How to Write a Killer Introduction

Writing 101

by Professor Heidi A.

When I was in high school, I wasn’t entirely clear on the purpose of an introduction. I knew I had to “hook” the audience with my first sentence and provide my thesis in the last sentence, but what goes in the middle?

Think of an introductory paragraph as your first conversation with a stranger. You’d like to be friends with this person, so you want them to find you entertaining, but also knowledgeable and trustworthy.

1. Don’t start out too strong

“The American Revolution was the greatest war that has ever or will ever be fought!” Sure, you’ve got my attention, but any sentence that follows this is sure to be a letdown. Instead of breaking down the front door, knock politely and wait to be let in. My favorite essays start with anecdotes, and you could turn almost anything into a narrative. For example, let’s say you’re writing a history paper about the American Revolution, specifically the causes that led up to it. You might consider starting with a story about the Boston Tea Party: “It was a dark winter night in 1773 when a group of men boarded British ships docked in Boston Harbor.” This way you’ve provided crucial information (when and where) in an interesting way.

2. Build a staircase

Once you’ve finished your anecdote, it’s time to get down to business. Your new friend is entertained, but probably curious about why you’re telling them this. However, it’s much too soon to drop your thesis on them. So, what do you do? Picture your hook and thesis as the first and second floors of a house. The middle of your intro should function as the staircase that connects them.

In this example, your thesis might be something like: “The American Revolution would not have occurred without a series of small insurrections that made the British feel really insecure.” Ask yourself, what does my audience need in order to fully understand this thesis?

You’ve already described one of these “insurrections,” now the audience needs to know how it fits into the bigger picture. For instance:

“(1) The Boston Tea Party was just one of many occurances in the 1770s that undermined British rule. [Give your anecdote a wider context].

(2) These relatively small actions may not have had a body count, but they were effective in another way. [Acknowledging a possible counter-argument, and building anticipation].

(3) Much like toddlers throwing their toys out of the crib, the actions of the revolutionaries meant that Britain had to constantly deal with minor annoyances. [This metaphor helps to explain why the topic is important].

(4) Like a long suffering parent, Britain was sure to explode eventually, but when they did, they’d already be too tired to be effective. [This teases the key ideas in the thesis, but doesn’t make an argument yet].”

3. Wow them with your thesis

By the time your reach the end of your intro, your audience should be primed to be impressed by your thesis. You’ve introduced all these interesting ideas, and now, like some crazy magician, you’ve brought them all together into one beautiful claim.

Happy Writing!