Basics of Introductions

Introductions serve as “road maps” for your essays.  They introduce your reader to the primary concepts of your essay and give a preview of the main points you’ll be focusing on.  At the most basic level, all introductions must contain three basic elements:

I. Attention-Getter
  • This is the first sentence of your introduction
  • “Hook” your reader; get the reader interested in reading your essay
  • You can create an attention-getter from the following options:
    • Quote: Use a line from song lyrics, a famous historical quote (Martin Luther King once said “I have a dream”), a pop-cultural reference (Eric Cartman is known for saying “Respect mah authoritay!”), a line of poetry, a song lyric, etc.
    • Joke:  Open with a point of humor related to your topic
    • Statement of fact: Open with statistics or other specific information related to your topic
    • Narrative:  Open with a short story / parable related to your topic.  The narrative should be concise and to the point.  Too many details detract from the story’s purpose as an attention-getter.
    • Question: Use a creative rhetorical question to open your essay.  I would caution you against questions–they are difficult to use well; stating the obvious or asking a generic question like “Have you ever been in love?” are weak and do not effectively get your reader’s attention.
  • Make sure your attention getter is directly related to your topic.  Too often students throw in some random lines at the opening of their essays which have nothing to do with the essay.  Ask yourself “how does this relate?”  If you cannot answer that question, come up with a different attention getter.
II. Preview / Summary
  • Essays are always going to be about a larger theme or selection(s) of literature.  While your primary focus may be specific, it is often connected to something larger.
  • Identify the larger theme / selection of literature you will be discussing in your essay.  If you’re examining how irony functions in a series of stories, summarize and explain irony to your reader.  Or, briefly summarize and explain the stories to your reader.  Writing an essay about Romeo and Juliet would require a short examination of the primary theme you are examining.  Or, offer a short summary of the play – just include the primary 3-5 plot points.
  • When writing an essay, you are making a specific argument about a specific topic.  You’re not just writing an in-depth summary.  Therefore, place any foundational summary material necessary to understanding your argument in the preview section of your introduction.
  • Work from the assumption that your reader is “stupid;”  if the reader doesn’t really know anything about your topic, this is the place for you to give her/him the necessary information s/he will need to completely understand your essay.
III. Thesis Statement
  • This is the most important part of your introduction.
  • This is the last sentence of your introduction.
  • The thesis is a final statement that clearly previews the main points of your essay.  If your essay has three main points, they should be clearly listed in the thesis statement.  If you have three main points, but only list two in the thesis, you’ve got a problem.
  • Avoid announcements or direct references to the essay.  Do not say “I’m going to write about X, Y, and Z” or “This essay is going to be about X, Y, and Z.”  Leave yourself out of it.
  • Be direct and to the point: “X, Y, and Z are three reasons why students should not be forced to go to school” or “Students should play video games in school because X, Y, and Z.”

Proof-read before turning any writing in for a grade.  Ask yourself the following questions about your introduction:

  1. How is my attention-getter directly related to the topic?
  2. Is my preview / summary concise and to the point?  Are any of the details in the preview section too specific?  Should I add more information for understanding?  Is it related to the point?
  3. Where is my thesis?  Did I accidentally put it immediately after the attention-getter?  Do I mention all main points I’m going to discuss?  Do I mention essay or “I”?  Is the wording clear or awkward?