Writing a Strong Introduction Study Guide

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Updated on Oct 1, 2011

Writing a Strong Introduction

Of all those arts in which the wise excel, Nature's chief masterpiece is writing well. - JOHN SHEFFIELD, DUKE OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE (1648–1721) BRITISH STATESMAN AND POET

Learn to begin your essay with a strong introduction, and you're halfway to victory. This lesson provides advice and tips on how to create powerful introductory paragraphs.

Whether you're writing a five-paragraph essay, a research report, an entry on Facebook, a contest entry, or a Valentine message to your secret crush, you want to make a good impression. In previous lessons, you learned how to construct an outline, a paragraph, and even a whole essay. In this lesson, we'll look at ways to give your introductory paragraphs the punch you want them to have.

The Introduction

Opinions differ as to which part of an essay constitutes the introduction. For some, it is the first sentence of the first paragraph. And of course if you are writing a whole book, you might include an introduction of as few as five or as many as twenty pages, depending on your subject. What's most important is to write an introduction that is in proportion to the whole of the essay. For an essay of three to five pages, an introduction of anywhere from one to three paragraphs is probably appropriate. To simplify our discussion here, we'll consider the first paragraph of your essay the introduction. That said, it's usually the first sentence of the first paragraph that is all-important in setting the tone of your writing project.

What A Good Introduction Should Accomplish

Your goals in writing the introduction to your essay are similar to your goals for the whole essay. In general, you want to interest the reader and make a convincing argument for your point of view. Specifically though, the introduction has some particular goals. Here are goals for you to seek in writing an introduction to any piece of writing:

1. Grab the reader's attention.
2. State your thesis clearly and concisely.
3. Provide any necessary background information.
4. Establish an appropriate tone and level of formality of the essay

Seven Strategies For Writing An Effective Introduction

There is no right way to write an introduction. As long as you have met these four criteria, you are more or less free to be creative and imaginative in constructing your introduction. Do pay special attention to the fourth criterion. You need to match your tone to your subject carefully.

For example, if you are writing about a very serious subject (such as global warming), you probably will want to write in formal language, which may be still be personal, but probably shouldn't be full of jokes and slang. On the other hand, if you are writing about your first day at school, you may adopt a very informal tone that includes a good amount of humor.

Here are seven strategies or techniques you might want to choose from to grab your reader's attention.

1. Begin with a shocking statement. The writer in the previous lesson planning an essay about global warming that focused on polar bears might open the essay with a shock like this:
In 50 years, there will be no more polar bears on the planet.
2. Ask a startling question.
Are you willing to watch a polar bear die of starvation?
Note that this question combines two strategies: It provides a challenge to the reader and simultaneously shocks with its implicit suggestion that starving polar bears might exist. This is a stronger opening sentence than one that asks, "Is global warming harming polar bears?" That is a perfectly legitimate opening question, but not a particularly strong one.
3. Quote an authority on your subject.
"In a shrinking ice environment, the ability of polar bears to find food, to reproduce, and to survive will all be reduced," said Scott Schliebe, Alaskan polar bear project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Finding a quotation strong enough to serve as your introductory statement can be difficult, but it may be worth the hunt. If you haven't found a good quotation in print, consider doing some telephone interviewing; you may find someone who will give you the kind of quotation you're looking for.
4. Describe an imaginary scenario.
Think of what the world would be like if there were no more polar bears, no more ice pack, no more Arctic Circle at all.
Be careful when you construct an imaginary scenario; you have to create a believable, if extreme, situation, or your reader will dismiss you immediately as an illogical thinker about to make a ridiculous argument.
5. Begin with an anecdote, personal or not.
Research scientists in the Canadian Wildlife Service are reporting dramatic declines in the polar bear population. Eyewitness accounts by field workers describe the bears as growing visibly skinnier because they can't find enough food.
It takes a bit longer to begin with an anecdote, but they can be very vivid. Newspaper and magazine writers frequently use this strategy to set the scene for the article that is to follow.
6. Set the scene with interesting background information.
Global warming may be a difficult subject for the individual to grasp, but field workers in the Canadian Wildlife Service are finding the global problem reduced to a very local level as they conduct their annual demographic count of polar bears in the western coastal area of Manitoba.
This opening statement introduces the general subject of global warming, but quickly brings it to the local level to make the subject more easily grasped by the casual reader.
7. Adapt a familiar quotation or phrase to your subject matter.
To be concerned about global warming, or not: That is the question facing every person in the world right now, and it's probably the single most important question we face.
This twist on Hamlet's famous speech about the moral choices he faces is a dramatic use of a famous quotation. By using it, the writer assumes that the reader will recognize the quotation, and associate the seriousness of the problem about to be discussed in the essay with the difficult choices Hamlet faces. Finding the right quotation or phrase to suit your subject matter can be tricky, but the search can be fun.

Consider what sort of essays you might introduce with other famous quotations such as these:

  • Beam me up, Scotty.
  • It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
  • Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  • It was a dark and stormy night . . .
  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .
  • Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
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