The Introductory Paragraph


Tips to help you


First impressions are so important. How many times have you heard that? It is true that the first impression—whether it's a first meeting with a person or the first sentence of a paper—sets the stage for a lasting opinion.


The introductory paragraph of any paper, long or short, should start with a sentence that piques the interest of your readers.


In a typical essay, that first sentence leads into two or three sentences that provide details about your subject or your process. All of these sentences build up to your thesis statement.


The thesis statement is the subject of much instruction and training. The entirety of your paper hangs on that sentence. But its function is to be informative and direct.


This means it's not normally very exciting.


Your First Sentence

To get your paper off to a great start, you should try to have a first sentence that engages your reader. Think of your first sentence as a hook that draws your reader in. It is your big chance to be so clever that your reader can't stop.


As you researched your topic, you probably discovered many interesting anecdotes, quotes, or trivial facts. This is exactly the sort of thing you should use for an engaging introduction.


Consider these ideas for creating a strong beginning.


Surprising fact: The pentagon has twice as many bathrooms as are necessary. The famous government building was constructed in the 1940s, when segregation laws required that separate bathrooms be installed for people of African descent. This building isn't the only American icon that harkens back to this embarrassing and hurtful time in our history. Across the United States there are many examples of leftover laws and customs that reflect the racism that once permeated American society.


Humor: When my older brother substituted fresh eggs for our hard-boiled Easter eggs, he didn't realize our father would take the first crack at hiding them. My brother's holiday ended early that particular day in 1991, but the rest of the family enjoyed the warm April weather, outside on the lawn, until late into the evening. Perhaps it was the warmth of the day and the joy of eating Easter roast while Tommy contemplated his actions that make my memories of Easter so sweet. Whatever the true reason, the fact is that my favorite holiday of the year is Easter Sunday.


Quotation: Hillary Rodham Clinton once said, "There cannot be true democracy unless women's voices are heard." In 2006, when Nancy Pelosi became the nation's first female Speaker of the House, one woman's voice rang out clear. With this development, democracy grew to its truest level ever in terms of women's equality. The historical event also paved the way for Senator Clinton as she warmed her own vocal chords in preparation for a presidential race.


Finding the Hook

In each example, the first sentence draws the reader in to find out how the interesting fact leads to a point. You can use many methods to capture your reader's interest.


Curiosity: A duck's quack doesn't echo. Some people might find a deep and mysterious meaning in this fact.


Definition: A homograph is a word with two or more pronunciations. Produce is one example.


Anecdote: Yesterday morning I watched as my older sister left for school with a bright white glob of toothpaste gleaming on her chin. I felt no regret at all until she stepped onto the bus.


End With a Good Beginning


Once you complete a first draft of your paper, go back to re-construct your introductory paragraph. Be sure to check your thesis statement to make sure it still holds true—then double check your first sentence to give it some zing.


The Thesis Statement Explained


Why do people make so much fuss over one sentence?


No single sentence will pester you quite so much as the thesis sentence. Often you'll find it is both the first sentence you write and the last sentence you re-write while constructing your essay.


Why so much fuss? Perhaps teachers make so much of the thesis statement because, if done correctly, it fills so many responsibilities.


The thesis statement must assert your point, suggest your evidence, and structure your argument, all in one. This is necessary for a good reason. If you can summarize your paper in one sentence, you're more likely to have a tightly constructed, concise, and readable essay.


Find a general topic for your paper, and then narrow it down.


The first step in writing an essay is finding a topic you enjoy. The next step is to narrow your topic into a single view or theory that you will explore and explain. For instance, you may be very interested in the topic of old wives' tales. This is an interesting theme, but it is very broad.


What is specifically interesting about wives' tales? Perhaps you can narrow your interest into a statement like this:


Many old wives' tales originated hundreds of years ago, yet some have been based on solid science and have led to real cures or medicines.


That is specific. It also asserts your view and provides an opening for evidence. With solid research you can come up with several examples to support this statement.


Don't be afraid of controversy.


In an argumentative essay, a thesis is a declarative sentence that takes a stance. If you feel strongly about a social issue and you believe you can back it up, then go ahead and do it. Just be sure you back up your stance with facts and not opinions. Don't use cruel or insulting statements, just the facts.


Be aware that there will always be someone who disagrees with your stance. That's what makes life interesting. That's also what makes essays interesting!


Don't be ambiguous.


You may decide to take a stance, but you can't find facts to back up your argument. If so, you might be on the right track, but you just need to focus a little more.


For instance, you might want to argue that music classes should be mandatory for all students. You may believe this, but can you back it up?


First, do a little research. You may find evidence that children who study music at a very young age tend to do well in math and science later in life. Based on this research, you may want to narrow your thesis to reflect this more narrow argument.


Do re-visit and re-write your thesis, when necessary.


Your thesis sentence should be flexible, until you are finished with your research and your writing. It is not unusual for writers to revise the thesis sentence several times. As you research your topic, you may be frustrated to find some fascinating research that fits just outside the boundary of your thesis.


This is difficult. You can decide to exclude this research or you could decide to change your thesis. If you include it, be sure it is strong enough to support an entire paragraph.


The best approach is to collect all the research you can, first. Then sort the facts into categories—either on paper or in your head. These categories will become your paragraphs.


Narrow and revise your thesis as you go. Once you've completed your essay, check a final time to see that your thesis fulfills the following roles.


    * It makes a clear and specific statement.

    * It indicates the direction of your thoughts.

    * It sets a stage.

    * It provides structure.

    * It is supported by the body paragraphs.


Reminder: If you make a final change to your thesis, always double-check your concluding paragraph. It might need adjustment, as well.


How to Write Paragraphs