Definition to Remember:
- Catchy First Line + Inspiration + Thesis = Introduction
Rules to Remember:
- First impressions are critical. If you want your readers to continue reading, you must capture their attention, present yourself as reasonably authoritative, and offer a clear sense of purpose – all in your introductory paragraph.
- A catchy first line is essential. If humor is appropriate to your purpose and audience, use it. If a question might help draw your readers in, open with one. Remember that your first line and your thesis statement are typically not the same; most essays open with a catchy first line, with the thesis statement falling somewhere near the end of the first paragraph. Your first line does not need to carry the weight of a thesis statement, so have fun with it. Keep it short, and keep your readers wondering so they will choose to read on.
Consider the following first lines. Would you keep reading? Why or why not?
- It was a morning that would never end.
- Ralph fell sideways.
- When the sun set over the national forest on May 17, 1980, no one realized the enormity of what the next day would bring.
- Saturdays were chicken-soup-making days, which meant Beulah was required to select the best chicken from the coop, snap its neck with a firm twist, and pluck feather after feather from the warm skin.
- Politicians rarely listen well.
- I was done.
- Thirty-two emails later, the deal was signed.
- When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world in June 2007, everything changed.
- They spent the first two years of their marriage in a Japanese internment camp in northern Washington state.
- The root system of the Douglas fir is surprisingly shallow for a tree that often grows to more than 70 feet tall.
- Without inspiration, you will have a difficult time convincing your readers that they should be inspired to read further. If you want your readers to be engaged, you must be energetic about the ideas you want to communicate, and that energy should show through in your very first opening lines. What excites or interests you about this topic? Should you open with a particularly inviting story, or a surprising fact, or a compelling question? How will you inspire your readers to join you for this journey?
Consider the following options to bring life and energy to your introduction:
- a related story
- a provocative question or series of questions
- a hypothetical scenario
- a surprising fact or series of facts
- an engaging direct quotation
- a striking statement
- background information or context
- an opposing argument
- the who, what, where, when, and why of the paper’s focus
- a combination of the types listed above
- Your readers will expect to see your thesis as the closing line of your introductory paragraph, which can be an effective way to transition from your introductory ideas to the main points of your paper. But the thesis does not have to be the final line of the first paragraph. If you choose to place it elsewhere, be sure it is very clear to your readers which sentence is your thesis statement.
“I believe that the ability to communicate complex ideas in a simple fashion is more important to engineering than technical ability. It helps you be sure you are solving the correct problem.” Andrew Gracey, Software Engineer
- Writing a “since the dawn of mankind” introduction. Remember that your goal here is to intrigue and inspire, not diffuse. Always write something that you would be excited to read.
- Composing an obligatory introduction. If you are writing your introduction because you know it is required but your inspiration is minimal, consider how much less inspired your readers will be. Don’t include an introductory paragraph just because you must; let it sing.
- Including Wikipedia or another encyclopedia or dictionary definition in your introduction. If you are looking for the authoritative voice of an effective definition, consider looking at disciplinary-specific source, such as a medical journal or a sociology textbook. Encyclopedias and dictionaries are not considered credible sources at the university level and beyond.
Consider at least five paragraphs you have written in the past week, whether for work, school, or personal use. Write the first line of each on the lines below. If you had been a member of your own audience, would you have chosen to read on? Why or why not? If not, what revisions would you make?
Consider a writing assignment you will need to undertake in the near future. How might you approach an introduction using each of the following approaches? Be specific as you answer.
- A related story:
- A provocative question or series of questions:
- A hypothetical scenario:
- A surprising fact or series of facts:
- An engaging direct quotation:
- A striking statement:
- Background information or context:
- An opposing argument:
- The who, what, where, when, and why of the paper’s focus:
- A combination of the types listed above:
Select one of the examples from either Exercise 10.3 or Exercise 11.2 and write an introduction. Once you have finished, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you included a catchy first line?
- Which of the suggestions listed in Exercise 11.2 have you used to interest and inspire your readers?
- Have you included a clear, concise thesis statement?
- If you were a member of your own audience, would you keep reading? Why or why not?
- What further revisions do you need to make?