Writing a compelling essay is a challenging task for high school students. Translating thoughts and research into an effectively stated argument requires careful attention to detail. While the body of the essay is crucially important, the introduction and conclusion contribute strongly to the reader's overall impressions. An effective introduction hooks the reader so he wants to read more about the topic. The conclusion provides the reader with a final understanding of your argument and stimulates further thought.

First Impressions

The first paragraph of your essay acts as a foundation for the piece, telling your reader what he can expect. A strong introduction grabs the reader's attention and inspires him to read on. Use a hook to catch your reader. It could be a bit of surprising information you discovered while researching your topic. Maybe it's a short narrative that relates to your topic. It could also be an interesting fact or statistic, an inspiring quotation or a thought-provoking question. Whatever you choose, make sure it is relevant to the subject and the argument you are making. The introduction should contain your thesis -- your main argument -- in one concise sentence.

What to Avoid

Be concise. Create your hook, state your thesis and get to the point. Avoid long, wordy introductions and repetition. The length of your introduction should relate to the length and complexity of your essay. A 15-page essay might have a two-page introduction, but a four-page paper won't. Avoid using clich├ęs. Readers will be turned off by expressions they have heard many times before. Don't feel you have to finish your introduction before writing the body of your essay. You might want to come back to the introduction to revise it later.

The Conclusion

An effective conclusion leaves a lasting impression. You might include a thought-provoking question or outline an action that needs to be taken. Think about the significance of your topic -- your conclusion should communicate why the subject matters to you and your readers. Include some thoughts about the consequences and larger implications of your argument. If appropriate, recommend a course of action. Use a relevant quotation or expert opinion to give your conclusion authority. Drive home your point with a surprising statistic or fact.

What to Avoid

Do not simply repeat your thesis. Summarize with new language and discuss how the points you made in the body of your essay back up your thesis. Don't introduce entirely new points -- add more insight that relates to your previous points. As with the introduction, don't be too wordy. For most high school essays, one well-designed paragraph should be enough. For a longer essay, two or three paragraphs might be more appropriate.