Ten Ways to Write an Introduction

The introduction of a paper serves two important functions: it must capture the reader’s attention, and it should let the reader know what your paper is about. Here are ten different techniques you can use, alone or in combination, to write an introduction.

General to Specific: Begin with a broad, general statement or question and gradually narrow to more specific details.

Every culture has traditions related to the way people eat. In America, for instance, there are certain unspoken rules about acceptable behavior while eating with other people in a restaurant. Recently, I tried to break one of these rules while eating lunch with my friends. The results surprised me, and taught me a valuable lesson.

Tell a Story: Use an anecdote to get the reader’s interest and introduce your main topic.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote a fifteen-page critical essay on Plato - which he passed on to Ralph Waldo Emerson for the poet’s comments. Emerson returned it with the following note: “When you shoot at a king, you must kill him.”

Ask a Question: Ask a question that challenges the reader to think about your topic.

Perhaps you’ve heard that high cholesterol is bad for your health. But did you know that some kinds of cholesterol are actually good for you? What exactly is cholesterol, and what does it do? To make good choices about health, it’s important to understand certain details about this important substance.

Give an Opinion: Get the reader’s attention by making a bold statement.

The new summer movies have arrived, and they look like the same old trash: more disgusting violence, more stupid jokes, and more clichéd plots. Why can’t Hollywood do better?

Use a Quotation: Begin with a quote, perhaps from a famous person, which leads toward your thesis statement.

Mark Twain once said, “Great people are those who make others feel that they, too, can become great.” Twain’s brief, witty remark carries practical wisdom. To be respected by others as a leader, you must encourage others to develop their own leadership skills.

Paint a Picture: Describe a vivid scene or striking image that captures the reader’s imagination.

A green fir tree decorated with blinking lights and shiny glass ornaments may seem to be a pleasant reminder of Christmas joy. But if left too long without water, the same dried out Christmas tree could turn into a dangerous time-bomb waiting to burst into flames.

Compare/Contrast: Introduce a topic by showing how it is similar to, or different from, another topic.

Almost everyone agrees that Prohibition, the effort to outlaw alcohol from 1920 to 1933, was a failure. Yet many people think that today’s war on drugs should continue at any cost. The sooner Americans realize that the war on drugs is a failure, the sooner we can begin to truly solve the drug problems of America.

Background Information: Provide the background of a topic or problem. Give a brief history to put an issue in context.

When Gutenberg printed his first bible in 1450, it started a revolution in the way that people shared knowledge. Today, the Internet is making another revolution that could change the way we define knowledge itself.

Startling Fact or Statistic: Give a surprising fact to capture your reader’s interest, and then build up to your main point.

Over 100 million Americans own at least one automobile; more than 20 million families own at least two. However, only one out of every ten car owners knows how his or her vehicle works. Clearly, many Americans need to learn the basics of motor vehicle maintenance.

“They Say…I Say”: Give one point of view on a topic or problem, and then build your argument against it.

Many people believe that poverty is the main cause of crime. But if we compare crime rates in poor societies to rich ones, we find little difference. To find the root causes of crime, we must look beyond poverty. What we find is that criminal behavior has no simple explanations, but rather a variety of complex causes.