Strategies for Writing Introductions

Introductions act as a funnel; in other words, they move from relevant, general information regarding your subject to the specific, often culminating in a thesis statement, which usually occurs in the last sentence of the introduction.  Introductions will usually…

Define the topic—the issue, question, or problem—you are writing about 

Offer the thesis, or argument, the essay will develop

Engage and interest your readers

Articulate why the topic matters

Establish your authority and credibility as a writer

Specific Strategies for Writing Effective Introductions:

Here are several ideas you should try and incorporate into your paper’s introduction.

Challenge a commonly held view : A good way to open your essay is to challenge a commonly held view.  Why these challenges to common sense work so well is that they are unexpected and immediately interest and engage your reader.  Also, challenging a commonly held notion indicates the presence of contention and controversy, in other words, a gray area ripe for argumentation or analysis.

If you were writing an essay on a Democratic candidate, for example, you could state the ways that he or she resembles a Republican in their economic ideals.  Say you were writing an argumentative paper concerning the decrepit condition of the Carbondale Strip.  One way to write an effective introduction would be to cite the “Governor’s Best Small Town Award” Carbondale recently received and contrast this idea to the actual conditions in the town.   

Begin with a definition: Using “the Strip” essay as an example, a writer could probably include another effective introductory strategy, defining the criteria for “The Governor’s Best Small Town Award” and contrast those criteria to the actual conditions of the Strip.  Beginning with a definition is a reliable way to introduce a topic, so long as that definition has some significance for the discussion to follow.  If the definition doesn’t do any conceptual work in the introduction, the definition strategy becomes a pointless cliché.  For example, “Bowling is a game where people roll a ball and knock over bowling pins.” 

Lead-in with Your Second Best Example: Another versatile opening strategy is to use your second best example to set up the issue or question that you later develop in depth with your best example.  As you are assembling examples and evidence to illustrate your thesis, in many cases you will accumulate a number of examples that illustrate the same basic point.  For example, several battles might illustrate a particular general’s military strategy; several primaries might exemplify how a particular candidate tailors his or her speeches to appeal to the single mothers; several scenes might show how a particular playwright romanticizes the working class, and so on.

Save the best example to receive the most argumentative attention in your paper.  If you were to present this same example in your introduction, you run the risk of seeming repetitive.  A quick close-up of another example in your introduction will strengthen your argument or interpretation.  By using a different example to raise the issues, you suggest that the phenomenon exemplified is not an isolated case and that the major example you will eventually concentrate upon is indeed representative.

Exemplify the Topic with a Narrative: One more opening strategy common to the humanities and social sciences is the narrative opening.  The narrative introduces a short, pertinent, and vivid story or anecdote that exemplifies a key aspect of your topic.  Although generally not permissible in formal, scientific reports, narrative openings are common across the curriculum in virtually all other kinds of writing.  As this type of introduction funnels down to a thesis, the readers have a graphic sense of the issue the writer will now develop non-narratively.  Such non-narrative treatments in the body of your essay are necessary; for, by itself, anecdotal evidence can be seen by a reader as weak evidence.  Storytelling is suggestive but can never constitute proof; narrative introductions need to be supported with evidence in the body of your essay.

Other Strategies:  The following examples are shortened versions of fully developed introductions.  They should, however, give you an idea on how they work.

Begin with a Controversial Statement:  Some individuals swear that student athletes are lazy, rude and dumb, while others insist that they are enthusiastic, polite and intelligent.  Regardless of these perceptions, higher education standards should be implemented throughout American universities to ensure student athletes learn while they are away at college.

An Element of Surprise:  That cute, hairy monkey nibbling on a banana is what some scientists believe to be the culprit of the AIDS epidemic that has taken, and will continue to take, countless lives throughout the world.

Contradiction & Use of Statistics:  According to the Phillip Morris Corporation, “nicotine is an addictive substance to zero percent of the population” (Avery 35).  Independent scientists and the Surgeon General report that at least “one out of four Americans are addicted to various tobacco products” (Gator 169).

Authoritative Statement:  Having smoked for fifteen years, Walter Jennings is qualified to discuss the addictive qualities of nicotine.

Use of a Quotation:  Shakespeare’s MacBeth once lamented, “Life is a tale told by an idiot.”  Recent developments in the power outages in New York seem to make our country’s decision to deregulate public utilities no exception to Shakespeare’s pessimism.  .      

Reference to a Current Event:  Since the assault of a woman by two men at the Mall, public safety has once again resurfaced in Carbondale, Illinois.

Figure of Speech:  Becoming a new CCHS student resembles a pilot taking on a new airplane; both are capable, but both are unfamiliar with the territory.