang their heads against the wall.
- Start your introduction broad, but not too broad. When I first started writing formal essays, I didn’t really know how broad to go with my intros. A brief paragraph on Hamlet would suddenly include irrelevant details about Shakespeare’s childhood, then grow out to be a history of Western literature, and then a history of the universe itself. Do not write an introduction like this; this kind of intro is confusing and makes the reader wonder where exactly you’re going with your essay.Your introduction should provide the reader with a sense of what they should expect out of your essay, not to expound upon every piece of knowledge ever developed by man. Go ahead and start relatively broad, then narrow to your thesis, but make sure you’re still on topic.
- Provide relevant background, but don’t begin your true argument. It’s fine to give a bit of context to your essay in the introduction, but the real meat of your argument should be located in your body paragraphs. A good test to see if information should go in a body or introductory paragraph is to ask yourself a few questions. Is this providing context or evidence? Does this introduce my argument, or try to prove it? True evidence or proof deserves a body paragraph. Context and background most likely belong in your introduction.
- Provide a thesis. The majority of the time, your thesis, or main argument, should occur somewhere towards the end of your introduction. It is a typical convention to put your thesis as the last sentence of your first paragraph. My personal opinion is that it can sometimes be awkward to shove your thesis in one specific place if it doesn’t necessarily fit, but if your thesis works in that position, that is the best place for it. That being said, if you absolutely can’t include your thesis in that location, go ahead and stick it somewhere else.
- Provide only helpful, relevant information. Anecdotes can be an interesting opener to your essay, but only if the anecdote in question is truly relevant to your topic. Are you writing an essay about Maya Angelou? An anecdote about her childhood might be relevant, and even charming. Are you writing an essay about safety regulations in roller coasters? Go ahead and add an anecdote about a person who was injured while riding a roller coaster. Are you writing an essay about Moby Dick? Perhaps an anecdote about that time your friend read Moby Dick and hated it is not the best way to go. The same is true for statistics, quotes, and other types of information about your topic.
- Try to avoid clichés. Some types of introductions may have once been successful, but have been used so often that they have become tired and clichéd. Starting your essay with a definition is a good example of one of these conventions. At this point, starting with a definition is a bit boring, and will cause your reader to tune out.
- Don’t feel pressured to write your intro first. Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what information is relevant to your introduction until you’ve written the piece itself. Personally, I find that my writer’s block is always strongest when writing the introduction. If you are having trouble with your intro, feel free to write some, or all, of your body paragraphs, and then come back to it. You might find it a bit easier to write your introduction once you’re more comfortable with the essay as a whole.
- Convince the reader that your essay is worth reading. Your reader should finish the introduction thinking that the essay is interesting or has some sort of relevance to their lives. A good introduction is engaging; it gets the audience thinking about the topic at hand and wondering how you will be proving your argument. Good ways to convince your reader that your essay is worthwhile is to provide information that the reader might question or disagree with. Once they are thinking about the topic, and wondering why you hold your position, they are more likely to be engaged in the rest of the essay.
Basically, a good introduction provides the reader with a brief overview of your topic and an explanation of your thesis. A good introduction is fresh, engaging, and interesting. Successful introductions don’t rely on clichés or irrelevant information to demonstrate their point. Be brief, be concise, be engaging. Good luck.
In 1912, Pablo Picasso, an avid painter of nature and still life, tore part of a makeshift tablecloth and glued it to his painting, Still Life with Chair Caning, and thus, by adding different items to aid his painting, he began the art of collage making. (Pablo Picasso – Still Life with Chair Canning). A collage is simply a group of objects arranged together to create a complete image of an idea, theme, or memory. For example, David Modler created a collage called “Big Bug” to represent the irony that is the importance of insects to our natural world in comparison to their size. The bug in the image is the smallest feature of the collage yet it is to be viewed as the most important aspect (Modler, David). All these parts of a collage collaborate together to create a unifying theme or message and can be used as a helpful tool in education.
Statement of Purpose
I propose that each student make an artistic collage to be presented to the class that will symbolize the context, audience, setting, structure or any key ideas found in one of the readings this semester. Students who make a collage will be able to drop the lowest quiz grade.
Plan of Action
The students will have one week from the announcement of the project to complete the collage and prepare a presentation for it. Each student must choose one reading that we have done so far or will read in the future, and no two students may choose the same work. Conflict with students wanting to present the same work will be resolved by a first come first serve basis. The students will be given a rubric with the exact requirements of the project and what the purpose of the project is.
I will make the rubric myself and submit it for approval, or we can use the rubric that I have attached.
Benefits of Collage Proposal
- Making a collage would allow the students to think and inspect the readings and ideas visually (Rodrigo, “Collage”), thus giving them another perspective, or possibly clearing up any misconceptions and confusions they had about a work when we were just discussing it in class verbally.
- A collage provides the opportunity for revision of a certain work and would certainly help to clear up any topics in the readings that might come up on the final exam or a future test, via a visual and more creative method.
- If a student received a bad grade on a quiz because they did not understand the reading, the collage would give the student an opportunity to go back to the reading and understand it, or to read ahead and grasp concepts that might be useful to present to the class before the class does the reading. A collage would allow the student to become familiar with the work in a visual way and give them an opportunity to understand the main themes, topics, and ideas of a work, even one we might not have read yet.
Viability of Collage Proposal
Since a collage would be like giving the student an opportunity to go back and review a subject and at the same time would resemble preparation for a presentation, the time and effort required to go back and re-read a work as well as prepare the collage creatively would be sufficient to justify replacing the lowest quiz grade.
Our course mentor said that this project would be a nice addition to the class because, just like any play is better seen than read, the collage will allow students to get the visual aspect behind a work and help them to grasp the ideas better.
Past visuals that we have used in class to describe scenes from our readings such as The Tempest and The Odyssey have greatly helped me to understand some of the ideas of the stories. For example, I always pictured the cyclops as a nasty, vile creature, but after some of the “fuzzy” drawings on the board done by some of my peers, I imagined and understood that he could in fact be a gentle creature that was just angered by Ulysses trespassing and blinding him. I could not have seen that perspective of the story had it not been for some of the more innocent visuals on the board.
Finally, I have discussed with the students in our class about the idea of a collage replacing the lowest quiz grade and the overwhelming majority approved of the idea. Since a collage will substitute for a quiz grade, the assignment will be optional. Just as a quiz is almost always optional based on class initiation of discussion, the collage will also be optional based on similar student effort parameters. The students who do not want to do a collage can choose “door number 2” and take a quiz that would be created by the teachers and/or myself. This quiz can be used to make the total number of assignments for each student in the class even, and may or may not be graded based on the professor's discretion.
The first goal of my collage proposal is to give students a chance to be creative and step outside the boundaries of classroom discussion. They can use their imaginations to find a way to creatively put together a collage that will help the class as well as themselves to better understand the course reading.
A second goal of my proposal is that the time and effort put into making the collage and presenting it in front of the class will equal the worth of dropping the lowest quiz grade. Because this collage requires the creator to examine the context, audience, setting, structure of any one of the readings, it is essentially like a quiz itself, which includes questions on similar topics.
The literary work that a student chooses to create a collage on will determine how much time is necessary to fully complete the project. One week to create a collage should give each student—no matter what reading they choose to do—ample time to create a presentable and educational collage for the class.
In terms of tangible resources, this project is not very demanding. A simple poster or a series of photographs or drawings assembled neatly together by the student will be about as resourcefully demanding as this project gets.
In addition, a few hours of class time will need to be allocated in order to present the collages. If each student takes at least five minutes to present the total time needed for the presentations will be 1 hour and 15 minutes. The presentation day(s) and time(s) can be decided by the class as a whole.
The rest of the resources needed are already available:
- The readings are all published online if a student needs to refer back to them
- Craft supplies are readily available
Skills for Successful Completion
- As a good planner and organizer I made a rubric that is specific enough to give the students a good idea of what they should be doing for the collage. The rubric can be made available upon your request.
- In addition I can also come up with a quiz if there are students who want to opt out of the collage project.
- I can talk to the class and come up with a good presentation time and date for everybody.
- I would volunteer myself to hold an early presentation session a few days before the due date so the others can get an idea of what their collage could look like and why they can benefit from the project.
- I will make myself available to the class if they have any questions about the proposed project.
A collage will allow students to understand visually a reading or topic in a reading that they may have been confused about. The project is a fun and creative way to get students to think about a reading more in depth as well as review for future exams. As a result of the effort and time put into the collages, the students should be allowed to drop their lowest quiz grade in the semester.
Modler, David. Big Bug. Photograph.Kronos Art Gallery. Web. 12 Oct. 2011
"Pablo Picasso - Still Life with Chair Caning (1912)." Lenin Imports. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.
Rodrigo. "Collages." Web 2.0 Toolkit. 11 Mar. 2009. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.