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Writing Excellent Introductions

written by: Brian D. Taylor • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 1/20/2012

Trying to write a great introduction that will both hook your reader and introduce all your essential points? These tips should help!

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    Staring at the computer screen again? Can't think of what to write? Are you stuck on that dreaded introduction?

    Introductory paragraphs are often the most infuriating and difficult part of the essay. How can you introduce your topic if you haven't written anything about it? One method that works for many students is to begin with the body of the essay, then come back to write the introduction after you have written the rest of the article.

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    Grab the Reader's Attention with a Grabber

    Your first goal should be to make the reader excited about reading your essay. You need a 'grabber.' Grabbers do exactly what it sounds like they do; they grab the reader's attention. The grabber should be the very first thing the reader sees. These can be anywhere from one to five sentences. If you go beyond five sentences, though, you are risking a very lengthy and wordy introduction. It's always best to keep a grabber short and sweet.

    The nice thing about beginning with a grabber is that there are many different types. Some of the most common are:

    Quotes - People love inspiration from celebrities, classical authors and poets, world leaders, philosophers, and other historical figures. If you begin with a quote, make sure you are using one that fits your topic. Do not use a quote simply for quotation's sake. You may also need to give a short explanation of how your quote ties to the topic or why the quote is important. Finally, be sure to name the person who said or wrote the words you are using. If you fail to do this, you are plagiarizing.

    Anecdotes - An anecdote is simply a short story. It can be humorous or serious, but limit your story to only a few sentences.

    Thought Provoking Questions - Try asking one of those universal questions, something very deep. Think of a question that other people are curious about.

    Interesting Facts - These can be an excellent way to begin your essay because facts, numbers, and statistics fascinate the mind. Perhaps you've come across a startling statistic or a baffling number during your research. This may be a good place to use it.

    Analogies - Does your topic remind you of anything? Can you compare it to something that everyone can relate to? If you can connect your topic to something your audience is familiar with, you have created an analogy. Analogies can be a very effective way to get your point across. They work well as grabbers, too.

    Do make sure that your grabber fits with your topic. You may need to explain the connection, as it may not be immediately apparent. Finally, consider your audience and the tone of your essay when using a grabber. You should not make an analogy that your readers wouldn't understand. Likewise, you may not want to use a humorous anecdote for serious subject matter.

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    Background Information

    This is a very important section of the introductory paragraph and one that is often neglected or forgotten completely by student writers. You must not assume that the person reading your essay is an expert on your topic. You must provide sufficient background information to get them started.

    This part of the introduction is a simple overview of your topic. There is no need to get in too deep. Be sure to give just the right amount of information for a very basic understanding. This should be done in only a few sentences. If you are writing about literature, this would be a good place for a brief plot summary. Essays about historical figures may require a short biography. This is also a good place define any key terms for your essay.

    Some people recommend that students use this section to introduce the main points. If this method works best for you, then use it; however, you do risk unneeded repetition in your essay. Avoid repetition by providing background information instead.

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    Tie-ins and Transitions

    Sometimes an introduction may need an extra sentence that connects the background information to your thesis statement (the next section of the introduction). A tie-in or transition sentence does this job. Lead your reader into your main topic by explaining how it all fits together.

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    Your thesis statement is the main topic sentence for your essay. It answers the question, "What is your essay about?" All well written essays require a thesis statement.

    You may have noticed that the introduction paragraph does not begin with a topic sentence. Many of your teachers may have told you that every paragraph you ever write must begin with a topic sentence. This is not true with the introduction paragraph, though it does include a topic sentence. The only differences are that it comes at the end of the paragraph, it refers to your entire essay (not just the particular paragraph it appears in), and it has a special name. Many students make the mistake of beginning their essays with their thesis statement. Avoid this mistake. Your teachers hate to see it, it reflects poor writing, and it ruins the entire point of writing an introduction. The goal of your introduction is to lead the reader into your main topic. If you've started with it, you've blown it.

    When writing a thesis statement, it is always best to take a position. The rest of the essay will be your defense for your position. Taking a position makes your thesis very defined. You should also make sure your thesis says exactly what you mean to say. Before you write it down, try saying it out loud a few times to make sure it makes sense. Be direct and clear.

    Once you've written your thesis, you have completed a well-written, organized, and informative introductory paragraph. There's really not much to it. No more staring at a blank screen and no more wasted time and added stress.