Writing Effective Introduction Paragraphs for Your Essays
Weak Introductions to Avoid
One. Don’t use overused quotes:
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
“To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Two. Don’t use pretentious, grandiose, overwrought, bloated, self-regarding, clichéd, unintentionally funny openings:
Since the Dawn of Man, people have sought love and happiness . . .
In today’s society, we see more and more people cocooning in their homes . . .
Man has always wondered why happiness and contentment are so elusive like trying to grasp a bar of sudsy, wet soap.
We have now arrived at a Societal Epoch where we no longer truly communicate with one another as we have embarked upon the full-time task of self-aggrandizement through the social media of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, et al.
In this modern world we face a new existential crisis with the advent of newfangled technologies rendering us razzle-dazzled with the overwhelming possibilities of digital splendor on one hand and painfully dislocated and lonely with our noses constantly rubbing our digital screens on the other.
Since Adam and Eve traipsed across the luxuriant Garden of Eden searching for the juicy, succulent Adriatic fig only to find it withered under the attack of mites, ants, and fruit flies, mankind has embarked upon the quest for the perfect pesticide.
Three. Never apologize to the reader:
Sorry for these half-baked chicken scratch thoughts. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night and I didn’t have sufficient time to do the necessary research for the topic you assigned me.
I’m hardly an expert on this subject and I don’t know why anyone would take me seriously, but here it goes.
Forgive me but after over-indulging last night at HomeTown Buffet my brain has been rendered in a mindless fog and the ramblings of this essay prove to be rather incoherent.
Four. Don’t throw a thesis cream pie in your reader’s face.
In this essay I am going to prove to you why Americans will never buy those stupid automatic cars that don’t need a driver. The four supports that will support my thesis are ______________, ______________, _______________, and ________________.
It is my purpose in this essay to show you why I'm correct on the subject of the death penalty. My proofs will be _________, _______, _________, and ___________.
Five. Don’t use a dictionary definition (standard procedure for a sixth grade essay but not college in which you should use more sophisticated methods such as extended definition or expert definitions):
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines metacognition as “awareness or analysis of one’s own learning or thinking process.”
General Principles of an Effective Introduction Paragraph
It piques your readers’ interest (often called a “hook”).
It is compelling.
It is timely.
It is relevant to the human condition and to your topic.
It transitions to your topic and/or thesis.
The Ten Types of Paragraph Introductions
One. Use a blunt statement of fact or insight that captures your readers’ attention:
It's good for us to have our feelings hurt.
Hanging out on Facebook is like eating Twinkies.
Men who are jealous are cheaters.
We would assume that jealous men are obsessed with fidelity, but in fact the most salient feature of the jealous man is that he is more often than not cheating on his partner. His jealousy results from projecting his own infidelities on his partner. He says to himself, “I am a cheater and therefore so is she.” We see this sick mentality in the character Dan from Ha Jin’s “The Beauty.” Trapped in his jealousy, Dan embodies the pathological characteristics of learned helplessness evidenced by ___________, _______________, ________________, and _______________.
John Taylor Gatto opens his essay “Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why” as thus:
I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in the world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: Their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.
Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teacher’s lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn’t get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children. Who, then, is to blame?
Gatto goes on to argue in his thesis that school trains children to be servants for mediocre (at best) jobs when school should be teaching innovation, individuality, and leadership roles.
Two. Write a definition based on the principles of extended definition (term, class, distinguishing characteristics) or quote an expert in a field of study:
Metacognition is an essential asset to mature people characterized by their ability to value long-term gratification over short-term gratification, their ability to distance themselves from their passions when they’re in a heated emotional state, their ability to stand back and see the forest instead of the trees, and their ability to continuously make assessments of the effectiveness of their major life choices. In the fiction of John Cheever and James Lasdun, we encounter characters that are woefully lacking in metacognition evidenced by _____________, ______________, _____________, and _______________.
According to Alexander Batthanany, member of the Viktor Frankl Institute, logotherapy, which is the search for meaning, “is identified as the primary motivational force in human beings.” Batthanany further explains that logotherapy is “based on three philosophical and psychological concepts: Freedom of Will, Will to Meaning, and Meaning in Life.” Embracing the concepts of logotherapy is vastly more effective than conventional, Freud-based psychotherapy when we consider ________________, ______________, __________________, and ________________.
Three. Use an insightful quotation that has not, to your knowledge anyway, been overused:
George Bernard Shaw once said, “There are two great tragedies in life. The first is not getting what we want. The second is getting it.” Shaw’s insight speaks to the tantalizing chimera, that elusive quest we take for the Mythic She-Beast who becomes are life-altering obsession. As the characters in John Cheever and James Lasdun’s fiction show, the human relationship with the chimera is source of paradox. On one hand, having a chimera will kill us. On the other, not having a chimera will kill us. Cheever and Lasdun’s characters twist and torment under the paradoxical forces of their chimeras evidenced by _____________, _______________, ______________, and __________________.
Four. Use a startling fact to get your reader’s attention:
There are currently more African-American men in prison than there were slaves at the peak of slavery in the United States. We read this disturbing fact in Michelle Alexander’s magisterial The New Jim Crow, which convincingly argues that America’s prison complex is perpetuating the racism of slavery and Jim Crow in several insidious ways.
Five. Use an anecdote (personal or otherwise) to get your reader’s attention:
One afternoon I was napping under the covers when Lara walked into the room talking on the phone to her friend, Hannah. She didn’t know I was in the room, confusing the mound on the bed with a clump of pillows and blankets. I heard her whisper to Hannah, “I found another small package from eBay. He’s buying watches and not telling me.”
That’s when I thought about getting a post office box.
This could be the opening introduction for an essay topic about “economic infidelity.”
As we read in Stephen King’s essay “Write or Die”:
“Hardly a week after being sprung from detention hall, I was once more invited to step down to the principal’s office. I went with a sinking heart, wondering what new sh** I’d stepped in.”
Six. Use a piece of vivid description or a vivid illustration to get your reader’s attention:
My gym looks like an enchanting fitness dome, an extravaganza of taut, sweaty bodies adorned in fluorescent spandex tights contorting on space-age cardio machines, oil-slicked skin shrouded in a synthetic fog of dry ice colored by the dizzying splash of lavender disco lights. Tribal drum music plays loudly. Bottled water flows freely, as if from some Elysian spring, over burnished flesh. The communal purgation appeals to me. My fellow cardio junkies and I are so self-abandoned, free, and euphoric, liberated in our gym paradise.
But right next to our workout heaven is a gastronomical inferno, one of those all-you-can-eat buffets, part of a chain, which is, to my lament, sprouting all over Los Angeles. I despise the buffet, a trough for people of less discriminating tastes who saunter in and out of the restaurant at all hours, entering the doors of the eatery without shame and blind to all the gastrointestinal and health-related horrors that await them. Many of the patrons cannot walk out of their cars to the buffet but have to limp or rely on canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and other ambulatory aids, for it seems a high percentage of the customers are afflicted with obesity, diabetes, arthritis, gout, hypothalamic lesions, elephantiasis, varicose veins and fleshy tumors. Struggling and wheezing as they navigate across the vast parking lot that leads to their gluttonous sanctuary, they seem to worship the very source of their disease.
In front of the buffet is a sign of rules and conduct. One of the rules urges people to stand in the buffet line in an orderly fashion and to be patient because there is plenty of food for everyone. Another rule is that children are not to be left unattended and running freely around the buffet area. My favorite rule is that no hands, tongues, or other body parts are allowed to touch the food. Tongs and other utensils are to be used at all times. The rules give you an idea of the kind of people who eat there. These are people I want to avoid.
But as I walk to the gym from my car, which shares a parking lot with the buffet patrons, I cannot avoid the nauseating smell of stale grease oozing from the buffet’s rear dumpster, army green and stained with splotches and a seaweed-like crust of yellow and brown grime.
Often I see cooks and dishwashers, their bodies covered with soot, coming out of the back kitchen door to throw refuse into the dumpster, a smoldering receptacle with hot fumes of bacteria and flies. Hunchbacked and knobby, the poor employees are old, weary men with sallow, rheumy eyes and cuts and bruises all over their bodies. I imagine them being tortured deep within the bowels of the fiery kitchen on some Medieval rack. They emerge into the blinding sunshine like moles, their eyes squinting, with their plastic garbage bags twice the size of their bodies slung over their shoulders, and then I look into their sad eyes—eyes that seem to beg for my help and mercy. And just when I am about to give them words of hope and consolation or urge them to flee for their lives, it seems they disappear back into the restaurant as if beckoned by some invisible tyrant.
The above could transition to the topic of people of a certain weight being required to buy three airline tickets for an entire row of seats.
Seven. Summarize both sides of a debate.
America is torn by the national healthcare debate. One camp says it’s a crime that 25,000 Americans die unnecessarily each year from treatable disease and that modeling a health system from other developed countries is a moral imperative. However, there is another camp that fears that adopting some version of universal healthcare is tantamount to stepping into the direction of socialism.
Eight. State a misperception, fallacy, or error that your essay will refute.
Americans against universal or national healthcare are quick to say that such a system is “socialist,” “communist,” and “un-American,” but a close look at their rhetoric shows that it is high on knee-jerk, mindless paroxysms and short on reality. Contrary to the enemies of national healthcare, providing universal coverage is very American and compatible with the American brand of capitalism.
Nine. Make a general statement about your topic.
From Sherry Turkle’s essay “How Computers Change the Way We Think”:
The tools we use to think change the ways in which we think. The invention of written language brought about a radical shift in how we process, organize, store, and transmit representations of the world. Although writing remains our primary information technology, today when we think about the impact of technology on our habits of mind, we think primarily of the computer.
Ten. Pose a question your essay will try to answer:
Why are diet books more and more popular, yet Americans are getting more and more fat?
Why is psychotherapy becoming more and more popular, yet Americans are getting more and more crazy?
Why are the people of Qatar the richest people in the world, yet score at the bottom of all Happiness Index metrics?
Why are courses in the Humanities more essential to your well-being that you might think?
What is the difference between thinking and critical thinking?