The introduction is begins your paper by announcing the main point (also called a thesis). It "hooks" the reader by making them feel interested in the topic, giving background information, letting them know why that topic is important, and often telling them the writer's stance on the issue. The reader then knows what to expect from the rest of the paper. For a short assignment, the introduction is usually one paragraph. For a longer work, like a book or a seminar paper, the introduction might take multiple paragraphs and may even become its own short chapter at the beginning of the work.
Preparing Your Introduction
Consider the following issues:
- Who is the likely audience? Do you think your introduction will appeal to that audience?
- What personality does the writer project? Is the author’s tone suitable for the subject and the audience?
- Is the introduction interesting? Informative? Does it make the audience want to keep reading?
- Does the introduction flow smoothly into the paper? Does it introduce ideas that will be supported throughout the body of the paper?
Remember to gear your writing towards your audience and make your thesis clear, so the audience can go into the body of the paper feeling both interested and informed, not confused.
Starting Your Introduction
Introductions need to get the reader's attention and make them feel as interested in your topic as you are. The first exciting opening lines are called a "hook," because like catching a fish on a hook, they let you pull your reader along for the ride. Here are some effective hooks:
- Describing a dramatic incident
- Telling a personal story
- Comparing or contrasting two things
- Asking a question
- Describing a person, place, or thing in an unusual, interesting way
- Giving interesting facts and statistics
- Quoting something wise or unbelievable someone said
- Providing historical background
Writing the Introduction
After you write a good hook, it's time to write the rest of the thesis. Here are some tips to help you:
- Start big, and narrow your focus. By starting with broad background information, you give your reader the context they need to understand the topic. Then, you can get more specific as their understanding grows.
- End your introduction with the thesis statement. This is the most important, specific part of the introduction. Your thesis statement should be one sentence long and should let your readers know exactly what you'll be discussing in the rest of the paper, such as a problem and solution, an opinion, or the answer to your research question. You can find more information on writing thesis statements here.
- Aim for more than 50 words. Even if you have a short paper, your introduction should be a full paragraph (at least 3-5 sentences). You know a lot of important information about your topic that your reader doesn't have, so you have to make sure they've got all the knowledge they need before you dive into the body of the paper.
- Be direct. A thesis should be specific and to the point. While it doesn't need to reveal every single detail of your paper (that's what the rest of the paper is for, after all), your readers should have a good idea of what they're getting into by the end of the introduction. Don't beat around the bush.
- Establish common ground. Especially in an essay where you're arguing a point or taking a stance, you can help the audience understand where you are coming from by emphasizing some of the common values you share with them.
- Stay on topic. The introduction should be specific and focused on the main point. Ask yourself, “Does my introduction match what the rest of my paper is about?”
- Start somewhere else. If you find that it's really hard to write an introduction, but that you know how you want to lay out your research or other information in the paper, that's okay. Start where you're most comfortable. You can write the body of your paper first if that's easier for you, then go back and write the introduction. That way, you always know your introduction is on topic!
“To the Australian aborigines, the Dreamtime was the time of creation. It was then that the creatures of the earth, including man, came into being [The Hook and Context]. There are many legends about that mystical period, but unfortunately, the koala does not fare too well in any of them [Context]. Slow-witted though it is in life, the koala is generally depicted in myth and folklore as a trickster and a thief [Thesis].”
–Roger Caras, “What’s a Koala?”
Revising Your Introduction
- Reread. It's easy to miss an important detail in your first draft of the information. Plus, papers sometimes evolve as you write them, meaning that the introduction you first wrote may not match the rest of your paper exactly. Reread the introduction to make sure it matches the paper and has all the information your readers need.
- Ask questions. Are your sentences specific? Did you communicate your purpose for writing the paper? Does your hook and background information lead to the thesis in a logical order? Does your introduction spark the reader’s curiosity?
- Cut the fluff. When we're not sure how to start a paper, we sometimes ramble for a few sentences before we get where we need to go. Find the sentnece where your hook gets interesting and your topic becomes clear. Then, cut any extra stuff that comes before it. (You can also trim the end of your introduction by looking at the thesis statement. Did you keep rambling after your main point? If so, cut the extra information or move it to the body of the paper.)