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Write Effective Introductions
Use A Startling Remark Or Statistic
Ask A Question Or Present A Problem
Create A Comparison Contrast, Or Anology
Tell an Anecdote or Describe a Scene
Define An Important Term Or Concept
Address Your Readers Directly

Most successful essaysbegin with an interesting introduction—a paragraph or series of paragraphs that states the essay's thesis and entices readers to go on. Most effective essays also end with a conclusion that brings the discussion to a logical end. Good conclusions leave readers satisfied that the essay has accomplished what it set out to do.


Some essays, such as narratives, don't ordinarily need a formal introduction. Others simply begin with a few colorful details or ideas that draw readers into the paper without stating a formal thesis, providing background information, or offering other explanatory details before thrusting the reader into the body of the paper. The writer of such a paper might wait until the middle or end of the paper to reveal the thesis. He or she might even leave the central idea of the paper implied and allow readers to infer it for themselves.

On the other hand, writing a formal introduction will allow you to accomplish several important tasks, not the least of which is capturing the readers' attention. However, an effective introduction will also give you the chance to

  • Express your central idea in a clear thesis statement, which will reveal the purpose and main point of your essay from the very start.
  • Guide your readers to important ideas in the body of the essay.
  • Provide background or explanatory information to help readers understand the essay's purpose and thesis better.

Whether or not you decide to include a formal introduction, remember that the most exciting part of writing is discovering exactly what you want to say about your subject. You usually won't make this discovery until after you have completed at least one draft of the middle or body paragraphs of your paper. Once you have done that, your chances of revising your thesis to make it clearer and more substantial will have improved. So will your chances of writing an effective introduction.

The simplest and most direct way to draft an introduction is to state your thesis and to follow it with explanatory details that will prepare your readers for what follows in the rest of the essay. However, depending on your thesis, purpose, and audience, that might not be the best way to open your paper. Just as there are different ways to develop and organize the body paragraphs of your essay, there are several ways to write an introduction.

Six Techniques For Writing Effective Introductions

  1. Use a startling remark or statistic.
  2. Ask a question or present a problem.
  3. Create a comparison, contrast, or analogy.
  4. Tell an anecdote or describe a scene.
  5. Define an important term or concept.
  6. Address your readers directly


Using startling remarks or statistics (numbers) that, while true to the author's intent, arouse the readers' interest. In this paragraph, which begins Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's essay "Dan Quayle Was Right," the thesis statement appears at the end :

Divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth are transforming the lives of American children. In the postwar generation more than 80 percent of children grew up in a family with two biological parents who were married to each other. By 1980 only 50 percent could expect to spend their entire childhood in an intact family. If current trends continue, less than half of all children born today will live continuously with their own mother and father throughout childhood. Most American children will spend several years in a single-mother family.

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If you begin by asking a question or presenting a problem, you can devote the rest of your essay to discussing that question or problem and, perhaps, to providing answers or solutions. In "Old, Ailing, and Abandoned," a PhiladelphiaInquirer editorial on the care of the elderly, the writer begins with several disturbing questions:

How would you punish the people responsible for letting 18 hours pass before getting emergency medical help to an epileptic with second-and third-degree burns while large sections of her skin were peeling off? What justice is there for a man whose amputated foot is allowed to become infested with maggots while he's paying for care in a specialized rooming house? And what's the proper penalty for someone who leaves a mentally ill woman alone for three days with little food and no medication?


Comparisons point out similarities; contrasts show differences. Both can be used to introduce a subject, emphasize a point, and capture the readers' attention. In the paragraph below, student Jessie Sullivan uses contrast to explain the truth about her neighborhood.

A look of genuine surprise comes over my classmates when I mention where I live. My neighborhood has a reputation that goes before it. People who have never been there tend to hold preconceived notions about the place, most of which are negative and many of which are true. Those who actually visit my neighborhood usually notice the filth, the deterioration of buildings and grounds, and the crime. What they fail to see isn't as apparent, but it is there also. It is hope for the future. ("If at First You Do Not See…")


Anecdotes are brief stories that illustrate a point. They can prepare readers for issues or problems discussed in the body of the paper without your having to state the thesis directly. The following anecdote, which begins a WallStreetJournal editorial, makes the central idea clear, even though it is not stated in a formal thesis.

We don't know if Janice Camarena had ever heard of Brown v. Board of Education when she enrolled in San Bernadino Valley College in California, but she knows all about it now. Mrs. Camarena was thrown out of a class at her public community college because of the color of her skin. When she sat down at her desk on the first day of the semester in January 1994, the instructor asked her to leave. That section of English 101 was reserved for black students only, she was told; Mrs. Camarena is White. ("Affirmative Action")


Defining a term or concept allows you to explain aspects of your subject that make it easier for readers to understand and agree with your central ideal.

Do not use dictionary definitions; they may be too general to fit the context in which you are working.

Instead, rely on your own knowledge. It should help you to create definitions that are both interesting and appropriate to your discussion, such as the one that Elena Santayana used in her paper on alcoholism:

Alcoholism is a disease whose horrible consequences go beyond the patient. Families of alcoholics often become dysfunctional, spouses and children are abandoned or endure physical or emotional abuse. Co-workers suffer too. Alcoholics have high rates of absenteeism, and their work is often unreliable, thereby decreasing office or factory productivity. Indeed, alcoholics endanger the whole community. One in every two automobile fatalities is alcohol-related, and alcoholism is a major cause of violent crime. ("Everybody's Problem")


Speaking to your readers directly is an excellent way to way to get their attention. This is what Claudia Wallis does when she opens "How to Live to Be 120," an article that appeared in Time magazine:

To grasp what it means to be 120 years old, consider this: a woman in the U.S. now has a life expectancy of 79 years. Jeanne Calment of Arles, France, reached that advanced age back in 1954, when Eisenhower was in the White House and Stalin had just passed from the scene. Twenty-two years later, at age 100, Calment was still riding her bicycle around town, having outlived both her only child and grandchild. And 20 years after that, she was charming the photographers and reporters who arrived in droves last week…to mark her 120th birthday.

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