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Home > Medical > 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.

"Initially, my interest in medicine was due to my family."

"I am interested in participating in the Harvard M.I.T. Division of Health Sciences and Technology Program (HST) in the context of an M.D./Ph.D. to prepare for a career in medical research."

"My work experiences -- ranging from public health projects in rural Latin America to work at urban battered women's shelters to peer counseling on a college campus -- reflect my concern for people's "health" in a broad sense of the word."
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.

“The car swerved to the left.”

“She dropped the box on the table and left the room because she didn't want to watch.”

"It was opening night. I was about to walk on stage as Ruth in "The Pirates of Penzance."

“As the rusted-out Land Rover made its way cautiously through dense thicket and crevices in the rocky dirt road, those of us sitting on top were able to peer through the trees at a sublime West African landscape.”

“One day in the summer after my graduation from high school, my grandfather took me up to the attic of his house to show me something he thought would be significant for me.”
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 was not in control of my life and I was miserable.”

“Since my childhood, my father’s inspirational recounts as a cardiologist have captured my heart and my interest.“

“I decided that I wanted to be a doctor sometime after my four month incarceration in Columbia Presbyterian Children's Hospital in the winter of 1986-87, as I struggled with anorexia nervosa.”
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:

"The melody starts low, a quiet whirring sound of violins slowly envelops the hall."

"The beating of an African healing drum resonates throughout all corners of the Catholic church during the weekly five o’clock student mass."

"When I consider my life experiences, I imagine them as a system of bones and joints, interconnected, cooperative, and form-giving."
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:

"Dr. Lewis Thomas described medicine as "The Youngest Science" because insightful discoveries in basic research have led to revolutionary innovations in clinical therapy that have improved the quality of life." (Essay 6)

‘One day you will read in the National Geographic of a faraway land with no smelly bad traffic. In those green-pastured mountains of Fotta-fa-Zee everybody feels fine at a hundred and three 'cause the air that they breathe is potassium- free and because they chew nuts from the Tutt-a-Tutt Tree. This gives strength to their teeth, it gives length to their hair, and they live without doctors, with nary a care.’ -- Dr. Seuss, You're Only Old Once

"I love the way he makes me laugh."
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:

"Power ten, next stroke!" shouts the coxswain over the speaker system.

"Kathy, do you believe in las brujas?"

"Peter, the woman we’re about to meet will receive her first palliative treatment today."

"Why on Earth do you want to study in Africa?"
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:

"Every doctor remembers his first patient."

"In communist Hungary in 1986 ownership of property meant certain things."

"On the corner of 168th street and Broadway in New York City there always seems to be a line of people."

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. A standard close merely summarizes the main points you have made.

Some examples of standard closes include:

“But most of all, I know that for me to bring meaning to the years of instruction my professors and textbooks have given me, I must give back to the community. I have chosen to do that by becoming a dentist.”

“As a lifelong commitment to society, the medical profession most completely encompasses my career goals and moral values.”

“In the future, I see myself as the pedodontist whose office will be filled with excited children who climb into my chair feeling as comfortable as I always did in my father's.”

“Reminiscing about how M. pulled the browned marshmallow from his chopstick, I am thankful to my campers and students, their families, and my friends for helping me to affirm that this is the path I wish my life to follow.”

If you have introduced a clever or unusual thought 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:

"The once bewildered seven-year-old at the scene of an accident now has the skills and maturity to do more than change diapers; she aspires to read the film of the broken humerus or to set the cast someday soon."

This writer’s reference to the bewildered seven-year-old relates back to her opening story about a car accident from her youth. This stylistic touch wraps the essay up nicely and shows that time was spent in planning and structuring.
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