Creating an Effective Introductory Paragraph for an Essay

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify the four components of an effective introductory paragraph.
  • Create a hook for an introductory paragraph.

The introduction is the first thing that readers will encounter when they begin reading your essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. . Just as you want to make the best impression when you first meet someone, you want to make sure that your introduction draws your reader in from the start. In this lesson, you will learn four things that a good introductory paragraph should do: hookIn writing, a device used to grab a readers' attention, often in the form of interesting, surprising, or provocative information. the reader, introduce the topicThe subject of a reading. , set the toneThe feeling or attitude that a writer expresses toward a topic. The words the writer chooses express this tone. Examples of tones can include: objective, biased, humorous, optimistic, and cynical, among many others. , and present the thesisAn overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis for a work..

Hook the Reader

Creating an interesting hook is essential for grabbing your reader's attention. Here are several techniques that you can use to appeal to your readers:

Another technique to hook the reader is to ask a question. However, think about this option carefully before using it; many writers overuse this technique and ask questions that are too simple and not provocativeDescribes something that causes interest, debate, argument, or deeper thought. enough. You will often find that replacing an introductory question with another hook technique will be more engaging for your reader.

You may find it challenging to create a hook because some topics are not as interesting as others. However, try your best to engage your reader's attention by trying different techniques until you find the right angle for your introduction.

Below are examples of three different techniques used to create three distinct hooks for the following thesis:

Thesis: The United States needs to develop more nuclear energy plants in the next ten years to combat global warming.

Surprising facts or statistics: In his film, An Inconvenient Truth, former Vice President Al Gore claims that if the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt at their current rate, global sea levels will rise by 20 feet by the year 2050. If sea levels actually rise this much, large populations of people will be displaced as their homes are flooded. In fact, over half of Florida and much of Manhattan in New York will be covered with water.

A pop-culture reference: In the movie Waterworld, starring Kevin Costner, Earth is completely covered in water after polar ice caps have melted due to global warming. Although it was set in the distant future, scientists say the effects of global warming could actually submerge parts of the United States in as little as forty years.

An historical reference: In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, located in the Soviet Union (now known as Ukraine) melted down, exploded, and released massive amounts of radioactive material into the air. It was the first Level 7 nuclear disaster in history. A second occurred in 2011 in Japan at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, which melted down after it was flooded by a tsunami—a giant wave created by the most powerful earthquake that Japan had ever experienced.

Introduce the Topic

As you can see in the examples above, the topic can often be introduced as part of the hook. Sometimes, though, a clarifying statement needs to be included so that the reader is clear on the direction you plan on taking in your particular essay. This is most noticeable in the third example where the historical references seem to imply that the essay will be about the dangers of nuclear power plants. A transitional sentence introducing the benefits of nuclear energy as the topic would need to work as a bridge from the hook to the thesis.

Set the Tone

If you have ever received an invitation to an event like a wedding, you will notice that it sets the tone for the event. In the same way, an introduction sets the tone for the rest of your essay. Use the introduction to let your readers know whether they will be reading an academic, sarcasticDescribes a way of speaking or writing that occurs when your words to mean the opposite of what you really feel. This is done to be insulting, make a point, or express humor., ironicDescribes something that is funny or odd because it is not what is expected., or sincere piece. Formal writings tend to use third-person pronouns and avoid slang, contractionsA word that is a shorter form of a longer word or group of words that is made by leaving out sounds and/or letters. Example: can't is a contraction for cannot., and jargonTechnical language pertaining to a specific activity and used by a particular group of people.. What is appropriate for a blogA website that hosts a series of articles, photos, and other postings, sometimes by a single writer (blogger) or by a community of contributors. entry or a text message may not be appropriate for an essay.

An essay outlining the necessity of more nuclear power plants in the U.S. is a fairly serious subject. In light of a relatively recent nuclear reactor meltdown, some of your audience may be turned off if you begin your essay in a lighthearted way, so you may want to avoid using humor in such situations. Understanding your audience and subject will allow you to make the best choices as you create your introduction.

Present Your Thesis

The thesis statement is the controlling ideaThe specific idea that controls a paragraph, including the purpose, subject, and the writer's point of view. of your essay and should always be explicitlyA clear statement that is made known without leaving any room for doubt. stated in your introduction unless the assignment tells you to do otherwise. It includes both the topic you are discussing and the point you are making about it. Here is an example thesis:

Thesis: The United States needs to develop more nuclear energy plants in the next ten years to combat global warming.

In a shorter essay, you will often combine the hook, introduce your topic, and present your thesis all in one paragraphA selection of a writing that is made up of sentences formed around one main point. Paragraphs are set apart by a new line and sometimes indentation.. One paragraph is often enough as each element may only require a sentence or two. However, longer pieces of writing generally require a longer hook, introduction of the topic, and thesis. In fact, you may devote multiple paragraphs to each. Also, keep in mind that you may choose to create the introduction after you complete your essay, as you will see what you have written and know what fits best in the introduction.