ENGLISH 098:  ENGLISH FUNDAMENTALS

Instructor:  Karl Sherlock

 

Download a PDF of this handout HERE.

 

 

 

INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPHS

 

 

 

 

PURPOSE:  In a response essay written under the constraints of time and the limitations of research, an introductory paragraph serves, both, to prompt your readers for the topic of the essay to come and to commit yourself to a blueprint of ideas that will direct how you develop the essay.  Writers who generally overlook the potential of the introductory paragraph as part of their invention strategies and outlining regimen often fail the exam because they veer off topic or lose sight of the coherent structure they hoped to produce.

 

PLACEMENT and NUMBER OF PARAGRAPHS:  In a future writing course, you will learn many new modes of writing and rhetoric.  For now, however, and in the interest of preparing you to write competently on the Exit Exam, practice making your introduction one single paragraph only, located at the beginning of your essay only.

 

LENGTH:  For some unhappy reason, the prevailing propaganda about writing essays is that five paragraphs are the limit, the introductory paragraph being one of the five.  This is ill advice for any writer hoping to develop a complex thesis.  Five paragraphs are simply the laziest minimum for essay development.  One guideline of lasting good sense, however, is that an introduction should not exceed one-fifth (twenty percent) of the essay's overall length.  (Hence, in a five-paragraph essay, it is one of five paragraphs equal in length.)   In the Basic Writing response essay, for example, writers inappropriately pad the introduction with detailed summary of the exam prompt, allowing the introduction to grow into ungainly proportions.  The student runs out of time to develop body paragraphs adequately, while the readers are left with a long, cursory discussion of a complex topic instead of an adequately developed essay.  Prognosis?  Failure!  Limit your introductory paragraph to being no more than the first two double-spaced pages of your exam.   Save any detailed analysis for the body of your essay, where it belongs and where you can devote the majority of your words and efforts to explain it in a rhetorically effective way.

 

STRUCTURE:  Introductory paragraphs are, both, practical and rhetorical.  They provide readers with a sense of the essay's content, yes.  However, they also create a clue as to the personality of the writer, the style of the writing, the breadth of the writer's knowledge, and the writer's relationship to the audience.  As such, plenty of opportunity exists in an introductory paragraph to bring personality and style to bear.  The following pattern of development, however, should be practiced and applied without fail in every exam you write this quarter.

 

Write your introduction as a single paragraph developed in THREE STAGES:

 

 

 

CONTEXT

Introduce readers to a general subject in relation to the essay's topic; provide a "hook" to interest readers to read further.

 

Drug use continues to heighten in controversy as substances become more widespread and available.  In modern times, illicit drugs are readily accessible to citizens, instigating a demanding business trade on the underground Black Market.

 

 

 

TEXT

Announce the topic of the essay as a more specific issue within the general subject.  In response essays, this is where the text is introduced for the first time by way of the author's full name, the author's authority (credentials) the essay's full title (in quotation marks), and the author's thesis or position (in paraphrase).

 

In Gore Vidal's essay, "Drugs," he proves that government sanctions prohibiting the use of dangerous chemical substances, in turn, give power to the market.  If all drugs were available at cost, the U.S. government would not spend time battling drug issues.

 

 

SUBTEXT

Assert your central claim, or thesis requiring the remaining essay to provide or support that claim; forecast an organizational and developmental strategy for the essay that will follow.  (In response essays, this is where you state your agreement or disagreement with the author, or add your own position or perspective as requested by the topic.)

 

I agree with Vidal on his argument of how to rid the world of infamous underground drug lords.  Nevertheless, I do not believe it to be in the U.S.'s best interest to condone drug use.  Moreover, our government's responsibility is to protect its citizens, even though at times it is against their will.

 

 

The completed introduction of three stages is presented as a single paragraph.

 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

Drug use continues to heighten in controversy as substances become more widespread and available.  In modern times, illicit drugs are readily accessible to citizens, instigating a demanding business trade on the underground Black Market.  In Gore Vidal's essay, "Drugs," he proves that government sanctions prohibiting the use of dangerous chemical substances, in turn, give power to the market.  If all drugs were available at cost, the U.S. government would not spend time battling drug issues. I agree with Vidal on his argument of how to rid the world of infamous underground drug lords.  Nevertheless, I do not believe it to be in the U.S.'s best interest to condone drug use.  Moreover, our government's responsibility is to protect its citizens, even though at times it is against their will.

 

 

 

 

THESIS STATEMENTS

 

 

PURPOSE:  Most students intuitively understand the need for a thesis statement-by way of empathy, if nothing else.  Students who have struggled to locate the central claim or main argument of a reading assignment will want to help their own readers in the spirit of compassion.  However, thesis statements are also written as a reminder of purpose is in the essay.  By highlighting, underlining, or otherwise showcasing your thesis in some obvious way, you can keep the development of the essay on track by connecting each of its points in some way back to the thesis.

 

PLACEMENT:  As with the general rules of introductions, there is flexibility in the placement of one's thesis.  Sometimes the needs of the topic demand that the thesis be placed right at the beginning; sometimes, for effect, the thesis is a concluding remark.  Your goal in a Basic Writing exam, however, is to place your thesis statement at the end of your introductory paragraph.  Attempt no variation on this rule for now.

 

LENGTH:  A little brainstorming or free-writing usually will produce at least three good, solid observations, points or ideas that you will want to develop at length in the body of your essay.  Reach for more, if possible.  Use your thesis statement to paraphrase those points; avoid going into too much detail, but provide enough detail to suggest where your argument is headed.  This should take twenty-five to fifty words to accomplish.

 

STRUCTURE:  In addition to forecasting the topic of your essay, thesis statements suggest a blueprint for rhetorical development (i.e., that the essay will be comparison-contrast, exemplification, process analysis, and so on).  The structure of your thesis statement, in other words, should resemble the rhetorical structure of the essay to follow.  Whatever the case, readers-and you-should be able to look at the thesis and see the tasks within the topic:  those points or claims that will need to be developed into paragraphs of their own in order for the thesis statement to be proved or substantiated.  In order to identify what those tasks are, and to assist you in outlining the body of your essay, pose the questions that your readers would ask based on the scanty information available in your thesis.  Label your answer to each question with the kind of claim it will be (fact, value or policy) and assign some potential patterns for paragraph development.  Jot down any useful notes to yourself about the purpose that point may serve in the overall scheme of your argument.

 

 

© 2006 Karl J. Sherlock

For instructional use only; may not be reprinted or reproduced without the permission of the author