Author : Yvonne Hertz.
Published : Tue, Apr 16 2019 :9 PM.
Format : jpg/jpeg.
Because one of the great appeals of the personal essay is the conversational tone essayists take, it seems a given that it`s best to be conversant with your subject. But write what you know can also be an inkless cage; some of the best essays are a voyage of discovery for both writer and reader. You might accidentally flip some breakfast cereal with your spoon and have an epiphany about the origins of catapults. That little leap might take you seven leagues into the history of siege engines and voila!--a piece for a history journal comparing ancient weapons to new. Subjects sit, stand and float all around you: should you write about baseball, bacteria or bougainvilleas? The key is engagement with your topic so that the angle your writing takes is pointed and penetrating. You don`t write about cars, you write about the fearful symmetry of a 1961 T-Bird. The essayist should be, to paraphrase Henry James, one of the people on whom nothing is lost. Idly looking over at a fellow driver stopped at a traffic signal might be a moment to yawn, but it might also be a moment to consider how people amuse themselves in their vehicles. An essay here about new car technology, an essay there about boredom and its antidotes.
In general, an essay is structured in three parts -- an introduction, the body, the conclusion. Think of the introduction as a single paragraph designed to introduce the thesis statement. Often persons build an introductory paragraph before having developed an effective thesis statement indicating less than the most effective organization of thinking about the topic of a paper! In this article, using an example thesis statement, the development of an introductory paragraph for an actual essay assignment is described.
In a cultural diversity class the author had an assignment to write an essay to ...review a current article that discusses or illustrates the portrayal of some aspect of cultural diversity in U.S.society. One current article which appeared to meet the assignment directions concerned black officers in the U.S. military -- it illustrated an aspect of cultural diversity in U.S. society. So the general topic of the proposed essay became A review of a current newspaper article that discusses black officers in the U.S. military illustrating an aspect of cultural diversity in the U.S. This statement of the general topic of the proposed essay serves as the basis for the first sentence in the introductory paragraph. The first sentence of the example introductory paragraph might be something like The media addressing some aspect of cultural diversity that was selected for this paper is a newspaper article discussing black officers in the U.S. military. Notice how this sentence clearly states what is the general topic of the essay which IS the main point of the introductory paragraph. Also notice how words from the assignment directions are used in this sentence -- communicating to the essay evaluator that the writer is paying attention to the assignment directions.
Leads are big. If your first bite of a meal is bitter, you`re likely to put the fork down and call for take-out. You`ve got to grab readers from the get-go. One method is direct address. Here`s the lead from an article of mine about dictionaries: Think of your favorite book. No, better yet, go and get your favorite book, feel its heft in your hand, flip through its pages, smell its bookness. Read a passage or two to send that stream of sparks through your head, the alchemy that occurs when the written word collides with the chemicals of your consciousness. Delight is the fruit of that collision. It tells the reader to do something, with a visual and sensual context. It`s hard for a reader not to read that lead and avoid doing what it requests, at least in the reader`s imagination. Here`s another lead of mine that takes a different tack, one of identification or empathy: Scuttlebutt had it that Barbara Cartland, the doyenne of romance writers, did much of her early writing at the piano, stark naked. However that strains credibility, everyone`s heard of writers who insist they can`t write without their ancient manual typewriters with the missing keys, or their favorite fountain pens (or maybe even a stylus and hot wax). Writers can be a peculiar lot, and it`s not surprising that their composing methods can be all over the map.
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Besides beginning with a memorable bit about Ms. Cartland, it invites the readers to consider their own pecadillos about favorite objects and fetishes, whether they are writers or not. You want the reader here to nod yes, agree that people are odd, and move forward into the piece. Sometimes a question that has a universal appeal can do the trick. Consider this: Could listening to a barking dog actually drive you mad? I fear it could. Worse yet, I fear this not in theory, but in fact: barking dogs are making me a sweaty mess. The statement shapes my own problem into one that might apply to many. You`ll drag a dog lover or hater (and that`s a broad audience) deep into the essay by this lead leash.
So the third sentence in the example introductory paragraph is expected to clearly communicate to the reader how the information in the second sentence does support the main point of the paragraph as stated in the first sentence. For this example, a third sentence might be something like This information clearly indicates the selected newspaper article presents some aspect of cultural diversity, that aspect being blacks in the U.S. military still struggling to achieve higher ranks. Notice how this sentence communicates explicitly to the reader the writer`s understanding of exactly how the information presented in the second sentence supports the main point stated in the first sentence. At this point, the main point of this paragraph HAS BEEN MADE.