How the Hit Musical Hamilton Can Inspire You to Write Better Introductions and Conclusions
What if your teacher didn’t have to read your academic writing? Would they stick with it after the first few paragraphs or would they put it down and do something else? And if they did make it through to the end, would they feel their investment of time and energy was worthwhile?
As a writer, your first job is to engage your reader. And then it’s your job to provide a big payoff. Whether you’re trying to inform, entertain, or persuade—creating a powerful and direct introduction while sticking the landing with a concise and impactful conclusion is key.
To illustrate this, I was going to talk about Raiders of the Lost Ark (which has a possibly perfect introduction and conclusion). But let’s go with something a little more current: Hamilton. Here’s possibly the least interesting idea ever pitched: A musical about the first treasury secretary. What’s next, a musical about the common cat or the King of Siam?!
Lin-Manuel Miranda had his topic, just as you’re assigned or create a topic. And his audience knew what the show was about, just as your teacher knows what your paper is about. But he, and you, need to do three things to create a captivating introduction.
Pique Your Readers’ Interest
Let your reader know why they should care. Address a pain point for your reader—something you already know they need a solution for. Connect with them with a related anecdote, or any number of attention grabbers. But you have to get them to keep reading. You have to illuminate why what you’re writing about matters.
Quickly Get to the Point
Your readers are busy, even your teachers. They need to know the point you’re trying to make and they need to know it early on. If you don’t tell your reader up front the point of what they’re reading one of two things will happen.
They’ll get irritated and quit reading.
They’ll think you’re making a different point than you are intending to make.
Clearly State Your Position
It’s not enough to get someone interested in and clear on what you’re writing about. They also need to know the position you’re taking on this very interesting subject. Are you taking and proving a position, reporting on the facts of a story, trying to tell a story yourself? Stating your position up-front reveals your intent and helps tether the rest of your writing back to this central theme. Your position, or thesis, serves to anchor everything that follows.
So how did Lin-Manuel do these three things? Like this:
He asked a question that was both interesting and got to the point.
“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a gentleman and scholar?” (Miranda, Lin-Manuel. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Atlantic Records, 2015).
Then he stated his position and continued to answer that question throughout the musical.
“The ten dollar, Founding Father without a father got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter. By fourteen they placed him in charge of a trading charter.” And we’re off. Two very dense and rhythmical sentences get you interested, tell you what the play is about, and present a thesis that answers the initial question.
As a writer, you then spend the rest of your piece supporting that thesis, bringing up points, arguments, themes, and evidence. The connections between those supporting pieces may not be apparent at first glance, but you spend the time to build those connections—creating a complete piece of writing that fully supports the position you took in your introduction.
When you reach the end of the essay, it is imperative that you make those connections crystal clear and reward your reader for sticking with you throughout. To achieve this you need to do three things effectively.
Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the end of Hamilton here. You know he was killed by Aaron Burr already, but the rest you should experience on your own. Suffice it to say, Miranda does not throw away his shot.
Summarize with Novelty
You need to spend a little time summarizing the evidence you presented that supported your thesis. Look back at the topic sentences you used in each paragraph. How can you use these central ideas again to reiterate your main points? The trick is to think of ways to present earlier ideas in a different way. This can help to connect important points that your reader might have missed earlier.
Remind Your Readers What Matters
If you’ve done your job well, you don’t need to remind your reader too forcefully what your objective and thesis were. Answer two key questions for your readers: So what? Who cares? While this sounds forceful—it’s really just a way to stay on track and shine extra light on the most meaningful ideas expressed in your work.
Reinforce Your Ideas and Arguments
This is your last chance to show that you’ve made your case and fully supported your thesis. Rebuild the connections you made throughout, highlighting any connections that may have been easily missed because of their subtlety. And, in the best-written pieces, leave your reader with the desire to go back and start from the beginning.
To paraphrase a theme in Hamilton:
Look at where you are.
Look at where you started.
If you’ve done this well, that should be enough.
WriteLab is an online writing platform that offers immediate, actionable responses to your prose as you draft, revise, and polish your writing.