How to Write an Introduction Paragraph for an Essay

Essay paper writing

Academic writing

325

What is an Introduction Paragraph?

It is the first paragraph of your essay. Its task is to introduce your topic to your reader and to logically bring him to your key statement, which should be the end of your introduction paragraph. The above statement is the answer to the question: what is the purpose of the introduction in an essay, and gives you a general idea how to write it.

As this purpose is very specific, you should be very specific in your writing, too. It would be otiose to expatiate in your introduction. Just present your viewpoint on this particular matter, and make sure your introduction works:

  • It captures your reader’s attention and convinces him to read further with due interest.
  • It demonstrates your knowledge of the subject matter.
  • It shows your dedication and your interest in the agenda.
  • It proves your ability to think independently and to wield a skillful pen.

The importance of the introductory paragraph for the overall success of an essay could hardly be overestimated. Even fairly good and meaningful main body paragraphs beneath could fail to deliver your message and to support your thesis statement in case your introduction paragraph falls flat. Be sure that there are many ways to send your essay, whatever good it might be, straight down the tubes, and the wrong introduction is just one of the handiest ways of doing so.

Essay Introduction Structure

Your essay introduction structure is an important tool to make your essay work properly. Structure your thoughts first, make sure they go from one conceptual block to another, and this is how to write a good introduction for an essay.

Block 1: The Hook, or Attention Grabber

This is the part meant to catch your reader’s attention. Further, we shall consider how to reach this goal with a startling fact, a joke, a dialogue, summary info, or with an appropriate quote. We shall also pay attention to the important issue of attention-droppers and how to avoid them in the first block of your introduction.

Block 2: The Connections

You need to generally outline what you are going to talk about, gradually getting more specific as you approach the thesis statement (Block 3). You could list your main points, or proceed with a set of questions narrowing your agenda and leading straight to the thesis statement. ‘Who, what, where, and when’ is a good line to connect your Hook with your Thesis.

The blocks 1-3 represent the optimal essay introduction format. However, sometimes it can be quite difficult to follow it. Not knowing how to write a good introduction for an essay, but having heard that introductions should be broad, some people go, in fact, too broad and fail to establish the connections between the Hook and the Thesis.

Too broad intro can give your reader a misleading clue, confusing him about where you are going to take him with your narration and what to expect from it. Good advice about how to write an introduction for an essay is to begin relatively broad and then to narrow your writing straight to your thesis statement. Hold this line and don’t go off-topic - this will help you to stay within the essay introduction format guidelines.

When you write your Connection block, you could often be tempted to include more arguments or analysis. Don’t do that. Your intro is supposed to take your reader to your thesis statement, and not to support it before it is even formulated.

Also try to avoid such phrases as “In this essay, I am going to tell/prove/explain...” in this block of your intro. On top of being elements of a wrong style, such phrases have nothing to do with connecting your Hook with your Thesis.

Block 3: The Thesis Statement

It is one sentence, focused and specific, which works as a cornerstone of your introduction and a pivot pin for the entire essay. A typical mistake is to miss it in the introduction, or to cut it into smaller pieces scattered here and there in the main body of your writing.

When your essay is finished, come back to the thesis statement and rethink it. It could happen that your main body took you a bit away from the Thesis. Then re-formulate it, or rewrite the main body. Just make sure that logical connections still work.

How to Write an Essay Introduction - The First Sentence

Everything can go wrong from the very beginning. In fact, from the first very sentence. The first sentence of your intro is meant to grab the reader’s attention and to give him a general idea about the general focus of your work. Strangely enough, but many good students or just people who can write almost perfect, in-depth studies and high-quality essays, do exactly the opposite thing. They start their written work with dull, boring or meaningless statements.

This happens too often. Perhaps, the reason is that they must have learned that a reader should be ‘eased into the topic’ and that it is better to deliver the material in small portions, slowly but gradually preparing the ground for the main body of writing to further present a comprehensive drill-down on the subject matter. Hardly the people who still believe in this kind of nonsense would write a good introduction.

Let us consider some examples of how to start an essay introduction, and how not to. Imagine a task of writing an essay about environmental problems of a certain region, call it N. What kind of dull and boring attention-droppers, instead of useful attention-grabbers, you could see in the first sentence?

“Environmental problems raise public alertness…” (really?)

“Environment is important...” (yawn)

“Environmental agenda comes into focus... “ (does it?)

Some other writers preferring to take the bull by the horns would probably start their introduction paragraph with something like:

“Environmental situation in the region of N…” (better, but too straightforward)

What is the missing point here? The attention of your reader. It is your most valuable resource, so you should handle it properly. First, grab it. Here some ideas and workable tips about the attention grabbers:

Startling info

The information or fact you provide in your first sentence can be startling for your reader. This fact does not need to be a revelation, or something totally new. It can be just a pertinent fact, perhaps, little known but true and verifiable, and explicitly illustrating the further narration.

It is advisable not to hang this startling info up. Instead, it is better to follow it up immediately with a sentence or two of elaboration. Here is an example:

“The people of N region never knew that the tap water they used contained small amounts of dioxins...” - just a good a startling opening.

“But that was exactly what recent researches revealed when the scientists of...” - elaboration.

Anecdote

A short and funny story to illustrate your point can be a perfect attention-grabber when it is relevant, short, and well-placed. Use this kind of openings very carefully and with a good taste, bearing in mind that the story you want to use is indeed appropriate.

“There is an old local joke about a cowboy who took his horse to the river - could well be, not far from N settlement...”

Dialogue

Another good opening is a short appropriate dialogue. There is no need to identify the speakers because what they speak about is more important. To make your point, it is enough to use only two or three exchanges between the speakers. After that, elaborate the point further with one or two sentences.

“Why do they mess around water supply dam all day long?”

“I heard they suspect that the water is contaminated!”

Such or similar dialogues of alarmed dwellers of N town have been heard here and there…”

Summary info

Be careful with these few sentences meant to explain your topic - as mentioned before, your reader may not need them. Trying to gently take him to your thesis, you risk to end up with the attention-dropper in the intro before you reach your key statement.

You could begin with:

“Water supply of N neighborhood had been considered reliable and safe since the dam was built in...”;

and end with:

“As the dioxins can travel a long distance with underground waters, there is a need to reconsider environmental threats...”

A Quote

Sometimes it is a good idea to start your essay with an appropriate quote. In some cases, it can even be a quote from a piece of classic literature or poetry, but you should be careful with it as it might lead your narration too far from the matter in the very beginning, and you would need to further explain how exactly this quote relates to your agenda. Sometimes, an appropriate historic quote from an old newspaper or magazine could be very suitable:

“As stated in the article published in “N tribune” in 1899, water supply…”

This quote clearly shows your interest in the topic and your creative approach to this particular study.

How Long Should an Essay Introduction be?

A classical 5-paragraph essay scheme is one paragraph for Introduction, three paragraphs for the Main Body, and one paragraph for the Conclusion, 5-7 sentences in every paragraph. This structure gives you an idea that your intro is about ⅕ of your entire essay. But it is just a general idea and not a strict rule to obey. Besides, the length of your introduction largely depends on the overall length of your writing: the longer the essay, the shorter (relatively) the intro. For example, for a five-page essay, your introduction should be about half of the page, i.e. about 1/10. But a 30-pages article may require a 2-pages introduction (about 1/20 or so).

Introductions for Specific Types of Essays

General considerations and recommendations given above still apply for specific types of essays. However, there are small differences to take into account.

Argumentative Essay Introduction

Which statement best describes the introduction of an argumentative essay? A good introduction for an argumentative essay can be analogous to a strong opening statement a lawyer makes in a court during a trial. The issue is presented with the background and main argument highlighted in a clear and logical way. Then you can litigate.

In addition to the guidelines about your first sentence we gave you above, please note that the Hook for argumentative essay introduction paragraph can also be an interesting question, a personal story, or a surprising/important statistics. This will give your reader a clear indication of what you are going to argue about.

“There are 30,000 people in N neighborhood getting their tap water from...”

The Connection section of your argumentative essay - the one that should connect your Hook with your Thesis Statement - has an additional task to provide your reader with some important background. Usually, it is a brief explanation of the context or the history that gives your reader a better idea about your opinion.

The Thesis of your argumentative essay asserts your position on a particular issue. That is why this kind of essays is called argumentative - your thesis is not a fact, it is an opinion. Your reader may disagree with you, so you should explain your standpoint and provide the necessary evidence.

“Dangerous contaminants could travel long distances with underground water...” is not a thesis statement for an argumentative essay. Instead, you should look for something like:

“The N community urgently needs measures on alternative water supply...”

Actually, opinion-centered Thesis requires the relevant Hook and Connection blocks. This explains the specifics of how to write an introduction for an argumentative essay.

Persuasive Essay Introduction

In essay writing, ‘persuasive’ is another name of ‘argumentative’. If you are interested in how to write a persuasive introduction paragraph, just write an argumentative or find an additional information on the site.

Compare and Contrast Essay Introduction

In this type of essay, you will be supposed to feature similarities and differences. But first, you need to explain why it is important to perform this particular comparison and what to expect from it - this is exactly what you need your introduction for.

Do not compare and contrast in your intro. Leave it for the main body of your writing. Rather concentrate on why you think this kind of comparison is needed, and possibly what the comparison criteria you choose are.

The standard sequence Hook-Connection-Thesis still works for the structure. But if, for example, you compare ‘now’ and ‘then’ things, don’t start with the statistics. It is not your hook, it is your main body. Try to use other hooks - some interesting facts and figures, or an appropriate historic quote.

Narrative Essay Introduction

Write the introductory paragraph of your narrative essay bearing in mind that you are going to tell a story, but not in the introduction. Here, the Hook-Connection-Thesis structure still applies, though maybe not that evidently. You may use all kinds of hooks in your narrative essay introduction, being limited only with the style requirements. Just don’t start telling your story in the intro. Rather introduce it to the reader, and leave your story for the main body of your narrative essay.

The same relates to the details. A narrative essay is built on, from, and around the details. But don’t give them in your intro. Leave them for your main body.

Begin with grabbing your reader’s attention. Use a little-known fact or a historic quote, a dialogue or a joke. Then give some interesting background and logically take him to your thesis statement. The Thesis is somewhat tricky in narrative essays as you don’t have, at least directly, to argue, to compare, to judge or to defend a notion. But a generalization about why this story is important or maybe cautionary will perfectly do. Do it in one sentence. Depending on the specifics of your tasks, this Thesis sentence can be emotionally loaded:

“The creepy story of dioxins getting into water supply pipes of N is still horripilating...”

When to Write an Introduction for an Essay?

introduction paragraph

You are not obliged to start your writing from the introduction. Sometimes it is better to finish the entire body of your essay together with the conclusion, and only then to come back to the introduction as this would be the moment when you know exactly what you are going to introduce. Many writers work this way. Other writers would do exactly the opposite: they write the introduction first and then go ahead, following along with it for reference all the time - perhaps they know they could lose the pivot pin of the essay, carried away with their own writing.

You could try both ways, or even a combined one: write your introduction, then write the remaining part, then change the thesis statement and re-write the introduction, then come back to the main body with the necessary new amendments and fix the conclusion accordingly - just make sure you are not lost going round in a circle with all these iterations. But don’t get disappointed even if you find that the latter case is yours. Such situations are also useful: you won’t ask the question “what is an introduction in an essay” anymore. You will have drawn a lesson, or maybe even a valuable insight, and your next essays are going to come from under your pen much easier.

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