Introductory Paragraphs

H o w    t o    W r i t e    a n    I n t r o d u c t i o n    P a r a g r a p h

Give a general opening statement, possibly with an interesting “hook”. This statement can be about the novel in general, about the character you’re writing about, or about something from real life that is somehow related to your essay (3-5 sentences).

Body Sentences: State the main ideas of your essay.
These should be similar to your topic
sentences (3-4 sentences).

State your thesis in
one, or maybe two
sentences.

OPENING STATEMENT: The first sentence is the wide end of the funnel – the least specific statement in the paragraph. It is a focused generalization about your topic that provides necessary context and introduces the main idea. The opening serves two purposes:  to identify your subject, and to attract your readers’ attention. You want to invite your readers into the rest of your essay. Typically, these opening statements are either hooks, or main idea statements.

HOOK: The purpose of a hook is to grab your readers’ attention, to pique their curiosity about what you have to say. A hook relates to the readers’ experiences or knowledge, or engages their emotions in some way. The hook opening works best in argumentative and other expository essays. Some standard hook openings include: question, dramatic statement, shocking or interesting fact or statement, humorous statement.

For example, if you are writing a persuasive piece to convince your friends to watch Black Mirror, which completely makes sense, you might consider the following openings:

  1. Question: At what point does our technology become a crutch that we cannot live without? The question hook only works well when you ask a question that actually promotes active thought. Starting with, “What is technology?” is a poor hook opening. 
  2. Dramatic Statement: After watching a few episodes of Black Mirror,  you are going to want to put your cell phone on airport mode and erase your Instagram.
  3. Shocking or Interesting Statement: The central character in the White Bear episode of Black Mirror deserves to die. I’m upset that she doesn’t. In some essays, the shocking or interesting *fact* is an effective way in, as in, “In Japan, 90% of cell phones are waterproof, because so many people use them while they are in the shower.”
  4. Humorous Statement: If my home ever catches on fire, I’ll be sure to save my wedding album, my pet dog, the letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother when he was 20, and my Xbox. Please avoid the humorous hook opening if your topic is dreadfully serious. 

As a quick stylistic aside, the “hook” opening is one of the only places where you can get away with using 1st or 2nd person pronouns, or contractions, as long as you are being wise about it – doing it to establish tone, and not just out of laziness. You’ll see some examples in the sentences above.

PLEASE AVOID the “dictionary definition” hook, as in, “The dictionary definition of technology is ‘machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge.'” Not only does this turn your very first sentence over to somebody else’s words, but it is a flat, and avoidable cliché.

MAIN IDEA STATEMENT: The purpose of this opening is to express the heart of the essay – to present a main idea about the subject of the essay.  Main idea statements are often used in analytical writings like character analysis or essays exploring the development of theme.

Examples:

  1. If the purpose of your essay is to analyze one of the protagonists as a sort of anti-hero , you might open with a statement about how relatable it is to see someone who is imperfect. Something as simple as: People are ugly. People are paranoid. People have no self-control. The protagonists in Black Mirror are no different. 
  2. If you are writing an essay to your friends telling them to watch Black Mirror and you are interested in the depiction of pop culture in the Fifteen Million Merits episode, you could make a general statement about consumerism. Something like: We are constantly under attack from advertisements and corporations that want to sell us their products. The gratuitous insertion of Reese’s Pieces in E.T. caused a 300% increase in sales of the candy in the months after the film was released. Companies put their product in our faces, and we willingly take it all in. The main character in Fifteen Million Merits is similarly under siege. 

BODY SENTENCES: Next, transition from the opening statement into the body sentences. The body sentences, sentences between the opening and the thesis, are used to clarify and narrow the subject. Additionally, this space should be used to introduce subtopics – the subjects that will be covered in the body paragraphs of the essay. This section gets more and more specific as the paragraph progresses. The goal is to lead into the thesis statement, to move from general idea to specific point. By the end of the body sentences in the introduction, the writer needs to bridge to the thesis.

THESIS: The thesis statement is the narrow end of the funnel, the most specific point. It is the driving assertion for the essay, the sentence that expresses what you will prove in the body of paragraphs of your essay.

POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN WRITING YOUR INTRODUCTION

  • Do not announce what you will be writing about in the essay. Avoid statements like, “In this essay, I will explore_________.” Just explore the subject.
  • Italicize titles of books, movies, and other major works.
  • Put quotation marks around the titles of pieces that are part of a larger, major work. For example, you would italicize an album title, but put quotation marks around the song titles included on that album. You would italicize the title of a collection of essays or poems, and put quotation marks around the titles of essays or poems in that collection.  You italicize the title of a magazine, but put quotation marks around titles of articles included in that magazine.
  • Give an author’s full name in the introduction paragraph. Once you provide the full name, you should refer to him/her by last name only. Never refer to an author by first name.

Here is a sample funnel intro paragraph:

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, thousands of Americans lost their jobs and their homes when farms and businesses failed and unemployment and poverty exploded. As a result, many were “set adrift” to wander and to seek work in strange places. This rootlessness created a jarring contrast to the ideal of the American Dream that so many Americans had been led to believe was within everybody’s reach: that hard work is the only path to financial stability. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck creates characters who are wary of any emotional relationship and are reluctant to make connections to any person or place. The novel illustrates the emotions, hopes, and disappointments of these characters who opt out of the dream of owning property and being a member of a community because of the miseries that they suffer every day. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck uses the emptiness of the Okies’ lives to show the American Dream to be nothing more than a myth that is impossible to achieve.

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