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Writing Introduction Paragraphs Help

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Updated on Sep 7, 2011

Writing Introduction Paragraphs

First impressions are important. This lesson explains the purpose of introductions and how to write a "hook" that grabs the reader's attention.

Right or wrong, in the business world, many decisions are based solely on first impressions. Companies spend thousands, and even millions, in advertising dollars to make sure your first impression of them is a good one.

First impressions are just as important in writing. A college admissions officer who's reading his fortieth essay of the day will probably put it down if it begins, "In this essay, I will …" If you tell him in the first few sentences what you will say in the next dozens, what is his incentive to continue? If you begin a science lab report with the specifics of an experiment, your teacher will probably give it a poor grade.

Both of these are examples of students who don't understand the purpose and power of an introduction. While it can vary slightly from one type of writing assignment to another, the introduction is a critical part of the essay, and if it's not included, it can ruin what might otherwise be a well-written piece.

What an Introduction Should Do

A combination of courtesy and strategy, the introduction "sells" the essay to the reader, compelling him or her to read the rest of it. For most assignments, it should also acquaint the audience with the subject and purpose of the essay. Specifically, essay writers have four tasks to accomplish within the first paragraph or two. An effective introduction should:

  1. Provide the context necessary to understand your thesis.When you're writing for a general audience, your readers don't know who you are. They may not know your assignment and may not be familiar with the issues or texts you are discussing. Thus, you might need to provide background information. If you are writing about literature, you should include the titles, authors, and publications dates of the text you are analyzing. Similarly, if you're writing about a historical event, you should name the event, the date, and the key people (or countries, or issues) involved. Here's an example:
  2. Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein was published over 180 years ago. But this remarkable novel raises a question that is more important today than ever: What is a creator's responsibility for his or her creation?

  1. Clearly state the main point of the essay. Your readers should know from the beginning what idea you will be developing throughout the essay. A clear thesis statement is a key component of an effective introduction. (See Lesson 9 for a review of thesis statements.) In the previous example, the last sentence expresses the main idea of the essay—the question, and its relevance today.
  2. The exception to this rule is the college application essay. Because of the high volume of essays each admissions officer must read, it makes sense to stand out, and keep his or her attention, by being mysterious in your introduction. Make him or her read on to the second paragraph by not revealing your subject until then.

    Here's an example:

    I will never forget the moment I landed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As the plane descended, I was awed by the dynamic geography and the juxtaposition of the sea, the mountains, and the city's skyline. I absorbed the landscape further and my eyes focused on the favelas mounted on the hillsides.

    This introduction works well on a number of levels: It takes the reader to an exotic location, describing the landscape and setting the scene. The writer tells you the moment is unforgettable, and brings you along with her. But, most importantly, she does not reveal anything about her subject. You have to read on to find out what her essay is about.

  1. "Hook" the reader.The introduction should not only get the reader's attention, but compel him or her to keep reading. The next section examines some of the many ways to write a successful hook.
  2. Set the tone for the essay. Tone refers to the mood or attitude conveyed through language, particularly through word choice and sentence structure. Your tone may be personal and informal, serious and formal, urgent, relaxed, grave, or humorous. In the Frankenstein example, the language is serious and formal, and it fits the serious subject (supporting examples in the essay include discussions of atomic weapons and cloning).
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