In my last post, I  discussed the necessity of having an outline–especially for nonfiction works, although it is handy for fiction as well–and how to set one up. Today I’d like to look at the introductions and conclusions, as well as how to bring outline points together.

First, the introduction:

Regardless of what you’re writing, the goal of your introductory statements should be to make the reader want to keep reading and offer some information about your subject. What exactly you include in your intro will depend on the type of document you’re writing and who your readership is, especially in regards to how much they know about your subject and the formality of what you’re writing.

Your intro for a business report, for instance, will be succinct and include your main points spelled out so the reader doesn’t have to guess where you’re headed. For a magazine article, your intro should present your topic, but may do so in more of a mysterious manner, giving just enough information to hook your reader.  And for fiction, you certainly don’t want to give away much, but you might begin to set up one of your characters or your setting. Or, better yet, dive right into the action.

For a nonfiction piece, your introduction could take the form of a brief summary of what you will cover; the problem your article will solve; or provide some background or history about your subject. Typically, your introduction will not be more than a paragraph for a nonfiction article or business report, unless the report itself is several pages.

I recommend not trying to write your introduction until the rest of your outline is complete and you know exactly where you’re headed. Even with fiction, once you’ve established your timeline and the path your story will travel, it will then be easier to determine the exact place you want to open your story.

Your intro and conclusion should serve as bookends, so to speak, for your work. There should be a sense of fulfillment in your reader after finishing what you’ve written, where he feels as though he has been taken on a complete journey. Nothing should be left undone. A well-thought out conclusion can provide this.

In light of this, your conclusion should:

— in some way reinforce ideas already presented. This is not the place to introduce something new. The only time you can get away with this is if you’re writing fiction and setting yourself up for a sequel. In that case, you’ll want to present a taste of what’s to come. But for any nonfiction work, especially in the business arena, stick with what you’ve already discussed.

— be written either as a summary of your main points; a final push for action; a recommendation (especially for business reports); or simply something to leave the reader thinking. It’s OK to end your piece with a question–even a hypothetical one–if you’re still on topic from your main points.

—  come full circle. You can do this either by relating back to the points in your introduction or through your use of summarization to make sure all your points are tied up nicely.

I’m not recommending you write your intro and conclusion immediately after finishing your outline. In fact, I usually write my intro last, even after the conclusion. I need to know all that I’ve said before I can introduce it or summarize it. But sometimes, these parts may just come to you as you’re writing, in which case, definitely go with the flow!

If you’ve chosen to stick with your outline (even somewhat) before you start writing your draft, there will come a time when you need to connect the dots of your subpoints and main points. Writing the transitions from point to point or paragraph to paragraph can be one of the hardest parts of writing your draft.

Transition sentences are crucial for linking paragraphs together in a logical flow, which helps keep your reader interested. Here are some tips for transitioning (Note: these are more for nonfiction works, although even in fiction transitions need to be smooth, especially if you are changing  your point of view. You need to make it clear to your reader where you are going in your new paragraph or section.):

— Use a sentence that finalizes the preceding paragraph and also brings in the topic of the next paragraph.

— If the new paragraph you’re transitioning into is not at all related to the preceding one, an entirely separate paragraph may need to be written, strictly for the purpose of transitioning. This paragraph would be a set-up, of sorts, for the new paragraph you’re moving into. As you read your draft, if you have two paragraphs together that seem very disjointed, this might help bring them together more cohesively.

—  The use of common transitioning words is helpful to begin your new paragraph: therefore, first, second, finally, next, similarly, besides, as a result, for example, meanwhile , etc.  See which flow more naturally with what you’ve written.

Again, the goal of what you write is to keep your reader reading. If your story or article does not flow well due to illogical connections of paragraphs or disorganization of information, you may well lose your reader along the way. Smooth transitions can greatly help keep your work moving along.

By the way, if you’re a Christian grandparent who has a great story about influencing your grandkids for Christ, I’d love to hear from you! I’m currently looking for stories to share in a compilation book that is now in proposal stage with a mainline Christian publisher. You can read guidelines and get more information here.