- 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…”
Sample Scored Essay: 5
Question: Music often plays an important role in our lives no matter whether our tastes are classical, country, jazz, rock, or rhythm 'n blues. This music may merely be in the background when we drive or study, provide a refuge from our problems, offer a trigger for our memories, or be an integral part of our lives, memories, and culture. Write an essay of approximately two pages in which you explain the role that music plays or has played in your life.
Score: 5 (Untitled)
Everyone knows that music can set the mood in various settings. Music also has the power to help in studying for some, and even sleeping, or both for people like me. Music plays a bit of a bigger role for me, it was one of the main factors that helped me get through a tough situation about two years ago. Music is probably one of the most influential things throughout my life.
Music helped me through my high school years and is still helping me in college. I have ADHD, and if I’m studying in a room with silence, I have to do something to stir things up a bit. I’ve found that I don’t like taking medication for this problem, and listening to music helps take my mind off of everything else.
Another way that music helps me through life is it helps me sleep better. For some reason, if I have something playing in the background, I can fall asleep in about ten minutes. There is some scientific reasoning behind this; scientists have found that rock music makes you mentally tired. Unfortunately, if you would have music playing all night, most people would not go into the NREM sleep cycle, or deep sleep. Fortunately for me, Apple has my back by making the iPhone, which turns off after a designated time, helping me fall asleep and reach the deep sleep cycle.
Also, music has helped me through some rough times. I hit rock bottom about two years ago. I reached the most amount of debt in my life. I worked a job I hated and my girlfriend left me after being together for about five years. To me, it didn’t seem like anyone around me knew what I was going through. I kept having the same old crap about how it was going to get better. That’s when I started listening to the lyrics to some of my favorite songs. Before, I more or less listened to the catchy beat and the chorus. I became less self-centered when I found that a lot of people went through this, and in most cases, it was a lot worse.
Sometimes music can bring up memories, some happy, some sad. When I hear “Bad Moon Rising” by Credence Clearwater Revival, I remember the drives I went on with my dad to some land we own. I always remember the vivid fall colors out on the farm as we would go scout for deer. Music can also bring up tough times in my life. A lot of the songs I listened to when I had a “rough spot” in my life I can’t listen to anymore. Almost every time I hear one of those songs, I go right back to how I felt at that moment.
Even though there are some negative aspects of music, I believe the good far surpasses the bad. Without music, this world would be a horribly dull place. Music stands to be one of the most significant things in my life. I’m not sure where I would be without it; with the way that I was thinking, I probably wouldn’t be alive today.
Strengths: Like the “ essay, this essay is adequately focused and organized. In the introduction, the writer presents the points of the “case” he will make for the importance of music in his life, and he follows the same order of those points in the body that follows, with a separate paragraph for each point. (This is not to imply that such introductions are always the best way to begin, of course. Writers often state the thesis at the end of the introduction, and appropriately so, because this is a position of emphasis, and the thesis should be clear, but writers can do more in this paragraph than simply state the ideas they will develop below. For suggestions about writing introductions, click here.) Development is better in this essay than in the one scored “ When explaining how music helps him get to sleep, for example, the writer refers specifically to the NREM sleep cycle and to his use of the iPhone, details that are informative in themselves and improve the writer’s credibility (and thus, his argument), since we trust that this writer has actually experienced what he is talking about; he isn’t speaking in generalities that everybody already knows. And when he discusses how music can trigger memories, he includes a concrete example, explaining that listening to Credence Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” triggers memories of the drives he took with his father. He begins each section in a way that achieves coherence (“Another way that music helps me . . .” and “Also, music has helped me . . .”), and he varies the patterns of his sentences to good effect (“Even though there are some negative aspects of music, I believe the good far surpasses the bad.”). He uses signal words effectively (e.g., “Unfortunately,” “Before,”). There are few, if any, errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and the style is highly competent. In summary, the essay is competent in terms of focus, organization, development, style, and correctness. Compared to the essay scored “ this essay is better in terms of development, style, and correctness. It received a “
Weaknesses: Development could be improved. For example, after stating that listening to music helps him study, the writer might have given an example of the music that helps him study or possibly refer to a specific time he studied while listening to music. Discussing how listening to music helped him recover from the pain of breaking up, he might have given an example of one of this “favorite songs” that helped him realize he was not alone in this experience. It is not possible to go into great detail about every point, of course, but good writing achieves an effective balance between generalizations that present ideas and specific details that back them up. The details make for vivid and interesting writing. In deciding which points to bring up, writers should also consider whether they have enough to say about them—in terms of specific detail—to fill a complete paragraph.
Method | Criteria | Scale | Sample graded papers