- A good introductory paragraph 1. gets your reader’s attention, 2. introduces your topic, and 3. presents your stance on the topic (thesis).
Right after your title is the introductory paragraph. Like an appetizer for a meal, the introductory paragraph sets up the reader’s palate and gives him a foretaste of what is to come. You want start your paper on a positive note by putting forth the best writing possible.
Like writing the title, you can wait to write your introductory paragraph until you are done with the body of the paper. Some people prefer to do it this way since they want to know exactly where their paper goes before they make an introduction to it. When you write your introductory paragraph is a matter of personal preference.
Your introductory paragraph needs to accomplish three main things: it must 1. grip your reader, 2. introduce your topic, and 3. present your stance on the topic (in the form of your thesis statement). If you’re writing a large academic paper, you’ll also want to contextualize your paper’s claim by discussing points other writers have made on the topic.
There are a variety of ways this can be achieved. Some writers find it useful to put a quote at the beginning of the introductory paragraph. This is often an effective way of getting the attention of your reader:
“Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives…”
Hmm. Interesting…Tell me more. This introduction has set off the paper with an interesting quote and makes the reader want to continue reading. How has Jefferson’s public life differed from his private life? Notice how this introduction also helps frame the paper. Now the reader expects to learn about the duality of Thomas Jefferson’s life.
Another common method of opening a paper is to provide a startling statistic or fact. This approach is most useful in essays that relate to current issues, rather than English or scientific essays.
“The fact that one in every five teenagers between the ages of thirteen and fifteen smokes calls into question the efficacy of laws prohibiting advertising cigarettes to children…”
The reader is given an interesting statistic to chew on (the fact that so many children smoke) while you set up your paper. Now your reader is expecting to read an essay on cigarette advertising laws.
When writing English papers, introducing your topic includes introducing your author and the aspect of the text that you’ll be analyzing.
“Love is a widely felt emotion. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas uses the universality of love to develop a connection with his reader…”
Here, the reader is introduced to the piece of text that will be analyzed, the author, and the essay topic. Nice.
The previous sample introduction contains a general sentence at the beginning that bring up a very broad topic: love. From there, the introductory paragraph whittles down to something more specific:
how Dumas uses love in his novel to develop a connection with the reader. You’d expect this paragraph to march right on down to the thesis statement,
which belongs at the end of the introductory paragraph. Good introductory paragraphs often have this ‘funnel’ sort of format–going from something broad (such as love) to something more specific until the thesis is presented.
Try to avoid the some of the more hackneyed openers:
- “Have you ever wondered why…”
- “Webster’s dictionary defines…”
- “X is a very important issue facing America today…”
Beginning an essay with a famous or eloquent quotation is a common practice and one that business school candidates can use to capture a reader’s attention. For example, an applicant might use a quotation as the very first line of his or her essay:
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelt’s words are as true today as when he spoke them. The essence of a manager is…
Another option is to embed the quotation within the first line of the essay, as follows:
As Peter F. Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” I have found the distinction between management and leadership especially important…
There is really only one rule about using quotations: do not overdo it! One grand quotation per application (not per essay!) is plenty and is certainly not mandatory. When deciding whether to include a quotation in an essay, consider the following:
• Does the quotation fit the essay’s main theme?
• Does the quotation reflect who you are or what you believe?
• Does the quotation enhance the essay?
If the answers to these questions are all “yes,” then making the quotation a part of your narrative might be a good idea.
For more advice on how to write your essays, check out our Essay Writing Guide and Optional Essays Guide, which present clear and easy-to-understand instructions for creating time-saving (and stress-reducing) outlines and for crafting comprehensive, engaging and effective essays.