Effective Introductions

Perhaps the most important paragraph of any essay is the introduction. Like a first impression you make when you meet someone for the first time, an introduction is the first impression you make on your readers when they first begin to read your piece. Consequently, you want to make a good first impression with your writing, and the best introductions are those which engage the reader's interest and provide a clear focus (thesis), letting the reader know what you will be exploring in the essay that follows.

Some of the most commonly used strategies for writing introductions include those listed below. Samples of #1 and #2 follow.

  1. Ask a question.
  2. Use an anecdote.
  3. Use a quotation.
  4. Use a startling remark or statistic.
  5. Challenge a widely held assumption or opinion.
  6. Define an important term or concept.
  7. Give background information.

Ask a Question

One effective technique for opening essays is to ask a question related to your essay topic in your introduction to draw your readers into your piece. It can be a direct question to the reader (such as "Have you ever. . . ?"); it can be a rhetorical questions (such as "What is the meaning of life? Many philosophers have tried to answer that question."); or it can be a question related to your essay topic that you will answer in the essay (such as "Are Intelligence Tests (IQ) fair? I believe they are not. . . "). Analyze the following introduction which uses a question to engage the readers:

I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am a Wife. And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother. Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife. He is obviously looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I, too, would like to have a wife. Why do I want a wife? (Taken from "I Want a Wife" by Judy Syfers).

The Anecdote

Using an anecdote (a narrative or story) to begin your essay is a powerful way of engaging your readers' interest in your essay. Essentially you are telling a brief story related to your topic as a device to grab your readers' attention. Notice how engaging the following introduction is from Linda Bird Francke's essay "The Ambivalence of Abortion":

We were sitting in a bar on Lexington Avenue when I told my husband I was pregnant. It is not a memory I like to dwell on. Instead of the champagne and hope which had heralded the impending births of the first, second and third child, the news of this one was greeted with shocked silence and Scotch. "Jesus," my husband kept saying to himself, stirring the ice cubes around and around. "Oh Jesus."

You might find these additional resources helpful:

  1. Introductory Paragraphs from the Guide to Grammar and Writing
  2. The Introductory Paragraph, a PDF file from IUPUI University Writing Center

What else?

While your introductory paragraph is important, obviously, your essay needs more paragraphs than just the one or two that open your essay. What else must you have?

  • Well-developed body paragraphs that clearly support your thesis and add critical and important information about your essay topic. (Check out this paragraph resource link from our friends at the Purdue Online Writing Lab for more information about paragraphs.)
  • A thoughtful, reflective conclusion. Please do not begin this paragraph with "In conclusion." You shouldn't need to announce that your conclusion has arrived; it should be quite obvious to your readers that you have arrived at the end of your essay. Also avoid simply repeating what you have already said. We've read your essay; we know what you said.