3.4: Writing Introductions
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“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” This common axiom reminds us just how much weight people place on their first experiences, whether it be with a person, a road trip, or a piece of writing. Catching readers’ attention may be the most important work you do when you write, because if you lose them in the introduction, you don’t get a chance to share your message with them later.
What is the Purpose of an Introduction?
Introductions have two jobs:
- Catch readers’ attention.
- Introduce the focus and purpose of your writing.
How do I accomplish these jobs without giving away all of my essay in the introduction? I mean, how do I know what will hook readers’ attention without sharing all the cool details?
Great questions! You might start by using this simple formula and then choosing a method from the list below.
A good introduction = new information + ideas that everyone may not agree with. To put it another way, if your piece begins with an idea most people know and agree with, it’s less likely to pull readers in. People are made curious by new ideas and opinions that have multiple perspectives or may be controversial.
In other words, the Yes, But, So pattern is also a good structure for an introduction. If used well, it sets up the structure of the essay far more effectively than a 3-part thesis.
The following are some methods and examples for introducing a topic and getting your reader’s attention.
Method: Share an interesting, shocking, or little known fact or statistic about your topic. Starting your paper with a fact or statistic that gives your readers insight into your topic right away will peak their curiosity and make them want to know more. It will also help you establish a strong ethos, or credibility, from the very beginning.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68% of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.
Method: Tell an anecdote or story that will help readers connect with your topic on a personal level. Sharing a human interest story right away will help readers connect with your topic on a personal level and will help to illustrate way your topic matters.
Today, Jimmy Santiago Baca is a well known American poet, but when he was twenty he entered prison illiterate and had to teach himself to read over the five years he spent behind bars.
Method: Ask a question that gets readers curious about the answer. People tend to want to answer questions when they’re presented with them. This provides you with an easy way to catch readers’ attention because they’ll keep reading to discover the answer to any questions you pose in the introduction. Just be sure to answer them at some point in your writing.
Can prisons rehabilitate prisoners so they’re able to return to their communities, find jobs, and contribute in positive ways?
Exercise: Good or Bad Introduction?
One way to improve your introduction-writing skills is to look at different choices that other writers make when introducing a topic and to consider what catches your interest as a reader and what doesn’t. Read the introductions below about teenagers and decision making. Which ones pull you in? Which ones are less interesting? What’s the difference? Work with peers to decide.
- Throughout history, teenagers have challenged the authority of adults. They do this because they want to be given more freedom and to be treated like adults themselves. This can cause real problems between teens and the adults in their lives.
- Some days my sixteen-year-old niece, Rachael, does all of her homework, helps friends study after school, and practices her cello, and other days she forgets her books at school, lies about where she’s going, and doesn’t do her chores. This sporadic behavior seems like it comes out of nowhere, but it turns out teenage brains are different from adult brains, causing teens to sometimes not think about consequences before they act.
- If teenage brains aren’t fully formed, causing them to act before they think about the risks they’re taking, should teens be restricted from some adult freedoms like driving, working, and socializing without adult supervision?
- Teenagers are known to be less responsible than adults, so they should have at least some adult guidance to make sure they stay safe. Without adult supervision, teens will make poor decisions that could put them at unnecessary risk.
- According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the frontal cortex in the brain, where reasoning and thinking before acting occurs, is not fully formed in teenagers. However, the amygdala, “responsible for immediate reactions including fear and aggressive behavior,” is fully formed early in life. This means teens aren’t as good at considering the consequences of their behavior before they react, so the adults in their lives should limit the risks in their lives until they’re better able to reason through them.
Exercise: Write an Introduction
Now that you’ve had an opportunity to think about some different approaches and techniques for writing introductions, let’s practice. Find an entry in your journal or a draft of a piece of writing you’re working on this term and use what you’ve learned in this section to write an attention-grabbing introduction to your piece.
If you don’t currently have a piece to work with, you can write an introduction using one of the following scenarios. Read through the following list and choose one. One to three sentences is enough.
- Persuade your local school board members that the elementary school should change the way it teaches sex education.
- Persuade teens to travel to a foreign country before they graduate from college.
- Give some tips to new parents that will help lower their stress and make their new baby feel safe and loved.
- Inform young athletes who may want to play football of the possible risks and benefits.
- Review a movie, book, product, or trip for someone thinking of making one of these purchases to help them decide that they should or shouldn’t do it.
Share your introduction with your classmates and discuss what about it is effective and how it could be improved.
See the discussion about “Writing Beginnings” in the “Writing a First Draft” section in the “Drafting” portion of this text for more on writing introductions as part of your drafting process.