As the opening paragraph of your paper, the introduction makes an important first impression on your reader and prepares your reader to understand and value the rest of your text. Although it is the first paragraph in your paper, you do not have to write it first. You may have a better idea of what belongs in your introduction if you write it last.
An effective introduction
- develops the reader’s interest in the topic
- demonstrates the writer’s knowledge of and logical approach to the subject
- articulates the main idea (thesis statement) of the paper
Strategies for writing a successful introduction:
The beginning: Open with a statement, question, quotation, or statistic that captures the reader’s interest. To decide what will interest the reader, you need a solid grasp of what makes your topic particularly compelling, problematic, or relevant. You may find it easier to do this after you write the paper rather than when you first start.
The body of the paragraph: Introductions often progress from more general ideas to more specific ones, with the most specific statement coming in your thesis. Use most of your introductory paragraph to help the reader understand the logical connections between the general topic and your specific thesis. What does the reader need to know about the subject in order to understand your thesis?
The thesis: The thesis usually appears in the last sentence or last few sentences of your introduction. Here you should state the specific argument you make in the paper; you may choose to preview your paper’s organization in the final sentences as well, so that the reader knows how you plan to support your thesis.
What to avoid:
Making large generalizations you cannot or will not prove throughout the essay
- Statements like “all college students,” “throughout human history,” or “more than ever before” are far too general (not to mention, nearly impossible to prove!).
Giving a dictionary definition or citation from Wikipedia to introduce a topic
- When was the last time you read a dictionary for fun? Capturing a reader’s attention takes more than this very simple description of a topic.
- Wikipedia may offer you a basic introduction to a subject, but what you convey to a reader in an essay should reflect your own thoughts or more sophisticated research.
Starting with a compelling statement
The Declaration of Independence is so widely regarded as a statement of American ideals that its origins in practical politics tend to be forgotten. Thomas Jefferson’s draft was intensely debated and then revised in the Continental Congress. Jefferson was disappointed with the result. However a close reading of both the historical context and the revisions themselves indicates that the Congress improved the document for its intended purpose.
Why it works:
- The statement goes beyond general knowledge, challenging the audience’s perspective of a particular subject.
- The rest of the introduction clarifies the subject so that the reader can better understand the thesis and how it relates to the opening statement.
Starting with a quotation
In “The Fiction Writer and His Country,” Flannery O’ Connor explains that, as a Christian Orthodox writer, she must use “ever more violent means to get [her] vision across to a hostile audience” (247). In a “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” O’ Connor puts this violence to good use, presenting readers with a typical family on a vacation, and then, with little warning, shocking readers with the sudden murders of each family member. If the family has worshiped superficially, created false hierarchies, and idolized the outdated codes of a brutal past, the Misfit’s gun shatters the family’s beliefs and, through them, the beliefs of the story’s readers. O’ Connor’s story is itself a gun pointed towards readers, aiming to shake them out of their complaisance into an active faith.
Why it works:
- The quotation is relevant to the entire introduction and the main idea of the paper.
- The quotation is not a cliché, and it is not from a book of quotations.
H. Ramsey Fowler, Jane E. Aaron, and Cynthia K. Marshall, The Little Brown Handbook, 11th ed. (New York: Longman, 2010), 105.