Effective Introductions

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Picture this: Someone you've never met walks up to you at a party and says, "Capital punishment should be abolished immediately." No doubt you’d be surprised, perhaps even shocked. Where did this come from?  Why am I being challenged with this right now?  It would be a strange and awkward situation. Now, imagine a reader picking up your essay and reading that same quote above as the first sentence in the first paragraph.  Your reader might feel the exact same way—the comment is too pushy, too awkward, and too out of context. Readers (like people at parties) need to know why a topic is being discussed before hearing your opinion on an issue. They need to be given context, and “warmed-up” to the topic at hand, before any details are discussed.

This is what good introductions do. They lead readers into your thesis, provide context for your discussion, and create an overall sense of interest in your opinion (and essay). If you find it difficult to start an essay by writing an introduction, then wait. Wait until the body of your essay is written (or at least most of it); you should then find something concrete that you can use as an introduction.

A good introduction:

  • Is complete and independent; it doesn’t depend on a reader's knowledge of the essay title or assignment.
  • Provides context and background information to set up a thesis.
  • Avoids being overly general or making obvious statements: "Crime is a big problem" or "Conflict between the sexes is a part of life." Both are true, but both are cliché and much too general.
  • Leads your reader to expect a statement of your point of view—your thesis.
  • Establishes the tone of your essay: informative, persuasive, serious, humorous, personal, impersonal, formal, informal, etc.
  • Does not make self-referential comments about you or your intentions as a writer: "In this essay, I will write about the following …" or "What I intend to talk about is …"
  • Engages the reader's interest and provides a "hook" to make your audience want to continue reading.

Some options to include in an effective introduction (a couple possible "hooks"):

  • A surprising (but relevant) statistic
  • An interesting and brief quotation
  • An unusual fact
  • An interesting anecdote (short story with a point)
  • A challenging question
  • Interesting background details (but not too many)
  • An intriguing opinion statement