- A good introductory paragraph 1. gets your reader’s attention, 2. introduces your topic, and 3. presents your stance on the topic (thesis).
Right after your title is the introductory paragraph. Like an appetizer for a meal, the introductory paragraph sets up the reader’s palate and gives him a foretaste of what is to come. You want start your paper on a positive note by putting forth the best writing possible.
Like writing the title, you can wait to write your introductory paragraph until you are done with the body of the paper. Some people prefer to do it this way since they want to know exactly where their paper goes before they make an introduction to it. When you write your introductory paragraph is a matter of personal preference.
Your introductory paragraph needs to accomplish three main things: it must 1. grip your reader, 2. introduce your topic, and 3. present your stance on the topic (in the form of your thesis statement). If you’re writing a large academic paper, you’ll also want to contextualize your paper’s claim by discussing points other writers have made on the topic.
There are a variety of ways this can be achieved. Some writers find it useful to put a quote at the beginning of the introductory paragraph. This is often an effective way of getting the attention of your reader:
“Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives…”
Hmm. Interesting…Tell me more. This introduction has set off the paper with an interesting quote and makes the reader want to continue reading. How has Jefferson’s public life differed from his private life? Notice how this introduction also helps frame the paper. Now the reader expects to learn about the duality of Thomas Jefferson’s life.
Another common method of opening a paper is to provide a startling statistic or fact. This approach is most useful in essays that relate to current issues, rather than English or scientific essays.
“The fact that one in every five teenagers between the ages of thirteen and fifteen smokes calls into question the efficacy of laws prohibiting advertising cigarettes to children…”
The reader is given an interesting statistic to chew on (the fact that so many children smoke) while you set up your paper. Now your reader is expecting to read an essay on cigarette advertising laws.
When writing English papers, introducing your topic includes introducing your author and the aspect of the text that you’ll be analyzing.
“Love is a widely felt emotion. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas uses the universality of love to develop a connection with his reader…”
Here, the reader is introduced to the piece of text that will be analyzed, the author, and the essay topic. Nice.
The previous sample introduction contains a general sentence at the beginning that bring up a very broad topic: love. From there, the introductory paragraph whittles down to something more specific:
how Dumas uses love in his novel to develop a connection with the reader. You’d expect this paragraph to march right on down to the thesis statement,
which belongs at the end of the introductory paragraph. Good introductory paragraphs often have this ‘funnel’ sort of format–going from something broad (such as love) to something more specific until the thesis is presented.
Try to avoid the some of the more hackneyed openers:
- “Have you ever wondered why…”
- “Webster’s dictionary defines…”
- “X is a very important issue facing America today…”
Okay, so an ear-shattering bang with a fiery-aftermath-type bang isn’t what I’m talking about when I say, “This is how to start an essay with a bang.” (But I bet this adorably suspicious kitten has one heck of a story to tell.)
Adam Rifkin (flickr.com)
So what do I mean when I say, “Start your essay with a bang”?
Let’s start with these headlines. Tell me what they have in common:
If you guessed they’re all catchy, clickable headlines, you’re right. These headlines are so unique that you just have to click to read the story.
That’s exactly the effect you want to create when you write your essay introduction.
Here’s how to how to start an essay to create the same effect.
How to Start an Essay With a Bang
You don’t have to write your introduction first.
Sometimes you won’t know how to start until you’ve finished.
I know that might not make sense, but think about it. If you wait until you’ve finished the body of your paper (the key arguments), you have a better understanding of the contents of your paper. This means you can write a better introduction.
The purpose of an introduction
We all know that an introduction is supposed to introduce the paper. But there’s more to it than that.
A good introduction is like a first impression. Imagine meeting your date’s parents, and you’re nothing but a disheveled, bumbling mess. That first impression sticks.
If your essay introduction is that same bumbling mess, filled with typos and a lack of organization, your readers will remember that too.
An introduction also serves as a map to the rest of your paper. It enables readers to see your argument and understand the point of your paper.
This is where a clear thesis statement comes in. Wrap up your opening paragraph(s) with a specific thesis to let readers know exactly what to expect in your paper.
If you end a well-written introduction with a clear, specific thesis statement, how should you start a well-written introduction? Start with a few lines that grab readers’ attention.
The attention grabber
Even though it may sound like it, an attention grabber isn’t a bad made-for-television sci-fi movie like Sharknado. An attention grabber is actually a strategy to not only get people to actually read your paper, but also to hopefully keep them reading.
Four basic strategies on how to start an essay with an attention grabber
1. An intriguing question
Ask a question that you’ll answer in the body of your paper, or ask a question that will get readers thinking about your topic.
Check out these examples:
- Have you ever wondered how many chemicals are in your tap water?
- Can playing video games make people more intelligent?
- Is pizza a vegetable?
Here’s a sample introduction using an intriguing question:
Is pizza a vegetable? In 2011, this question permeated the news, and parents everywhere wondered how congress could declare pizza a vegetable. The truth is that congress did not determine pizza to be a vegetable. The debate involved pizza sauce and how much of the sauce constituted a serving of vegetables. Whether pizza is a vegetable is still up for debate; however, what is not up for debate is the need to provide more healthy options in public school lunches.
2. A funny , interesting, or out-of the ordinary anecdote
Include a brief story about your topic that sets a scene, engages your readers, and gets them involved in the topic.
Here are a few examples:
- Imagine a time, long, long ago, before the Internet was invented, when people had to travel to a store to buy something.
- A young girl and her brother giggle with joy as they run across the park toward the swings. Sadly, their mother was charged with neglect for letting them play in the park just a block from their home.
- Last semester, Andre showed up for chemistry class ready to take notes about the upcoming exam. He was shocked when, at the beginning of the class, the professor instructed everyone to put away their notes to take the exam. To say the least, Andre wasn’t prepared.
Here’s a sample introduction using an anecdote:
Last semester, Andre showed up for chemistry class ready to take notes about the upcoming exam. He was shocked when, at the beginning of the class, the professor instructed everyone to put away their notes to take the exam. To say the least, Andre wasn’t prepared. Unfortunately for Andre, this wasn’t the first time he wasn’t prepared for class. His habit of procrastination and poor organization has left him struggling to catch up on more than one occasion. While it can be difficult to stay focused in college, if students implement three simple steps, they can organize their schedules, be prepared for class, and improve their grades.
3. A shocking or interesting statistic
Using a shocking statistic grabs readers’ attention simply because it’s hard for them to believe the information could be true. They want to keep reading to learn more.
Check out these examples:
Here’s a sample introduction using a shocking statistic:
Over 16 million children in the United States live in poverty. These children, rather than enjoying carefree days meant for childhood, feel the burden of adult responsibilities. They often go hungry, worry about where their next meals will come from, and worry whether their families will be evicted again. These children wonder if they’ll soon be living in shelters (or worse yet, living in their cars). With the wealth and resources in the United States, such conditions are inexcusable. Additional funding needs to be allocated to help low-income families.
4. A thought-provoking or astounding quote
Opening your paper with a quote gets readers thinking and involved in your paper.
A word of caution: quote someone with credibility or who is an expert on a topic. Quoting your brother or your roommate is not going to have the same effect as quoting an expert.
Check out these examples:
- Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
- Maya Angelou wisely said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
- Benjamin Franklin is quoted as stating, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Here’s a sample introduction using a thought-provoking quote:
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as stating, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Any student who has ever neglected to study for a test can attest to this. Many students don’t study because they claim they simply don’t have enough time. While it’s true that colleges students are busy working, participating in sports, attending classes, and studying, the truth is that even busy students need to find time to prepare for class. By using a planner, learning how to study, and scheduling courses appropriately, students can be better prepared and improve their grades.
How to Start an Essay the Wrong Way
Writing introductions isn’t always easy. At times, you might find yourself staring at a blank screen with a severe case of writer’s block. If this happens, don’t write one of the following types of introductions in order to simply have something on paper.
Drew Coffman (flickr.com)
Don’t start with a dictionary definition
It can be tempting (and very easy) to start your essay with something like, “According to Merriam-Webster.com, happiness is a state of well-being and contentment.”
Yeah, it’s an easy way to start your paper, but it certainly isn’t very interesting. Readers already know what happiness means. You don’t need to define it for them.
Keep in mind, if you’re using a definition for a specific term according to a discussion in your class or if you’re defining a complicated term that appears throughout the paper, this strategy may be appropriate.
Don’t write a broad, generalized introduction
You know the type of introduction I’m talking about, the one you write in 22 seconds because you have to get your paper done in no time flat.
It’s the introduction that looks like this:
Imagery allows readers to fully understand and see what the writer is writing about in poetry. It provides readers with a clear vision of what he or she is talking about and is an important element of many poems. Without imagery, writing would be dull and uninteresting. In the poem A Supermarket in California, Allen Ginsberg uses imagery to create a powerful scene.
Nothing about this introduction works. It uses the term “imagery,” but it doesn’t say anything specific about the subject, how it’s used in the poem, or the focus of your paper.
Don’t announce the goal for your paper
Don’t start by telling your readers something like, “This paper will explain how to use shading to draw realistic people.”
This may be an appropriate opening line for an instruction manual. It’s not, however, effective as an opening line for an academic essay.
Rather than announcing your topic, simply incorporate the ideas into a statement. For instance, you might write, “Artists often struggle to create life-like faces in their artwork; however, shading is an important strategy and a key step in creating realistic figures.”
More Bang for Your Buck
But wait…there’s more!
As if all this awesome advice wasn’t enough, here are a few more articles on how to start an essay with a bang.
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