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How to write an introduction paragraph

By Janice Niemann, Peer Writing Assistant

 Struggling to get started on your paper? I don’t blame you. Introduction paragraphs can be one of the hardest parts of an essay to write (and it definitely doesn’t help that they come first). Fortunately, I have a go-to format for you! It’s been unbelievably helpful to me over the years (I’m currently working on my Master’s), and I’d like to share it with you. It consists of three main sections:

  1.  Why your topic is interesting. You can also explain why your topic is relevant or give some sort of context. Basically, you want to jump right into your topic in your opening sentence. Try to avoid things like “Over the years…” or “Throughout history…” or “Many people believe…” that give your reader no actual information. Your reader wants to know right away what you’ll be talking about. Also, if you can catch your marker’s attention, that can only help your overall grade. This section can be as short as one sentence or up to three or four (or more), depending on the length of your paper.
  2. Road map. Some people call this section sign posting, but I prefer to think of it as a road map. Essentially, it’s an outline of what you’ll be talking about, condensed into a few sentences. You probably want to avoid giving your actual arguments here and instead focus on the general progression of topics in your paper. Your reader should feel like you’re holding their hand and showing her or him the general direction that your paper is going.
  3. Thesis statement. Ah, the thesis statement. Arguably the most important part of your whole paper (not to add extra pressure or anything). A good thesis statement is argumentative or controversial or conceivably debatable. This final sentence (or two) is where your argument should clearly come out. Remember that someone should be able to disagree with your thesis statement, and then have you convince him or her of your argument as your paper progresses. Try, if you can, to have section two lead up to your thesis, which I know can be difficult, but it’s nice to have a smooth introduction. Nobody like a clunky start.

One final tip: If you’re at a loss for how long your introduction should be, a good rule of thumb is 10% of your total word count (same for your conclusion paragraph). If your paper is supposed to be 1500 words, then your introduction should be about 150; similarly, if your paper is supposed to be 3000 words, then a 300-word introduction should do nicely.

I know that it’s hard to sit down to a blank page and begin explaining your brilliant idea, but hopefully this format will make things a little bit easier for you. Until next time, happy writing!

Good luck! See our Introduction handout for more information.

Photo courtesy of  Sandra under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.