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Home > Business > Free Essay Tips and Advice > Leads and Ends

Leading the Way
Closing Your Case

Beginnings and endings can be the most challenging part of crafting any piece of writing and, in many ways, the most important. The words and images you use must do more than simply announce the theme or topic of your essay – they must engage the reader. You do not want an admissions officer to start reading your essay and think, "Here we go again." If, after the first sentence, the admissions counselor does not like what she sees, she may not read on.
Note: All of the examples used in this section have been taken from our database of real admissions essays from applicants who were accepted into top schools.

Leading the Way

Standard Lead
Surprise Lead
Action Lead
Commanding Lead
Informative Lead
Quotation Lead
Dialogue Lead

Part of the reason that leads and endings are so difficult is that writers tend to worry about them too much. There is so much hype on the necessity of thoroughly introducing the subject and ending with sharply drawn conclusions that anxious essayists compensate by going overboard. You do not have to begin by writing the lead. Often, you will spot the lead floating around in the middle of your first draft of the essay. There are many different kinds of effective leads. You will find examples of some of them listed below. Remember too that if you have segmented your essay into distinct parts with different titles, you need to treat every segment as a separate essay and find an effective lead for each.

  Standard Lead

Standard leads answer one or more of the six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. They should give the reader an idea of what to expect. A summary lead is a standard lead that answers most of these questions in one sentence. A summary lead often simply rephrases the question that was asked and is perhaps the most common lead used:
"While I have had many opportunities to serve in the capacity of a leader in both my personal and professional lives, there are two occasions that I feel clearly demonstrate my managerial potential."
"There are two individuals who have deeply shaped my professional thinking."
"My most important cross-cultural experience is related to the fifteen months I spent in Thailand as a teacher of Economics and Business in a Cambodian refugee camp.”
Surprise Lead

This lead attempts to add shock or interest:
"Recently, I was trapped on a ledge more than 300 feet above the ground when an unexpected snow storm hit while I was rock climbing."
"During my senior year in college, my father was diagnosed with terminal skin cancer."
Action Lead

This lead takes the reader into the middle of a piece of action. It is particularly good for short essays where space needs to be conserved or for narrative/descriptive essays that begin with a story.
"I carried the puck up the left wing and couldn't find a teammate as I reached the offensive zone."
Commanding Lead

This lead presents a piece of impressive information about the writer in a commanding or authoritative tone. It is intended to present the image of a very confident, directed applicant, and when it is employed, the rest of the essay needs to be made strong enough to back the impression up. The following three commanding leads were all found in one essay, each one introducing a new segment:
"During the summer before my senior year, I founded and managed a company that employed five people and grossed twenty thousand dollars." (Segment 1)
"In my senior year at Harvard, I led our ECAC champion hockey team in points, becoming the first player to ever begin his career on the J.V. team and finish as the varsity's leading scorer." (Segment 2)
"I paid for the majority of my college education, while achieving Dean's List every semester, spent forty hours each week participating in a Division 1 athletic program, worked ten to fifteen hours each week to help defray tuition costs, and also maintained a balanced social life." (Segment 3)
Informative Lead

This lead gives the reader a fact or a statistic that is connected to the topic of your essay or simply provides a piece of information about yourself or a situation:
"Technological innovation is occurring at an ever-increasing pace."
"Six months ago, my church implemented a new organizational structure in which all the various church functions were consolidated under the responsibility of one of ten different committees."
Quotation Lead

This type of lead is most effective when the quote you choose is unusual, esoteric, funny, or obscure, and not too long. Choose a quote with a meaning you plan to reveal to the reader as the essay progresses. Do not use a proverb or cliche, and do not attempt to interpret the quote in your essay. The admissions committee is more interested in how you respond to it and what that response says about you:
"'It's in my blood, it's in my veins, I am the ghost who entertains.'
  – Peter Weiss, Wie dem Herrn Mockinpott das Leiden ausgetrieben wird"
Dialogue Lead

This lead takes the reader into a conversation. It can take the form of an actual dialog between two people or can simply be a snippet of personal thought:
"Stop foolin' around, old boy. How would an MBA help you? Better get on with your career."
"First-rate skiing, the Winter Carnival, a bucolic setting, Ivy League football, and a great career at the end of it all? Who wouldn't want a Tuck MBA?"

Closing Your Case

The final sentence or two of your essay is critical. It must finish your thought or assertion, and it is an important part of creating a positive and memorable image. Endings are the last experience an admissions officer has with your essay, so you need to make that moment count. A standard close merely summarizes the main points you have made. But you should not feel obligated to tie everything up into a neat bow. The essay can conclude with some ambiguity, if appropriate, as long as it offers insights. If you have introduced a clever or unusual thought in the first paragraph, refer back to it in your conclusion. The aim is for the admissions officer to leave your essay thinking, "That was a satisfying read," and "I wish there were more."
One essay, for example, closes with: "So I am not going to take my friends’ advice. They have their dogs already, and the BMW is ordered. Sorry – I am not ready for that." This provides a strong, personal close reflecting back on the writer’s reluctance to taking advice and following the usual path. This theme opens in the first sentence: "‘Stop foolin’ around, old boy. How would an MBA help you? Better get on with your career.’ That’s what they say. Friends, colleagues, others…", and is reiterated in the middle of the essay "Getting a dog at 35 and the BMW and house that go with it. No thanks...." He could easily have ended with the previous paragraph which sums up the points he made in his essay and is itself a good example of a standard close. But by opting for a more lighthearted approach he not only ties neatly back into his theme, but also leaves the reader with a strong sense of his personality.
Another essayist provides a similarly good example of this technique. The last paragraph reads: "In five years I’ve grown more confident, more secure, and more at ease. I wouldn’t say I’m a different person that I was at twenty, but I’m definitely an improved version. Plus – the biggest change of all – I’m a brunette now." The first sentence of this close provides the summary of the points made. The second reiterates back to the question that was asked. The third is like the icing on the cake – not only does it tie back to an earlier allusion made in the first paragraph: "I had curly blond hair down to my waist…" – but it also lets the reader finish with a smile.
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