What does an introduction need?

An introduction needs to grab your readers’ attention, let them know not only the subject, but also the point of your paper, let them know why they should care and give them an overview of the organization or flow of your paper. Sometimes students feel like they are spoiling the fun if they tell the reader all of this in the first paragraph. They feel that it is better to hold some information back to build suspense and keep the reader engaged. This is almost always a mistake, especially in academic papers. If the teachers are guessing what your point is, they assume you do not know.

Writing a paragraph that does all of these things before you have written your paper can be very challenging. Some writers will wait until they have drafted their essay to write the first paragraph. Others will write a quick introduction to get themselves started, knowing it will be substantially revised later. Still others labor over their introduction before doing anything else, using the writing of it to help them plan and set the tone for the rest of their essay.

How is an introduction organized?

Usually, an introduction begins with an attention getter. It then sets up the focus of the essay, ending with a thesis statement that states the main point or claim of the essay and signals the essay’s organization. Readers look for theses at the end of introductions. If you put your thesis elsewhere, make sure you know why you are doing so and make sure you clearly signal to your reader where your thesis is.

What are some ways to get a reader’s attention?

  1. At SNL, you are often fortunate to have a ready-made attention grabber. Your readers want to know how your paper relates to a competence. Tell them in your introduction, being explicit about how your paper addresses a competence and the competence criteria.

  2. A funnel opener works by starting with a broad, general issue or question and then using the introductory paragraph to funnel the reader to the paper’s specific focus. Make sure, however, that you do not start too broad. Starting with the Big Bang to discuss AIDS research is starting too broad.
  3. Direct address is when you place the reader in the situation you want to discuss. This method includes descriptive detail and the use of “you.” Here is an example of direct address:

    Your mouth begins to water as soon as you catch the yeasty smell of freshly baked bread.

    Direct address is coercive because it forces the readers into an imaginative situation, so it needs to be used sparingly and briefly.

  4. One way to let readers know why they should care about your topic is to ask a question you think the reader cares about. Do not, however, pose a whole series of questions. Remember that readers are reading to find out your answers.

  5. If you think your readers might, at first glance, find your topic boring or your thesis wrong, you might start with a baited opener. A baited opener works to catch your readers’ attention by offering something of interest to them and then reeling them into your point by making a connection between their interest and yours. 

  6. Readers love stories. You can start with a story, as long as the story does not take over your paper. Remember to get to your thesis within the first page (you can take longer in longer papers).

  7. Start with an anecdote, image or quotation directly related to your thesis. It can either directly support or directly oppose your thesis. Do not choose a quote or dictionary definition that is only marginally related to your thesis.

  8. Begin by challenging the common wisdom. If you open with a truism, something people already know to be true, you are not likely to get anyone’s attention. However, if you challenge a truism, you are likely to grab attention.

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