What do I put in my introduction and conclusion? Why have these parts in an assay at all?
The introduction and conclusion paragraphs are almost essential to any essay. The introduction is a place to lay out the information that the reader needs to know before they can understand your argument. You have to work with the assumption that the people reading your paper have no clue what you are talking about; for example, if your paper is about the difference between a gas-powered car and an electric car, the introduction needs to let the readers know what cars are. "But wait!" you say, "everyone knows what cars are!" And this is where you are only slightly correct. Yes, people know that a car is a vehicle, but from there their understanding can drift off in different directions. One reader can know all about pistons and brake pads, while another reader only knows that the gas pedal makes the car go forward, and the brake pedal makes it stop. You shouldn't bog down your introduction with a bunch of basic information, like the entire history of the invention of cars, if it has nothing to do with the points you bring up in the body paragraphs; that would be wasting the readers' time. Instead, put information that is specific to the things you talk about later. Using the example I had before, if you have a paragraph that mentions the differences in engine makeup of electric and gas cars, then maybe the introduction should have information as to the basics of car engines so that you don't have to put a lot of explanation information in that paragraph that doesn't fit with the paragraph's point. How much you put in your introduction paragraph is up to your discretion-- there isn't really an absolute rule as to how much needs to go there, but if it feels too long or too short for you, it will probably feel too long or short for the reader too. I always recommend writing the introduction after finishing your body paragraphs. A conclusion is, in one sense, the opposite of an introduction. Here, you shouldn't have any new information, only an explanation of the information you had in your body paragraphs. Each body paragraph is a piece of the puzzle that is your point with the paper; the conclusion shows the reader how to fit all those pieces together; in other words, your conclusion explains how all the points you brought up in your essay prove what you were saying in your thesis. This wraps up your argument and, if done correctly, leaves the reader agreeing with your point. If you are the type that explains as-you-go, then sometimes there is not a need for a conclusion, since the explanation already exists in your paper. As long as the connection between the points of your body paragraphs and your thesis can be clear to another person, (and as long as your professor would be okay with it) you could skip the conclusion altogether. If you are unsure, I would always recommend having a conclusion, just to stay safe and make sure your paper is very clear. So, in short, the introduction and conclusion paragraphs are set aside to hold information that might not fit inside your normal body paragraphs-- the introduction explaining concepts from the real world that apply to your paper, and the conclusion explaining concepts from your paper that apply to your thesis.
What is an analysis? Why can't I just explain what happened in the story?
Another very common question asked to me in my time tutoring; it seemed that many professors at my college didn't know how to effectively explain this concept. There are two parts to any story: the events and the meaning. Summarizing the story will explain the events (what happened) but an analysis explains the meaning (why the events happened). This can get a little complicated, because there are many different reasons why something was written the way it was. This, however, is really a good thing, as it lets you, the writer, choose what things you want to look at and explain (unless your professor has already assigned you one point of view to look from). Alright: to start, know that everything happens for a reason-- no, I don't mean in life, I mean in writing. In literature, an author will choose what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. All of these things are results of decisions the author made, and so there must be some reason to why they made those decisions. The first step for an analysis is to choose what you are analyzing; this could really be anything that maybe you find interesting, funny, important, or otherwise unique. Some examples of things to analyze are "why did the author spend so much time talking about the character's childhood, when the story is set in his adulthood?" or "what did the author mean when they used a certain poetic phrase?" The second step in analysis, and arguably the most important, is the detective work. Here, you need to do research into what you are trying to explain. For the first example I used a few sentences ago, you would probably want to mostly focus on clues within the story; look for things that hint at a connection not clearly stated, but implied, or possible parallels. Find as much information as you can on the topics you are comparing, since researching often leads to the "eureka" moment when you know exactly what you want to write about and explain. For the second example, and even for the first if you choose, you would want to also research the author's background. Maybe the author is mentioning something that happened in their lifetime, to them, or around them, and knowing that event gives the poetic line more or a different meaning. Once you gathered up all your research, it is time to make a claim. Just like all academic papers, you should have clear thesis statement: something you are going to prove by the end of the paper. For the first example I gave, a possible thesis (out of many, many possible theses) is "the author mentions the main character's childhood throughout the story to show that child abuse changes the way that person will act as an adult." For the second example, a possible thesis could be "the author borrows keywords and writing style for one stanza from another poet that inspired them during their early writing career." The next step for an analysis is to explain, bring in evidence, and prove your thesis; use as many sources as you need, but remember to always explain the details of your logic. The last step, like any paper, is to go back and make sure your paper makes sense and is in the correct order. Let me clarify that a "rhetorical analysis" is very different from a literary analysis, and uses the question "how" instead of "why."
What is the point of English? Can't I just write down the answer and be done?
This is a question I am asked a lot by students when they first enter the writing center. The whole point of the "rules" (though they really are more like guidelines) of English, both in the technical side, which is word choice, grammar, and punctuation, and the creative side, which is what points to talk about, and the way they are explained, is that you, the writer, have an idea in your head; you know it more than anyone else will, and that is because it is yours. You could write down a sentence you think displays that idea, and it would make sense to you, but when others read it, they will get from it a different idea than what you had intended. This is where the art of using English comes into play. You need to find the most efficient way to transfer your idea into someone else's head, without them losing your meaning. Grammar helps you by making sure everyone can understand the actual written material you have, as does punctuation; word choice narrows down what exactly your readers imagine (think of an ugly bird-- now think of a hideous bird; these two words have very similar meaning, but their slight differences help readers more accurately imagine what you are trying to display); and how you structure your sentences, paragraphs, and even whole paper helps guide the readers down a thought process. Again, it may seem completely understandable to you, because you are already familiar with the idea you have, but you need to be clear in writing so that someone who knows nothing of what you are talking about can still follow the thought process you laid out, and end up with the same, or at least a very close, idea as you.