What goal or goals do you have for your story or speech? What are you main attractions (features, ideas) and various waypoints (other smaller points) you want to visit? Knowing these three beacons will help keep you focused. Writing them down will help you like a GPS, map and compass.
Depending on the type of piece you are writing, you may or may not be able to know exactly what conclusion will reveal itself. If it is a research paper, you may already know what you want your audience to conclude. In such cases, the Goal and the Conclusion are pretty much synonymous. If this is a story being told, you'll want to lead your audience to a "resolution." This doesn't need to be "happily ever after," but unless you are planning a sequel, leaving loose ends will only frustrate your audience. For other types of writing, especially speeches, I've heard it said "Tell them what you are going to say (the intro), then tell them (the body), finally tell them what you said (conclusion)." Truly, "repetition is the mother of retention." Finally, if this is some sort of "proof," (term paper or whatever), you will want the conclusion to cover a "lessons learned," which may actually be a good final chapter for a written piece of this nature. It helps your instructor see that you did or didn't actually get the point(s).
The greater majority (body) of any journey is filled with the mundane--but that is not necessarily bad. Think about it: If the whole journey were filled with memorable high points, you'd be exhausted by the end of it. We may not want to admit it, but we are actually hoping that the trip goes without constant highs and lows. We want a steady, progressive trip that is punctuated by memorable moments. Take for example a plane flight. If each and every moment were filled with stimulating events, you'd want off of that plane pronto! What you are hoping for is a safe, uneventful journey. Maybe you'll meet some interesting character, maybe you'll watch a movie, maybe you'll see a beautiful sunset through the window. But getting your elbow whacked by the attendant's food cart, getting some kid screaming and crying the whole flight, experiencing constant turbulence, or have some crazy person try to cause problems, that's just not something any of us would want. The whole purpose of a journey is to provide cohesive, coherent passage of time and have us ready to expect and accept what will happen in various stages of the journey. We actually design ease and comfort into our journey, especially the older we get.
In my opinion, that should pretty much be the objective of the body of a written piece or speech. It moves the audience along a path of reason without jolting them with constant turbulence of unexpected ideas. While it doesn't need to be humdrum, it also doesn't need to be indulgently filled with gratuitous graphics or purposeless, in-your-face action. (While the younger audience may enjoy this as much as a wild ride at the amusement park, as we mature, I have noticed we much prefer something that stimulates our minds and hearts, instead of only our eyes and adrenalin.)
Perhaps another "journey" is a treasure hunt, the first and simplest being an Easter Egg hunt. If a child found an egg with each and every step they took, very quickly the excitement of finding eggs would turn into boredom. And after their basket was quickly brimming over, they would feel it was all over way too soon. There really was no enjoyment of "discovery" in the journey. To enjoy discovery, you need periods where there is no discovery--where you are instead searching, pondering, evaluating. Those periods of searching, while mundane, make the journey of the garden search an interesting, fulfilling and rewarding experience. Real treasure hunters love recounting not only the "find," but also the struggles, the disappointments, the long periods of fruitless hard work. To the audience, it adds appreciation for the value of the find. (How interesting would it be if all we were told is, "I walked up and picked it up."? We naturally want to hear more details. Think back on times when someone you know has said, "Tell me all about it and don't leave anything out!" That is because they want to go through and relive with you not only the experience, but everything that lead up to it.)
So goes the body of a written document. It pieces the timeline of memorable events together by providing the scenic backdrop. It develops/reveals/explains the characters, and the story line. All of this provides the audience a sense of a fulfilling journey. Finally, after the audience has experienced the whole body of your thought, you need to remember that you were leading them to some point. Ensure that what you write in your body will end there.
The Introduction:As always, I consider the introduction as the last step. It just seems to make the most sense to me. After you've written everything else (the goal, conclusion and body), you need to reflect on a way to introduce this journey to your audience so that they want to take the journey themselves. Whether this in the form of an author’s Foreword, or comprises the first few chapters, you need to set the scene.
This article is part of a series. Please scroll through the Index to "Inspiration For Writers."