Writing Introductions

Do’s and Don’ts

Things NOT to do in an introductory paragraph:

  • DO NOT apologize. Never suggest that you don’t know what you’re talking about or that you’re not enough of an expert in this matter that your opinion would matter. Your reader will quickly turn to something else. Avoid phrases like, “In my [humble] opinion . . .” and “I’m not sure about this, but . . .”
  • DO NOT announce your intentions. Do not flatly announce what you are about to do in an essay. For example, “In this paper, I will . . .” or “The purpose of this essay is to . . .” Rather, get into the topic and let your reader perceive your purpose in the thesis statement.
  • DO NOT use a dictionary or encyclopedia definition. Although definitions are extremely useful, and it might serve your purpose to devise your own definition(s), you want to avoid using this beginning to an essay because it will not grab the reader’s interest.

 

A good introductory paragraph grabs the reader’s attention before it announces what the paper is going to be about (thesis statement). To grab the reader’s interest, one can:

  • Provide a historical review
  • Include an anecdote
  • Open with a surprising statement (statistics, facts, etc.)

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Historical Review

A historical review is a great way to grab the attention of the reader. It allows the reader to get background information on the topic, and it makes the reader want to learn more. Also, it prepares the reader for what is ahead.

Referring to a gruesome incident that happened at Sea World San Diego several decades ago, this passage discusses the detrimental effects of captivity on sea mammals.

The aggression and violence of which orcas are capable were clearly witnessed at Sea World San Diego in August 1989, when an Icelandic female (Kandu V) rammed a northeastern Pacific female (Corky II) during a show. Although trainers tried to keep the show going, blood began to spurt from a severed artery near Kandu’s jaw. Sea World staff then quickly ushered away the watching crowd. Forty-five minutes after the blow, Kandu V died. […] Mammals in Captivity would never have been in such proximity naturally, nor is there any record of an orca being killed in a similarly violent encounter in the wild.

—“The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity” by Naomi A. Rose, PhD, and Richard Farinato
for The Humane Society of the United States, 2006.

 

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Anecdote

An anecdote is another great way to lure your reader. The reader will likely be entertained and curious to learn about your topic. Just remember to keep it small and vivid.

The following anecdote demonstrates vividly the conflicting emotions a lot of people feel when watching wild animals in captivity. The article goes on to discuss why animal rights activists fight for the shutdown of aquariums and the release of marine mammals into their natural habitat.

Mary recalled her excitement the first time she saw an orca. At first, she thought the orca looked so happy and playful through the glass. When the show started, she could barely contain her exhilaration. However, the feeling quickly subsided to make place for a much more sinister emotion: distress. As she watched the gigantic mammal carry the trainer to the bottom of the pool repeatedly, she realized that something was amiss, and she knew at that moment that a tank is the last place an orca should be.

 

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Surprising / Shocking Statement

Surprising your reader with an unexpected statistic or piece of information can be really efficient in an introduction. It grabs the reader’s attention right away.

This article begins with a surprising, even shocking statement: an orca kept in captivity is responsible for the death of two people.

In 1991, in front of a distressed audience, a group of orcas killed trainer Keltie Byrne at Sealand in Victoria. The orcas kept the trainer’s body underwater until she drowned. In 1999, an orca that took part in the attack that took place in 1991, Tillikum, was discovered next to the corpse of Daniel Dukes at Sea World in Orlando. He had been bitten and kept underwater until he drowned.

—“The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity” by Naomi A. Rose, PhD, and Richard Farinato
for The Humane Society of the United States, 2006.

 

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