You're staring at the blank screen. No thoughts are flowing. Absolutely nothing. How in the world are you going to begin your essay?
The introduction paragraph is one of the most important sections of a college essay. In fact, this one, brief paragraph does a lot of work that contributes to the entirety of your writing.
It helps to capture your reader's attention and convince them to continue reading. It's where you provide clear direction, and let your reader know where you're taking them. And it's also where you state a clear thesis and purpose for your writing.
We know... it's asking a lot. But trust us, it can be done.
We've put together a list of answers for the most common questions around writing an introductory paragraph.
What information needs to be included in my introductory paragraph?
Your introduction should contain three main parts:
- A hook—an opening line to grab your reader's attention. Creative, informative, and sometimes amusing, this sentence sets the tone for your essay. You might have to revise this line several times throughout the revision process to get just the exact wording you need.
- Context—some explanation and information about the topic. Introduce your main idea definition. People need to know what you're talking about.
- Thesis statement—the main argument that guides the rest of the essay. This is the critical line that announces what you're trying to claim and how you plan to support your opinion.
How do I hook the reader?
Writing the opening line is one of the toughest things to do in an essay. You need something informative enough to introduce your main idea, yet entertaining enough to make someone want to keep reading.
These are a few tactics that work well:
- Spark curiosity.
More lifeforms are living on your skin than people living on this planet. I'm interested... tell me more.
- Use humor.
Some days I amaze myself; other days I trip walking up the stairs. Ha! I've been there.
- Ask a question.
If people don't start trying to protect the environment, what will happen to the Earth? What will happen? I need to know.
- Provide a quote.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead so eloquently stated. Wow! That lady is inspirational. Let's hear more.
- Tell an anecdote.
Walking out of school that rainy afternoon, I never imagined this would be the last time I'd ever see my best friend. Oh my goodness! What happened to your friend?
What should I avoid?
As important as it is to make sure you include all the crucial parts of the introduction paragraph, it is equally important to leave out all of the unnecessary words and phrases that will turn off your reader right from the start. So what should you avoid?
- Avoid clichés. Clichés are overused and have no power. Use your own words that carry a more powerful meaning (and a more unique voice.)
You know what they say, "A penny saved is a penny earned." Ugh. I think my great-great-great grandpa used to say that.
- Beware of definitions. Unless a definition truly sparks a reader's interest or is desperately needed, leave it out. It's redundant if most people already are familiar with the definition. Webster's Dictionary defines school as "an organization that provides instruction." Um...duh?
- Don't be too vague. You have just a few short sentences to get your main ideas introduced. Make every word count. Everyone loves dogs. Yep. We do. But so what?
- Don't be too specific. You don't want to overwhelm your reader with every little detail. You will have time to get into specifics in the body of your essay.
The four times I have seen people choose not recycle in my neighborhood, which is one of the factors contributing to the two-degree rise of the earth's temperature, include last Friday, two Wednesdays ago, the Thursday before my birthday, and yesterday night. I'm sorry; you lost me there. I stopped reading.
How long should my introduction be?
While you don't want to drone on and on in an introduction paragraph, this is your chance to set the tone for your paper, inspire interest in your topic, and share your opinion. You need to have substance without a lot of unnecessary extras.
Most introductions should be about three to five sentences long. And you should aim for a word count between 50-80 words.
You don't need to say everything in that first paragraph. You just need enough in those few sentences to give the reader a clear idea of where you're going with your essay and to inspire them to keep reading.
Making the first impression is essential in face-to-face interactions, but also in your writing. Your introduction is the first thing your audience will be reading, and you want it to inspire them to read on. Keep it concise, interesting, and informative, and it will set the rest of your essay up for success.