Drafting Introductions

Your introduction paragraph has three purposes:

  1. to get your readers interested in your topic,
  2. to provide some background information, and
  3. to state your thesis.

Sometimes, it may take two or even three paragraphs in order to accomplish these three purposes, as you will notice in your reading. But for now, we will focus on single-paragraph introductions. Note that the thesis statement usually comes at the end of the introductory paragraph.

Some writers like to begin drafting by sketching a draft introduction to help them focus on their paper. Whether you choose to do this or not, it is a good idea to have your thesis written out when you draft your body paragraphs. Do not spend too much time writing your introduction before you have written your body paragraphs. In most cases, your introduction will be shaped by what you draft in your body paragraphs, so it is best to focus on them first.

When it does come time to work on your introduction, determine what background information, if any, would be helpful for your audience. Also, draft your thesis in your own words. Avoid sounding dull or formulaic, even if your thesis started out that way. And finally, you’ll want to find a way to draw your readers in. Below are some devices you can use to generate interest in your paper. For each device, a sample introductory paragraph is included, with the device highlighted in blue and the thesis statement underlined. The remaining part of each paragraph is background material.

Give a surprising fact or idea

By surprising your readers with a fact they may not be aware of, chances are good that they will want to read on to see what you have to say about it.

One day early in the next century, several people will land on Mars. They will put on spacesuits and leave their vehicle, bounding over red rocks under a pink sky. After this exhilarating day, seen on Earth by billions, they will move into a cluster of habitats already on site. They will spend a year living there making scientific studies, and then they will return to Earth. Another team will cycle in. Back at home we will start to take the base for granted. Nevertheless, something very big will have begun.

- Kim Stanley Robinson, “A Colony in the Sky”

Use an interesting example

A variation on using a surprising fact is by giving readers an interesting example or anecdote. A good example will intrigue readers and will generate interest in what else you have to say.

Mike Tyson was one of the most financially profitable fighters in history. He had his own tigers, an extravagent house, and was always seen wearing jewelry. But now, he is bankrupt. What happened to all of that money, Mr. Tyson? Where did it go? Chances are, Mike Tyson did not have a personal budget. A personal budget is a plan to control how much a person spends, saves, and invests. It is important to create a personal budget to ensure financial success.

Open with a story or description

Especially in narrative writing, an attention-getting opening story or rich description can draw your readers in to the world you are creating for them and prepare them for your main point.

I see the life that I could have had in the faces of my Iranian relatives. They are like ghosts of the life that my parents left behind when they moved to “Amrika,” haunting us with a vision of what our lives could have been. Their lives are not reality to me—I was born in the U.S., and it is the only reality I know. My overseas relatives say that I don’t even look Iranian anymore, as though it has faded out of me like the color from a pair of old jeans. I have even heard them compare my accent to that of an illiterate peasant’s daughter—they say I am “de-hauty.” I hear them innocently laughing at me when I say, “Salaam,” hello or “Quelly-mam-noon,” thank you. I smile politely or even laugh along: But in my heart, it makes me feel incomplete, as though a part of me is missing.

- Mona M. Maisami, “Born in Amrika”

Provide a quotation

A startling or exceptional quotation from a well-known person or an expert in the field you are writing about can both bolster your authority as a writer and grab readers’ attention. Be sure, however, that the quotation is clearly connected to your main idea.

According to political scientist Rob Reich, “Everyone now knows that home schooling has gone mainstream in the United States” (1). No longer limited to conservative religious groups, many families are choosing to homeschool for reasons other than disagreement with curriculum. Some say they homeschool because it affords them more time and flexibility for travel. Others see it as an extension of the “attachment parenting“ philosophy, in which parents try to form strong emotional bonds with their children by remaining close to them throughout childhood. Whatever their motivations, parents who choose to homeschool their children may actually be contributing to larger problems in their public schools and communities.

Ask a question

A provocative question in the introduction can serve as a hook to draw in readers who will be curious to hear the answer (which is generally given in the thesis statement and then elaborated on).

What’s so bad about social media? Every day, millions of people worldwide connect on spaces like Facebook and share news, humor, and friendship. Most sites offer tools to filter out offensive posts and provide users with plenty of privacy options. These sites are usually free, supported only by advertising revenue. But many users may not be aware of what is going on behind the scenes. Although social media offers many benefits including information sharing and entertainment, users need to understand the service’s potential pitfalls at school, work, and in their everyday lives.

Offer a strong opinion

A strong opinion can both capture readers’ interest and set the stage for a persuasive essay. In many cases the opinion and the thesis are one in the same.

McDonald’s is bad for your kids. I do not mean the flat patties and the white-flour buns; I refer to the jobs teen-agers undertake, mass-producing these choice items.

- Amitai Etzioni, “Working at McDonald’s”

The history of life on earth has been a history of interaction between living things and their surroundings. To a large extent, the physical form and the habits of the earth’s vegetation and its animal life have been molded by the environment. Considering the whole span of earthly time, the opposite effect, in which life actually modifies its surroundings, has been relatively slight. Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species—man—acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.

- Rachel Carson, “The Obligation to Endure“