Monday, September 28, 2015

Introduction Paragraphs and Lead-Ins

A Well-Written Introduction and Conclusion Work Like Bookends
Bookends Image Used by Permission of Ole Husby

The introduction of an essay serves two purposes. First, the writer uses it to capture a reader's attention. Then, the writer smoothly leads the reader from the attention-getting material to the thesis, which is the claim, position, or revelation about a narrowed topic.

Since there are already oodles and oodles of posts and articles written about thesis statements (some of them mine), let's focus here on that other part of an introduction, the lead-in or attention-getter.

Introductory Lead-ins

Quintilian, in Traditions of Oratory, defines the purpose of the introduction, called exordium, as  "to prepare our audience in such a way that they will be disposed to lend a ready ear to the rest of our speech."  Although he was discussing oratory, specifically, this same rule applies when we write essays.  Writers want audiences to want to continue reading the essay through the conclusion.

There are several techniques a writer can use to lead a reader into an essay and capture his or her attention.  Writers choose the best lead-in technique after carefully considering several options.  Just like the rest of the essay, the lead-in must be relevant to the thesis, have an appropriate tone, and attract the specific intended audience.

Make a Lead-in Relevant to the Thesis

If a lead-in strays in any way from the main point of the essay, the reader will not be prepared to read the information the writer has presented.  This, in turn, makes the reader say "Huh?  What's going on?"  Once that happens, it is very difficult to regain a reader's trust, or even his or her attention.

The following lead-in is a startling statistic from an authority.  What might the best, relevant thesis for the following lead-in be?

According to the American Cancer Society's Web site, there will be over 230,000 new cases of breast cancer this year, and over 40,000 woman will die from breast cancer (2015).

a. Everyone should be tested for breast cancer as soon as possible.
b. Because of these startling statistics, women should all be tested every year.
c. These numbers are startling, but women can avoid becoming this year's statistics if they practice self exams each month for early detection, have a  mammogram if they are over age 40, and visit their doctors for yearly testing if they have not yet done so this year.

Write a Lead-in with an Appropriate Tone

Tone is very difficult to define, but people generally understand tone of voice when they hear variables of it.  For example, people know when someone is angry, being sarcastic, bitter, or ironic, being flippant or cutesy, being mushy or sentimental, preachy, or pompous.  Furthermore, because people understand these tones when they hear them, they can generally also understand and identify them when they read them.  Unfortunately, when people read these particular tones in essays, they stop reading.  If these tones present themselves in the very first few sentences of an essay, readers won't even make it to the thesis.

It's also important that the tone of the lead-in matches the topic.  For example, a funny anecdote or joke is not an appropriate lead-in for a serious matter like breast cancer or child abuse.  In the same way, a joke about child abuse may not be funny, but that doesn't make it appropriate for a serious essay, either.

Which of the following might be appropriate lead-in techniques for a serious essay?

a. An emotional description or cause and effect scenario related to the narrowed topic
b. A statement of a problem or popular misconception about the narrowed topic
c. Relevant facts or statistical evidence about the narrowed topic

Write the Lead-in with a Specific Audience in Mind

The intended audience of an essay should affect the way the essay is presented from the opening lead-in to the conclusion of the essay. A lead-in, in other words, should be written to attract that specific, intended audience.

For example, an essay about seat belts on school buses could be directed toward any number of specific audiences, from the students riding the buses, the bus drivers, a school board, or parents of riders.  Each of these specific audiences will need to be addressed in the manner most relevant and interesting to them.

Which of the following lead-ins would be the most interesting if the example essay about seat belts on school buses was intended for students who ride buses?

a. Do you sit next to a friend on the bus on your way to and from school?  Imagine what would happen to that friend if the bus hit a tree, rolled into a ditch on a slippery, icy road, or was hit from behind by another large vehicle.  Now, imagine the same scenario, but imagine your friend wearing a seat belt.  Which scenario would you prefer?
b. School buses account for 12% of all traffic accidents each year, and some of those accidents include fatalities.
c. Bus drivers are trained to avoid distraction and get students to and from school safely.  However, everyone is human, and some things that happen on the bus simply cannot be ignored, like students swapping seats or fighting while the bus is moving.  Seat belts could help alleviate or discourage some of those distractions.


The introduction is an exceptionally important part of an essay.  The lead-in statement of an essay's introduction helps the writer attract the attention of a specific audience while preparing that audience to receive the information presented in the thesis.  Whether the essay is written to inform, convince, or tell a story, the essay must have a beginning for its middle and its end.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Annotated Bibliography Assignment Guide for Students

Annotated Bibliography assignment got you stressed out?
Breathe and take it one source at a time.

So you've been assigned an annotated bibliography and you have no idea how to get started, how to write an annotated bibliography, or what an annotated bibliography even is, eh?  

Here's the skinny:

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources you find about a particular topic and your accompanying notes about each source.  Sometimes that topic is given to you, sometimes you get to pick the topic, and sometimes you're given a broad topic and you have to narrow it down.  Whatever the case (topic) may be, you have to find sources about it, take notes from and about those sources, and properly format each citation for each of the sources.

If this is the first time you've attempted an annotated bibliography, try this method to get started.  

Find One or Two Sources 

Within your school's library databases, use a variety of search terms related to your topic to generate hits.  Try selecting only peer-reviewed articles or articles within a certain date range or subject area to start, and expand your search or use the Internet if you aren't finding the type of evidence you need for your particular topic.

For example, I can use a science-based database to search for articles about veterinary science published in peer-reviewed journals in the last three years.  I can search for "large animal medicine," or "keeping horses healthy," or "dairy cow nutrition."  All of these searches will turn up different hits, and I can scan the abstracts to make sure they are relevant to my topic before I choose to use the sources in my annotated bibliography.

When in doubt, ask a reference librarian to help you learn to search for sources in the numerous database or subscription services your school is sure to offer.

On the other hand, I can also use an Internet search engine, like Google, if my topic calls for the use of lay testimony.  I can search for "iPhone Reviews" or "New iPhone" or "Newest Apple iOS for Phone" if I want to find out what people, not necessarily experts, are saying about the newest version of the iPhone.  If I'm working on an annotated bibliography as the first step in a research paper, however, I will need to keep these types of sources to a bare minimum and stick to peer-reviewed journal articles or texts.

Read the Sources

After you scan your hits and choose the best sources, read them. No, really:  Read the sources, the whole sources, and everything about the sources (like the authority of the author or the publication date).  Really really read them.

  • Read the source the first time.  Do not take notes.  Just read the source all the way through.  
  • Read the source the second time.  Take notes, ask questions in the margins, mark passages that excite you, confuse you, or make solid points.  Look up information you need to look up in order for the source to make as much sense as possible.  Remember that if you are new to a topic, it's going to take a lot of reading about it before you can understand everything you read.  Be patient.
  • Read the source a third time and make a final determination about its main points, its evidence, its relevance, reliability (if you can), and its timeliness and authority.
  • Read the source's bibliography and see if there's anything there for you to read, too.

Cite the Sources

Depending on the instructions of your professor, you may need to use one of a variety of citation styles for your bibliographic entries.

Here are some options, all for the same journal article:

AMA (American Medical Association)

Renner K. Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television. Horror Studies [serial online]. October 2013;4(2):201-219. Available from: Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 16, 2015.

APA (American Psychological Association)

Renner, K. J. (2013). Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television. Horror Studies, 4(2), 201-219. doi:10.1386/host.4.2.201_1

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date

Renner, Karen J. 2013. "Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television." Horror Studies 4, no. 2: 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed September 16, 2015).

Chicago/Turabian: Humanities

Renner, Karen J. "Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television." Horror Studies 4, no. 2 (October 2013): 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed September 16, 2015).


Renner, KJ 2013, 'Negotiations of masculinity in American ghost-hunting reality television', Horror Studies, 4, 2, pp. 201-219, Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 September 2015.

MLA (Modern Language Association)

Renner, Karen J. "Negotiations Of Masculinity In American Ghost-Hunting Reality Television." Horror Studies 4.2 (2013): 201-219. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.

Whichever style you are asked to use, be sure to follow the instructions for both in-text and bibliographic citations.

Use Your Notes to Draft Paragraphs

Remember all those notes you took during your second read of the source?  Now is the time to look at them very carefully.  You're going to be turning those notes into complete thoughts about the source.

There are different ways to organize the information from your notes, but a good beginning point is to divide the entry into four parts: citation, source's main points, credibility and authority of the author or publisher, and additional notes about why you may or may not want to use the source for a final project, like timeliness of information, genre, bias, or reliability.  Once you draft responses based on those four prompts, you should add coherence to the paragraph or paragraphs and make sure all quoted or paraphrased source content is attributed to the page or paragraph where that information appears.

Of course, your professor may want information organized in a specific manner, so when in doubt, always follow those instructions and ask for help if you need it!

Here is an example entry that's been divided into its four parts:

MLA Citation: Kass, Jared. “What is Contemplative Education?” Institute for Contemplative Education. Institute for Contemplative Education, n.d. Web. 16 July 2015.

Review of important information: The Web site has a fantastic, thorough definition of contemplative education.  Kass states, "This educational approach introduces people to the maturational goals and contemplative practices of the spiritual traditions, and teaches them to use these practices as a resource for resilience, well-being, and peace-promoting responses to conflict" (par. 5). 

Author's credentials: Dr. Kass, the director of the Institute, has several publications and academic honors in this field of study.  His full bio is available on the Web site.

Relevance, use, and timeliness: I will use the definition available on this site to help support my argument that the contemplative educational approach is an approach that is directly linked to the development of diversity skills.  The definition given on the Web site includes three diversity skills as part of the definition.  However, I must be aware of the weakness of the definition: There is no date on the Web site, and the definition might be outdated pending newer research.  


Once you have completed one or two entries, be sure to have your work checked by your professor to make sure you are on the right track.  If this is something you have never done before, that follow-up may be essential to your grade.  You can continue adding entries to your annotated bibliography, one at a time, until you have satisfied your curiosity about your topic and met the assignment requirements.  It all starts,  however, with just one entry.

Want to read more about research and writing?  Try

Prewriting the Research Essay: Starting with "I Think"
An Overview of the Writing Process
Evidence: Writing Well-Supported Paragraphs

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Airlock Lids and Homemade Sauerkraut

Use 1 1/2 Tablespoons of Salt for 1 Medium Head of Cabbage

I recently decided to try making homemade sauerkraut for the first time.  

After reading a bit about the process and making my intentions known, my husband asked if I was going to bury it in the backyard.

Although it is a bit "from the old country" of me to make my own sauerkraut, I didn't need to go that "old country."

Making Sauerkraut

I was able to make safe, delicious, just-the-right-amount sauerkraut using 3-piece airlock fermentation lids (affiliate link) sold by Quality Reliable Products.

I started by

  1. chopping a medium head of cabbage into small bits, 
  2. stirring it by hand in a large mixing bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sea salt until it got juicy, then 
  3. packing it down into 2 large-mouth mason jars using a small jelly jar and a wooden spoon.

Using Fermentation Lids

After that came the super easy part, which did not include burying anything in the backyard.  

The next steps included 
  1. screwing down the airlock lids, 
  2. slowly twisting the airlocks into the holes in the lids, then 
  3. carefully filling the airlocks half full of water so that none of the water got into the jars and lastly, 
  4. fitting the lids onto the airlocks and placing the jars in a safe storage area for about 4 weeks.

More About Sauerkraut

Now, according to this very thorough sauerkraut-making post by Lea from Nourishing Treasures and posted on the Food Renegade blog by 

What to Eat While Fighting Lyme Disease - Detox Soup
Mizeria: Dairy-Free Cucumber Salad

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pig: A Sample Narrative Essay

Narrative Essays Are about Capturing Memory
Just before I started my last full time teaching position, I spent time visiting my playful, happy grandparents in Florida.  It was an uncomfortable visit because something was wrong: My grandfather's memory wasn't what it was.  His personality wasn't what it was, but my grandmother wasn't talking about it.   She was just tired, really tired and unhappy.

 He mixed up his verb tenses, an error not easily overlooked by an English professor. 

 "Your grandmother makes me eat bologna sandwiches every day for lunch," he said.  I remembered him telling me that when he told me about working for Chrysler.  He retired in the 1970's.

 "I have an airplane, and I can fly anytime I want to," he said.  He'd used his G.I. Bill benefits to get a pilot's license.

 When he made these verb tense errors, my grandmother would make a sour face and sigh.  Sometimes she'd change the subject or ask him what he wanted for lunch.  Sometimes she'd get mad and start coughing.

 "Nothing with garlic.  You always use too much garlic.  And no beef.  It's too tough.  You make it too tough," he'd say, which was odd because I'd never heard him once criticize my grandmother's cooking.

I could guess it was Alzheimer's.  In addition to the dementia, his knees were hurting constantly, and he was having trouble moving around.  He napped on and off all day in his chair.   On one of the last mornings I visited, he was sitting at the little dining table, reading the paper and drinking his coffee in his plaid bathrobe.  I sat with him to make small talk, but after a few minutes he took my hand and said it "was terrible."  "It" was like dreaming all the time, never knowing what was real and what was a dream, he said.  I looked at our hands.  His thumbnail was very flat, with ridges and a small crack.  The nail was a little too long.

 When I was quite young and there were no such things as car seats, my grandparents used to take us to yard sales on weekends.  We went once to a yard sale at the trailer park where my grandmother's sister lived.  On one of the folding tables not being swarmed by grown-ups, I saw a crocheted pig with the saddest face I'd ever seen on anything or anyone.  It was love at first sight.  Neither of my grandparents realized how much I loved that pig; maybe my grandma thought she could make me one herself, and maybe papa thought the same.  We left without the pig.  I cried silently most of the way home.  My grandma turned around and asked me why I was crying such big crocodile tears.  I told her I wanted the pig.  Papa turned around, and we went back for the pig.  My dad and I dug that pig out of attic storage the last time I went home.

I'm starting a new full time teaching position, and lately, I can't stop thinking about my grandfather's hand, his thumbnail specifically, the way it looked when he held it that last time I visited.  I can't remember if I said anything special, or if we just went back to small talk, but I do remember thinking of that moment in the back of the car, with that lump of sadness in my throat, crying big crocodile tears.  If life would let us turn around go back for things, like we went back for that crocheted pig, could I have spent more time with him or said something worth remembering?  The reality is that we can't go back, not in that sense, no matter how badly we hurt.

Read More About Narrative Essays

The Narrative Frame: Prewriting the Narrative Essay
A Narrative Essay: Holding Hands
Why Write a Narrative Essay

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.