- 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…”
This is a sample reading response essay to an article titled “Cell Phones are Dangerous" by Mary Johnson, agreeing with the article and extending one of the ideas.
Paragraph 1: Dramatic re-telling of a personal story of picking up my cell phone and then realizing that I am going to crash into another car. Stop the story right before the crash.
Paragraph 2: Like most people, I thought I was a good enough driver to handle using a cell phone while driving. I found out I was wrong. It turns out I’m not unusual. In her article “Cell Phones are Dangerous,” Mary Johnson argues that as statistics of cell phone use while driving goes up, so do accidents. According to Johnson, we should not use our phones while driving and should educate others not to use them either. Johnson cites statistics showing that talking on a cell phone is as dangerous as driving drunk. Moreover, she points out the increasing number of accidents caused by cell phone use. Her conclusion is that we need to personally decide not to use a cell phone while driving and that we need to educate our friends and family to give up using cell phones while driving too. I agree with Jones that cell phones are dangerous and that we should personally choose to not use one while driving; however, I’d go further than Jones by adding that we need to have laws that prohibit anyone from using cell phones in cars.
Each of these statements would be the topic sentence of one of the body paragraphs. For the first one, I also give examples of the type of arguments and support I would use to write that paragraph and prove my point.
1. Laws make people realize that cell phone driving is dangerous. (Below is an example of some support I could use to back up this idea—you can use ideas from the article but do not repeat the article.)
- support with an anecdote of friends or family thinking a call is more important than driving
- use statistics from article
- argue some people will be convinced by being educated, but not everyone
- use example of seatbelt laws saving lives
- argue that using a cell phone endangers others and not just yourself
2. New technology requires changes in public policy.
3. People in my generation feel obligated to take a call, but if it is illegal to call while driving, they won’t feel that pressure.
4. Using hands-free headsets won’t work because it is the call which is distracting, not holding the phone.
5. This law will save a lot of lives.
I would return to my personal story and pick it up where I left off. I do crash and there is a lot of damage to my car, but no one is hurt. I can explain my great relief that my cell phone use did not end more tragically, and my personal decision to put my cell phone where I can’t reach it while driving. End with an appeal to the reader to do the same, but to also support legislation to prohibit cell phone use while driving.