Opening and ending your responses on a strong note can help to add cohesiveness and clarity. In this week’s post, English teacher Kylie Nealon outlines how to write effective introductions and conclusions in your text response essays.
Writing a clear introduction and conclusion to a text response essay is key to communicating your understanding of the topic and the text to the assessor. Here are some key points to consider that will help you to improve the quality of your opening and closing paragraphs.
You will be presented with three main types of topic for your text response:
- a ‘discuss’ topic
- a ‘do you agree?’ question
- a topic that uses a quote and then asks you a question about a theme suggested by that quote.
Regardless of which topic type you are presented with, your introduction must respond directly to the topic and present a clear contention.
With a ‘discuss’ topic, you have the ability to define the boundaries that you will be exploring. Responses to these types of topic have the tendency to become quite broad, so be careful not to include too many ideas in your introduction. Consider this example.
Text: Like a House on Fire by Kate Kennedy
Topic: ‘The characters in these stories are all finding ways of “keeping up appearances”.’ Discuss.
Keeping up appearances is a central concern for many of the characters in Kate Kennedy’s anthology Like a House on Fire. Many struggle with this issue against a backdrop of conflicting familial or work relationships, or the need to maintain physical or mental control. Their ‘happy fronts’ are often put on in an attempt to avoid being perceived as weak or powerless in situations that are informed by gender and generational contexts. Throughout her anthology, Kennedy presents characters who struggle to maintain these external facades, often at the cost of their own identity.
- In this introduction, you’ll notice that the names of the short stories are not included. You can refer to the titles of particular stories if you prefer, or you can simply reference the ideas you’ll be exploring, as in the above example.
- This introduction gives the ‘threads’ of the ideas that will be explored, allowing stories to be linked a little more organically, and making topic sentences a bit easier to handle.
- Throughout, key words from the topic (and appropriate synonyms) are embedded.
With a ‘do you agree?’ question, you’ll want to ensure that you don’t use the dreaded words of ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘I agree/disagree’! These words are off limits, so think about framing your contention in a formal, objective way. How do you do that? Let’s look at an example.
Text: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Topic: ‘Blondal is the irredeemable villain in Burial Rites.’ Do you agree?
While it can be argued that Blondal is an irredeemable villain in Burial Rites, he is not alone. Kent’s exploration of Iceland’s patriarchal society of the nineteenth century paints him, along with many other men in the narrative, as villainous. What Blondal reflects are the social and cultural attitudes that allow him (and others) the freedom to exert this gendered power. While these men can be perceived as villainous, they are merely reflections of the attitudes towards women at the time.
- In this introduction, although there is no use of ‘I’, there is a clear sense of the writer’s point of view on the topic.
- The scope of the essay is intended to focus not only on the character named in the question, but on others as well – this gives some freedom to explore, compare and contrast.
- You’ll notice that there is also a sense of context – time and place – as well as a reference to the author. These are all aspects that you may choose to include in your own introduction.
With a theme-based question, you have more scope to explore. What you want to remember is that, while you may have a quote to get you started, you aren’t required to base your entire response on it. (However, you must reference the quote at some point in your essay, and it is often a good idea to show an understanding of the context of the quote in relation to the text as a whole.)
Text: Like a House on Fire by Kate Kennedy
Topic: “The room is stiff with a charged awkwardness, with languages I can’t speak.” How does Kennedy show communication issues to be central in these stories?
Kate Kennedy’s short-story anthology Like a House on Fire explores issues of communication, both spoken and unspoken, through her construction of familial and intimate relationships. Her characters struggle to express themselves when faced with confronting situations, unable to articulate how they feel or what they want. In these stories, the ‘awkwardness’ can stem from a place of inexperience or a lost connection that makes interaction with a loved one ‘charged’. In many of her stories, Kennedy explores the challenge that communication poses for these characters, sometimes resolving the issues arising in a positive but unexpected manner.
- Rather than discussing how each story contributes to the theme of communication, this introduction deals with ideas more broadly. In writing the introduction in this way, the writer is setting themselves up to look at both explicit and implicit examples and ideas suggested in the stories.
- Key terms from the topic are embedded, and the structure of the introduction establishes how the writer will advance their contention.
With all three types of topic, you want to limit your introduction to around four sentences – any more than that and you run the possibility of starting to encroach on your first main body paragraph. Once you’ve decided on your key points during the planning stage, write down the first sentence of each main body paragraph. Avoid using these sentences in your introduction; this should help you to avoid blending together the two parts of the essay (introduction and body paragraphs) once you start writing.
Conclusions are another area of concern for many students, and often they do tend to either repeat the points already mentioned in the body of the essay or else introduce new ideas or information that have not been discussed elsewhere. Your aim is to avoid doing either of these!
Consider the following points before you start writing your conclusion.
- Revisit the topic again, considering the key words.
- What is the overall contention that you’ve advanced in response to the topic?
- What was the author/director trying to do/show/explore? And how is the reader/viewer left feeling as a result of this? (Consider these in relation to the topic.)
Sample conclusion (concluding the second Kennedy topic):
Kennedy’s exploration of communication underpins her presentation of character actions and evolution. Some, like Anthony in ‘Static’ or Chris in ‘Ashes’, experience moments of wordless clarity that allow them to see to the heart of their situations. Others, like Tyler’s mother in ‘Seventy-Two Derwents’, assert their new-found literal and figurative voices. Throughout her anthology, Kennedy suggests that the ‘awkwardness’ of language and people’s frequent inability to communicate effectively are universal aspects of human experience.
- In this conclusion, you’ll notice that the key words of the question have been incorporated, some (but not all) of the stories mentioned in the main body paragraphs have been grouped together, and the authorial intent has been revisited in the last sentence.
- As with the conclusion above, don’t end your response with a question; end with an assertive statement, leaving the marker in no doubt as to where you stand with your contention.
As with any part of your preparatory process, practice is key. When you’re writing up your own responses to your texts, a good tip is to work through a range of these topics, just writing the introductions and conclusions. This will compel you to consider how you construct your ideas in a concise and specific way.
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