How can I follow such a bold claim with an equally bold introduction? Perhaps a general hook sentence will do me well: schools have often taught children bad habits. Now I follow that excellent hook with some bla-bla, then, finishing the introduction, I present my thesis: primary and secondary schools (in America) teach, to some extent, essay-writing incorrectly. The methods I specifically refer to are the inverse pyramid, the five-paragraph, and the hamburger methods to essay-writing.
The inverse pyramid refers to an introductory form where the first sentence—the hook—is general and catchy, and the last sentence—the thesis or whatever’s left—is the most essay-specific. You might hold this method dear to your heart; I did for a while. Well, it’s shit. It’s utter garbage and an excuse to weaken forceful writing. Why? Because it teaches kids to start with vague nonsense like “throughout history, governments have often spurned people toward mistrust and violence,” when the writer really wants to argue that “British administrative methods in Palestine following the 1920 riots and 1929 Arab revolts in Jerusalem spurned Zionist mistrust and, in turn, the formation of an independent Israel in 1947.” One is petty and boring, the other forceful and direct. The first shows nothing of an argument, a setting, or I dare say a voice. The second gives a setting, a timeframe, and an argument (this being the most important element of all three). Arguments interest people. Continuing the theme from my previous example, if I shout “different nationalities claim rights to the same land,” nobody will care. But if I shout, “Israel belongs to the Palestinians,” quite a few people will care; arguments matter. Start with the thesis, then give us the bla-bla needed in the introductory section. This does not mean tipping the inverse pyramid right-side-up: don’t start specific and end vague. Start specific and elaborate on the topics you wish to discuss. If this seems too difficult to do—years of incorrect education drilled into your head—try this trick: write your introduction as you normally would, then highlight the first sentence and delete it. Don’t bother re-reading it. Chances are it’s meaningless dribble you would be better without.
Time for the body. The body is all the crud between the intro and conclusion, the stuff I don’t care about right now. The only important thing about the body is the paragraph. Arguably, the paragraph is the second-smallest division of related thought, behind the sentence. Most of us aren’t born with an innate understanding of paragraphing, and elementary school tries to teach us the paragraph without giving us a full understanding of it. In short, they give us the five-paragraph method: intro, three body paragraphs, conclusion. This might work for early two- to three-page papers, but I knew some who still used it in college, where ten-page papers are not uncommon. Imagine reading ten pages broken into only five paragraphs! Yikes. If you’re one of those people, forget the five paragraphs and use as many as you need.
Remember, paragraphs can range from a single sentence (not recommended in academic writing) to multiple pages (not recommended in most writing). The paragraph holds together ideas, arguments, and discourse the same way a sentence holds together a thought. If you find your topic shifting, make a new paragraph. The reason you’ll rarely want a single sentence paragraph is that it calls too much emphasis upon itself. This works to good effect in fiction or if the whole sentence is a transition between topics it doesn’t belong to. Either way, avoid overdoing it. The multi-page (or even full-page) paragraph is simply cumbersome and heavy. Large chunks of text detract readers and slow them down; it’s easy to get lost in a wall of text.
Now for the bottom bun in that literary hamburger (and the only part of the hamburger worth mentioning): the conclusion. Early educators promote the conclusion as a rephrasing of the introduction or a summary of what has happened. I hate both of these and so should you. Why do I need to read a rephrasing of the introduction when I could just as easily flip back and read the introduction itself, certainly much better than any half-assed rephrasing? And why would I want to read a summary of a damn paper I just read; am I so stupid that I would forget what I just finished reading? The conclusion is not a place to summarize or remind me of what I had just read. We’ve all heard the “in conclusion, therefore, it can thus be seen that . . .” and stopped reading because we knew nothing new would come after that phrase. Give me something fresh in the conclusion, something that ties the package nicely. Just don’t tie the package with the same shit that’s in the package. The tie is a nice touch, but if you have nothing new or interesting to add, just leave it off. Nobody ever complained that a gift was missing a tie. Likewise, nobody will complain that an essay is missing a boring conclusion. Give it a final-sounding sentence and ship it off. Better to end early but good than on time and boring.