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Home > Law > 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. Part of the reason that they 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. They feel that in order to appear mature and worldly their essays must contain profound insights and sweeping observations.

Do not fall into this trap! One of the biggest complaints that our admissions officers had were essayists who tried to say and do too much in their introductions. "Just tell the story!" was repeated like a mantra in response to essayists who were trying too hard to impress. Many of these essays (not included in this book) would have been vastly improved had they simply removed their introductions altogether.

Do yourself a favor and forget about beginnings and endings during the first stages of writing. Just dive straight into the body of the text without bothering to introduce your themes or set the scene. The reason this technique works is that when you have finished writing the rest of your rough draft, you may discover that you don’t need an introduction at all. But isn’t that risky? Maybe. But believe it or not, more essays have been ruined by forced and unnecessary introductions than have been ruined by the lack of one. Largely this is because of the misconception of what an introduction is supposed to accomplish.

This is especially true if you are basing your essay around a story. It might feel risky or uncomfortable just letting the story stand on its own without being introduced first, but beginning with action is always a good idea as long as the action is tied closely into the points you are trying to make throughout the rest of the essay.

Leading the Way

Standard Lead
Action Lead
Personal or Revealing Lead
Creative Lead
Quotation Lead
Dialogue Lead
Fact Lead

The most important part of any beginning is, of course, the lead. Leads play the dual role of setting the theme of your essay and engaging the reader. The introduction should not be overly formal or stilted. You do not want an admissions officer to start reading your essay and think, "here we go again." Although admissions officers will try to give the entire essay a fair reading, they are only human - if you lose them after the first sentence the rest of your essay will not get the attention it deserves.

Just as you should not worry about your introduction until you have gotten an initial draft on paper, you should not begin by writing your lead unless you are feeling inspired about a particular line. Often, you will spot a good one floating around in the middle of your first draft of the essay, so don’t waste time worrying about it until you have the bulk of your essay on paper.

There are many different kinds of effective leads. All of the examples below were taken from the essays in our database.

  Standard Lead

Standard leads are the most common leads used. A typical standard lead answers one or more of the six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. They give the reader an idea of what to expect. A summary lead is a kind of standard lead that answers most of these questions in one sentence. The problem with this kind of lead is that, although it is a logical beginning, it can be dull. The advantage is that it sets your reader up for a focused and well structured essay. If you live up to that expectation, the impact of your points are heightened. They are also useful for shorter essays when you need to get to the point quickly. The following are some examples of standard leads.

"My background as an engineer and a Hispanic affords me a unique point of reference from which a constructive engagement in the intellectual, political, and social spheres at _____________ will be enhanced."

"To study law in American law school is the intersection of three sets composing my life: my belief in international trade, my interest in establishing international trade law based on economic principles, and the contribution that I can make as a Korean woman."

"While my undergraduate record and letters of recommendation are informative about my capacity to succeed academically in law school, I intend the following statement to reveal something about the kind of lawyer I plan to become: thoughtful, ethically oriented, and capable of developing my ideas through personal experience."
Action Lead

This lead takes the reader into the middle of a piece of action. It is perfect for short essays where space needs to be conserved or for narrative essays that begin with a story.

"When the federal agents arrived early that morning, my friend Adam didn't have a chance."

"The wind shook my tent and drove the rain hard against the canvas."

"When I was five years old, my family fled our homeland, the war-torn country of Vietnam."
Personal or Revealing Lead

This lead reveals something about the writer. It is always in the first person and usually takes an informal, conversational tone:

"I met my great-grandmother through her diaries."

"On July 17, 1991, just a few weeks after my freshman year at Princeton ended I began my two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints."

"When I began my freshman year at East Coast College, I did not expect that five years later I would find myself documenting a massacre in a guerrilla-controlled area of El Salvador and establishing a school there for refugees who had recently returned to their country."
Creative Lead

This lead attempts to add interest by being obtuse or funny. They can leave you wondering what the essay will be about, or make you smile:

"People often refer to a "body of law" but to me the most interesting limbs are the legs."

"What the hell am I doing?"

"June 1987."
Quotation Lead

This type of lead can be a direct quotation or a paraphrase. It is most effective when the quote you choose is unusual, funny, or obscure, and not too long. Choose a quote with a meaning you plan to reveal to the reader as the essay progresses. Some admissions officers caution using this kind of lead because it can seem like you are trying to impress them or sound smart. Do not use a proverb or cliche, and do not 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:

"You can’t judge a book by its cover."

"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book." – Thoreau
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:

"Where did we go wrong?" were the first words offered by my mechanical engineering professor when I told him I wanted to go to law school.

"That’s not fair."
Fact 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:

"In December of 1988, Texas state District Court Judge Jack Hampton sentenced a man convicted of double homicide to a term of thirty years."

"Many people criticize required college courses and what others study as being useless in the real world."

Closing Your Case

The final sentence or two of your essay is also 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 those words and thoughts count.

The most common close used in personal statements is the standard close. The standard close either summarizes the main points of the essay or asserts (or reasserts) the writers desire or qualifications to attend medical school. Some examples of standard closes include:

"I firmly believe my experiences in law, engineering, civic activity, and political activism will allow me to be a creative and contributing member of the intellectual life at ____________. Thank you for your consideration."

"Your consideration of my application is in all reality a review of my efforts to fulfill my four-year, two-fold plan. I hope you find, as I believe, that I come well-prepared."

"I have the capability, the perspective, and the commitment to become a lawyer; I am prepared to take on the social and civic duties that this vocation demands."

"Through obtaining a law degree, I hope to join many others in the struggle for our rights and dignity, and strive within an imperfect court system toward the goal of greater equality within the law."

If you have introduced a clever or unusual thought or image in the first paragraph, try referring 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 essayist, for example, closes with:

"If I were to write an article on myself, it would be one of overcoming self-inflicted personal adversity, becoming the person I always knew I could be, and ending with a successful first year of law school."

This writer’s reference to writing an article on himself relates back to his opening paragraph about the way his life might look through objective eyes. This stylistic touch of referring back to this in his close wraps the essay up nicely and shows that time was spent in planning and structuring.

Another essayist also does this, and then adds an extra touch by ending his final sentence in a question which relates back to his introduction about his decision to decline the opportunity of graduating two years early:

"I would not trade those years for any "jump-start" on my career. Besides, who would really want to hire a 22 year old lawyer anyway?"

Adding a bit of humor at the end was a nice way for him to show the committee that he doesn’t take himself as seriously as the rest of his essay might indicate. It plays the crucial role of humanizing him and making his essay personal.
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