How to Write an Essay Introduction


The introduction of your essay serves two important purposes. First, it gets your reader interested in the topic and encourages them to read what you have to say about it. Second, it gives your reader a roadmap of what you're going to say and the overarching point you're going to make – your thesis statement. A powerful introduction grabs your reader's attention and keeps them reading.[1]

Part 1
Hooking Your Reader

Hooking Your Reader on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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The first sentence or two of your introduction should pull the reader in. You want anyone reading your essay to be fascinated, intrigued, or even outraged. You can't do this if you don't know who your likely readers are.[2] If you're writing a paper for a class, don't automatically assume your instructor is your audience. If you write directly to your instructor, you'll end up glossing over some information that is necessary to show that you properly understand the subject of your essay. It can be helpful to reverse-engineer your audience based on the subject matter of your essay. For example, if you're writing an essay about a women's health issue for a women's studies class, you might identify your audience as young women within the age range most affected by the issue.

Hooking Your Reader on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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A startling or shocking statistic can grab your audience's attention by immediately teaching them something they didn't know. Having learned something new in the first sentence, people will be interested to see where you go next.[3] For this hook to be effective, your fact needs to be sufficiently surprising. If you're not sure, test it on a few friends. If they react by expressing shock or surprise, you know you've got something good. Use a fact or statistic that sets up your essay, not something you'll be using as evidence to prove your thesis statement. Facts or statistics that demonstrate why your topic is important (or should be important) to your audience typically make good hooks.

Hooking Your Reader on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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Particularly with personal or political essays, use your hook to get your reader emotionally involved in the subject matter of your story. You can do this by describing a related hardship or tragedy.[4] For example, if you were writing an essay proposing a change to drunk driving laws, you might open with a story of how the life of a victim was changed forever after they were hit by a drunk driver.

Hooking Your Reader on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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In your reading and research for your essay, you may have come across an entertaining or interesting anecdote that, while related, didn't really fit into the body of your essay. Such an anecdote can work great as a hook.[5] For example, if you're writing an essay about a public figure, you might include an anecdote about an odd personal habit that cleverly relates back to your thesis statement. Particularly with less formal papers or personal essays, humorous anecdotes can be particularly effective hooks.

Hooking Your Reader on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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If you're writing a persuasive essay, consider using a relevant question to draw your reader in and get them actively thinking about the subject of your essay.[6] For example: "What would you do if you could play God for a day? That's exactly what the leaders of the tiny island nation of Guam tried to answer." If your essay prompt was a question, don't just repeat it in your paper. Make sure to come up with your own intriguing question.

Hooking Your Reader on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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Generalizations and clichés, even if presented to contrast with your point, won't help your essay. In most cases, they'll actually hurt by making you look like an unoriginal or lazy writer.[7] Broad, sweeping generalizations may ring false with some readers and alienate them from the start. For example, "everyone wants someone to love" would alienate someone who identified as aromantic or asexual.

Part 2
Creating Your Context

Creating Your Context on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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The next part of your introduction explains to your reader how that hook connects to the rest of your essay. Start with a broader, more general scope to explain your hook's relevance.[8] Use an appropriate transitional word or phrase, such as "however" or "similarly," to move from your specific anecdote back out to a broader scope. For example, if you related a story about one individual, but your essay isn't about them, you can relate the hook back to the larger topic with a sentence like "Tommy wasn't alone, however. There were more than 200,000 dockworkers affected by that union strike."

Creating Your Context on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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While you're still keeping things relatively general, let your readers know anything that will be necessary for them to understand your main argument and the points you're making in your essay.[9] For example, if your thesis relates to how blackface was used as a means of enforcing racial segregation, your introduction would describe what blackface performances were, and where and when they occurred. If you are writing an argumentative paper, make sure to explain both sides of the argument in a neutral or objective manner.

Creating Your Context on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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Your topic may include broad concepts or terms of art that you will need to define for your reader. Your introduction isn't the place to reiterate basic dictionary definitions. However, if there is a key term that may be interpreted differently depending on the context, let your readers know how you're using that term.[10] Definitions would be particularly important if your essay is discussing a scientific topic, where some scientific terminology might not be understood by the average layperson. Definitions also come in handy in legal or political essays, where a term may have different meanings depending on the context in which they are used.

Creating Your Context on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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It can be helpful to think of your introduction as an upside-down pyramid. With your hook sitting on top, your introduction welcomes your readers to the broader world in which your thesis resides.[11] If you're using 2 or 3 sentences to describe the context for your thesis, try to make each sentence a bit more specific than the one before it. Draw your reader in gradually. For example, if you're writing an essay about drunk driving fatalities, you might start with an anecdote about a particular victim. Then you could provide national statistics, then narrow it down further to statistics for a particular gender or age group.

Part 3
Presenting Your Thesis

Presenting Your Thesis on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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After you've set up the context within which you're making your argument, tell your readers the point of your essay. Use your thesis statement to directly communicate the unique point you will attempt to make through your essay.[12] For example, a thesis for an essay on blackface performance might be "Because of its humiliating and demoralizing effect on African American slaves, blackface was used less as a comedy routine and more as a way of enforcing racial segregation." Be assertive and confident in your writing. Avoid including fluff such as "In this essay, I will attempt to show...." Instead, dive right in and make your claim, bold and proud. Your outline should be specific, unique, and provable. Through your essay, you'll make points that will show that your thesis statement is true – or at least persuade your readers that it's most likely true.

Presenting Your Thesis on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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Round out your introduction by providing your readers with a basic roadmap of what you will say in your essay to support your thesis statement. In most cases, this doesn't need to be more than a sentence.[13] If you've created an outline for your essay, this sentence is essentially the main subjects of each paragraph of the body of your essay. For example, if you're writing an essay about the unification of Italy, you might list 3 obstacles to unification. In the body of your essay, you would discuss details about how each of those obstacles was addressed or overcome. Instead of just listing all of your supporting points, sum them up by stating "how" or "why" your thesis is true. For example, instead of saying, "Phones should be banned from classrooms because they distract students, promote cheating, and make too much noise," you might say "Phones should be banned from classrooms because they act as an obstacle to learning."

Presenting Your Thesis on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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In many cases, you'll find that you can move straight from your introduction to the first paragraph of the body. Some introductions, however, may require a short transitional sentence at the end to flow naturally into the rest of your essay.[14] To figure out if you need a transition sentence, read the introduction and the first paragraph out loud. If you find yourself pausing or stumbling between the paragraphs, work in a transition to make the move smoother. You can also have friends or family members read your easy. If they feel it's choppy or jumps from the introduction into the essay, see what you can do to smooth it out.

Part 4
Bringing It All Together

Bringing It All Together on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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What constitutes a good introduction will vary widely depending on your subject matter. A suitable introduction in one academic discipline may not work as well in another.[15] If you're writing your essay for a class assignment, ask your instructor for examples of well-written essays that you can look at. Take note of conventions that are commonly used by writers in that discipline. Make a brief outline of the essay based on the information presented in the introduction. Then look at that outline as you read the essay to see how the essay follows it to prove the writer's thesis statement.

Bringing It All Together on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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Generally, your introduction should be between 5 and 10 percent of the overall length of your essay. If you're writing a 10-page paper, your introduction should be approximately 1 page.[16] For shorter essays under 1,000 words, keep your introduction to 1 paragraph, between 100 and 200 words. Always follow your instructor's guidelines for length. These rules can vary at times based on genre or form of writing.

Bringing It All Together on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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Some writers prefer to write the body of the essay first, then go back and write the introduction. It's easier to present a summary of your essay when you've already written it.[17] As you write your essay, you may want to jot down things you want to include in your introduction. For example, you may realize that you're using a particular term that you need to define in your introduction.

Bringing It All Together on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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If you wrote your introduction first, go back and make sure your introduction provides an accurate roadmap of your completed paper. Even if you wrote an outline, you may have deviated from your original plans.[18] Delete any filler or unnecessary language. Given the shortness of the introduction, every sentence should be essential to your reader's understanding of your essay.

Bringing It All Together on How to Write an Essay Introduction

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An essay introduction is fairly formulaic, and will have the same basic elements regardless of your subject matter or academic discipline. While it's short, it conveys a lot of information.[19] The first sentence or two should be your hook, designed to grab your reader's attention and get them interested in reading your essay. The next couple of sentences create a bridge between your hook and the overall topic of the rest of your essay. End your introduction with your thesis statement and a list of the points you will make in your essay to support or prove your thesis statement.