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Paragraphing: Intro Paragraph and Thesis

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
a.k.a., the "Hook"
Use opening remarks to introduce readers to a general subject that relates to the essay's topic; "hook" the reader's interest by provoking a response, establishing an interesting attitude or evoking a compelling mood.  Some standard techniques to achieve this effect are:

begin with a question
When you begin your essay with a question, you ask your reader to consider with you the problem that inspired you to write.  What question are you trying to answer in your essay? Why is this question important to you and to your readers?

begin by offering background
If your readers may be unfamiliar with the topic about which you are writing, your introductory paragraph may serve to give them necessary background.  Sometimes that background can summarize the results of other people's writing about the topic.  Sometimes background information can place your topic in a larger context.

begin by defining
Whenever you present an essay to readers, you want to be sure that you and your readers are defining terms in the same way.  Starting out by defining key terms may be useful when those terms are confusing or able to be misread.

begin by illustrating
An illustration, example, or anecdote can be an effective way of generating your readers' interest in your essay.  Vivid details, suspenseful narrative, or interesting descriptions can make your reader want to continue reading.  Illustrations, however, should relate to the focus of your essay.

Here's an example. (Note that this is not a complete paragraph, but only the start of one.)

At a shopping mall cookie stand, a young female is dressed in a short, black skirt and torn fishnet stockings.  She wears heavy, dark eye makeup and has a noticeable piercing in her eyebrow, just like many other young women today.  The only difference is that she is not a young woman; rather, she's eleven years old....

 

TEXT
a.k.a. the "Topic"
Announce the topic of the essay as a more specific issue within the general subject.  Find a narrower focus by introducing a more specific version of an idea or issue introduced by the Context. If your Context...

begins with a question, then ...
answer it or offer a statement about the problem raised by question;

begins with background info ...
identify a single problem or issue that connects to this background info;

begins with a definition ...
challenge some part of that definition by proposing a truer one make the definition relevant to your own topic suggest why knowing the definition adds to an understanding of a problem or issue

begins with an illustration
generalize the example by identifying its main theme or issue use the emotional impact of the illustration to announce a problem or concern

In response essays, in addition to the above, this stage of your introduction is also where the article or story you're responding to is introduced for the first time.  Because another person's main argument is the topic of your essay, you should always include

the author's full name and authority (i.e., the author's credentials)
the essay's full title (in quotation marks if a short work: articles, stories or chapters), and
the author's main point (paraphrased).

Here's an example of the "Text" stage of an introduction.

...In the article ”Teen Tweens: Kids Are Growing Up Faster, Worrying Parents and Some Professionals,” Martha Irvine argues that children from the age of eight through twelve are developing interests and behaviors far more appropriate for older teens....

  

SUBTEXT
a.k.a., the Thesis
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.

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.

In response essays, this is where you state your position (agreement or disagreement) with the author, add your own position or perspective or, if requested, introduce an idea inspired by the author's arguments.

position responses
When you state your position of agreement or disagreement, be sure to help your reader understand why this topic is important to you or why should it interest your readers.  Furthermore, always build onto the author's arguments with your own, rather than merely state that you agree or disagree.  It's important to tell readers why you respond the way you do by asserting an original argument of your own. Note that using the pronoun "I" is permitted in a personal statement of one's own position.  Here's an example:

...I agree with Irvine that tweeners have begun developing physically and emotionally much more quickly today than in previous generations. The evidence is in their addiction to social media, their inappropriately mature clothing, and their premature exploration of sexuality with others their age, all of which can become serious problems if their parents neglect to establish boundaries and become better shepherds to them.

 


...Irvine's concerns about tweeners, however, are largely unfounded.  While it may be true that this age group is maturing faster than in the past, it is also learning more than previous generations about how to be more responsibly adult.  Today's tweeners do the adult jobs of parenting their younger siblings in single-parent or two-income households, are more capable than past generations to educate themselves on-line about what's "normal," and become smarter sooner about matters like the politics of dating and safe sex.

  

inspired responses
When you assert a claim that is inspired by the author's arguments, you should choose a topic bears some resemblance to the author's topic, or which inspires you to make an analogy between the author's examples and something else unrelated.  Here's an example:

...Just as serious a concern is that adults are keeping themselves immature longer than in previous generations.  From attitudes about marriage and long-term relationships, to their childlike interests in gaming and music, adults over age 25 are prolonging their adolescence.  The proof is in their apathy about a lot of social issues, the advertising that encourages them to feel like children, and their view of themselves, not as parents, but as "peers" to their own teenaged children.

 

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

A full response introduction to the author's position in the passage:

     At a shopping mall cookie stand, a young female is dressed in a short, black skirt and torn fishnet stockings.  She wears heavy, dark eye makeup and has a noticeable piercing in her eyebrow, just like many other young women today.  The only difference is that she is not a young woman; rather, she's eleven years old.  In the article ”Teen Tweens: Kids Are Growing Up Faster, Worrying Parents and Some Professionals,” Martha Irvine argues that children from the age of eight through twelve are developing interests and behaviors far more appropriate for older teens.  Irvine's concerns about tweeners, however, are largely unfounded.  While it may be true that this age group is maturing faster than in the past, it is also learning more than previous generations about how to be a responsible adult.  Today's tweeners do the adult jobs of parenting their younger siblings in single-parent or two-income households, are more capable than past generations to educate themselves on-line about what's "normal" and "appropriate," and become smarter sooner about matters like the politics of dating and safe sex.

A full response introduction inspired by author's arguments in the passage:

     As young teens we used to pretend our own parent didn't have sexuality, even though most of us clearly understood we were a product of our parents' sex lives.  Parents, too, used to be just as guilty of pretending that their children have no sexuality until they're given "the talk."   However, society seems topsy-turvy these days.  In the article ”Teen Tweens: Kids Are Growing Up Faster, Worrying Parents and Some Professionals,” Martha Irvine argues that children from the age of eight through twelve are developing interests and behaviors far more appropriate for older teens. However, just as serious a concern is that adults are keeping themselves immature longer than in previous generations.  From attitudes about marriage and long-term relationships, to their childlike interests in gaming and music, adults over age 25 are prolonging their adolescence.  The proof is in their apathy about a lot of social issues, the advertising that encourages them to feel like children, and their view of themselves, not as parents, but as "peers" to their own teenaged children.
Last Updated: 01/16/2016

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