- 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…”
Behind the Stylepunctuationusing sources
Ellipsis at the Beginning of a QuotationBy Michael Kandel
You have more than one way to indicate that your quotation does not begin at the start of the sentence you are quoting. I can think of three.
Suppose the full sentence from which your quotation is taken is from Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones:
My reader may please to remember he hath been informed that Jenny Jones had lived some years with a certain schoolmaster, who had, at her earnest desire, instructed her in Latin, in which, to do justice to her genius, she had so improved herself, that she was become a better scholar than her master.
In your essay:
Fielding’s Jenny Jones “lived some years with a certain schoolmaster, who had, at her earnest desire, instructed her in Latin.”
Because “lived,” the first word of your quotation, is lowercased, it is evident that Fielding’s sentence does not begin with it. Ellipsis is not needed.
In your essay:
Fielding tells us, “[A] certain schoolmaster . . . at her earnest desire, instructed [Jenny Jones] in Latin, in which, to do justice to her genius, she had so improved herself, that she was become a better scholar than her master.”
The square brackets around the capitalized indefinite article make it clear that in the original text “a” is lowercased and that therefore the sentence does not begin with it.
In your essay:
Fielding tells us, “. . . Jenny Jones had lived some years with a certain schoolmaster, who had, at her earnest desire, instructed her in Latin.”
The ellipsis indicates that “Jenny,” although capitalized, does not begin Fielding’s sentence. Here ellipsis is needed.
Fielding, Henry. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Bartleby.com, 2001, www.bartleby.com/ebook/adobe/301.pdf.
Published 19 September 2017
Michael Kandel has been editing at the MLA for twenty-one years. He also translated several Polish writers, among them Stanisław Lem, Andrzej Stasiuk, Marek Huberath, and Paweł Huelle, and edited, for Harcourt Brace, several American writers, among them Jonathan Lethem, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Morrow, and Patricia Anthony.