The art of drafting the
Components of the introductory paragraph
Introductory paragraphs can be written in a number of ways; their structure depends upon the pattern an aspirant chooses for the purpose. On the basis of my experience, I am confident to claim that all the structures and forms that aspirants usually follow in writing the essay are correct provided they serve two basic objectives: (i) convincing the examiner that the aspirant has sufficient command over the language; and (ii) encapsulating the main aspects of the essay.
To me, an introductory paragraph should consist of two components, at least. The first one is the starting sentences and the second one is the thesis statement. Starting sentences cover 25-30% of the introductory paragraph whereas the thesis statement constitutes the rest.
How to start
An introductory paragraph can be started in a number of ways. One may start it with a question, a surprising statement, a story, a quotation or a simple declaration. Starting sentences are always general in nature; they never address the demand of the topic in a specific way. These sentences, however, lead the discussion towards the point where an aspirant can easily start his/her thesis statement by taking a particular stance. As a matter of tip, aspirants should prepare the starting sentences of 20-25 expected topics well before the examination and should use them in the paper in accordance with the topic and its demands. Advanced preparation of starting sentences not only reduces the chances of mistakes but also helps in effective time management by saving a few minutes that may otherwise be wasted in the drafting of these sentences.
Chalking out a thesis statement
Different mentors define a thesis statement in different ways. To me, it is a statement that helps the examiner understand the main dimensions of the essay. The thesis statement starts with an aspirant’s stance on the given topic which is followed by the evidence in the form of a brief reference to some of the arguments that (s)he intends to use in order to substantiate his/her point of view in the essay. One sentence composed of 4-5 subpoints of the main argument part of the outline is enough for the purpose. Subsequently, one sentence each pertaining to all the main points of the essay becomes part of the thesis statement. For instance, in an essay on the topic “Corruption is the root cause of all the issues of Pakistan”, the following can be a great thesis statement:
“Apparently, there are a number of issues that can be held responsible for the situation Pakistan has been confronting since the very beginning, yet the very factor, which is the root cause of all issues, is one: corruption. This is nothing else but corruption that wreaks havoc on development projects, causes wastage of natural resources, promotes capital flight and brain drain, discourages foreign direct investment and endangers the sustenance of democracy. With reference to the obstinate persistence of corruption in Pakistan, one can justifiably blame a myriad of factors related to social, political, administrative and economic sectors. Although the federal and provincial governments have taken several legislative and administrative measures to curb corruption in all sectors of the state yet the monster is continuously and rapidly spreading its tentacles across the country. Whatsoever the causes of corruption, there are no two opinions that some meticulous and workable policy should be devised and implemented immediately for purging Pakistan of corruption.”
Unlike other paragraphs of the essay, an introductory paragraph demands high standards of expression from the aspirant. The use of impressive and uncommon vocabulary, pertinent idioms and complex yet beautiful sentence structure is, therefore, always recommended. Punctilious and smart aspirants always prepare in advance some sentences for the introductory paragraphs and thus are able to create a good image with the examiner. CSS, certainly, is all about more smart work rather than blind hard work.
The length of the introductory paragraph is flexible based on the writing skills of the aspirant. Word count anywhere between 150 to 250 is perfectly fine for a good intro paragraph. More importantly, aspirants should be very much clear that an introductory paragraph is a single para; it cannot and should not be bifurcated into more than one paras in any case.
Things to avoid
· Overconsumption of time is a common problem faced by aspirants while writing intro paras. An intro para should never take more than 15 minutes whatsoever its length might be. The problem of overutilization of time can be addressed by practicing more and more before the examination. While mentoring the aspirants during their preparatory phase, I always advise them to work on the outline, and introductory and concluding paragraphs on a daily basis and on the complete essay at least twice a week.
· Use of examples, facts and figures and data is not recommended as a part of an introductory paragraph.
· An introductory paragraph is by no means the reproduction of subpoints given in the outline — a mistake most aspirants make. In an introductory para, subpoints given in the outline can be used only while supporting the stance at the very start of the thesis statement. Reproduction of subpoints unnecessarily deprives the aspirant of a golden opportunity of exhibiting his eloquence and command of the language.
· Starting sentences should never be allowed to dominate the introductory para in terms of length. Starting sentences are written in a generalized way and they can, at maximum, be 25%-30% of the para in terms of volume. In case the general discussion is more than the permitted limit, the examiner may consider the introductory para to be irrelevant and not addressing the basic requirements of the topic.
· Although it is not prohibited to give definitions in the introductory paragraph, this is not what an introductory paragraph aims at. The paragraph containing definitions and explanations of necessary terms is usually the second paragraph of the essay and it follows the intro.
The writer is a PAS officer from 38th CTP, currently serving as an Additional Secretary in the Government of Punjab. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org