Introductions | St. Lawrence University WORD Studio


When writing papers, many people find that it’s hard to get started…and hard to wrap things up. Introductions can often be the most difficult part of an essay: How do you get readers interested enough to read further? Although it may seem out-of-order, it’s often best to write the introductory pargaraphs of an essay last; after you know the final shape of your argument, you can decide on the best way to get your readers’ attention.

A successful introduction will include the following:

A hook, or an attention-getting device: What can I write in the first few sentences that will make the reader want to continue reading the essay?

Some possible types of attention-getters:

  • A startling or intriguing fact or statistic
  • A short but important quotation
  • An anecdote (hypothetical or real)
  • A brief historical background of the issue

NOTE: Steer clear of the ever-popular beginning, “Webster’s dictionary defines ‘democracy’ [or ‘gender’ or ‘film noir’] as….” This introduction not only is a cliché but also rarely provides your readers with any information they didn’t already know.

Background information: Much like the exposition of a work of fiction, an introduction should provide all necessary background information. It should also define key terms and clarify the premise for your thesis.

The question at issue: What is the purpose of your essay? Explain whether you are examining a question of fact, definition, value, or policy.

FACT: A question of fact asks, “Did something happen or not? Is this true or is it not?”
DEFINITION: A question of definition asks, “What is the nature of this term (or issue or text)? Does this term (or issue or text) fit into a certain category?”
VALUE: A question of value asks, “What is the worth [moral, practical, feasible, comparative] of this term (or text or issue)?”
POLICY: A question of policy asks, “What are we to do with the information about this term or issue?”

Thesis: Your thesis statement should be an answer—at least a preliminary one—to your question at issue. Your thesis should take a stand and make a clear  and specific argument.

Preview of Organization: A good essay should not surprise the reader as it progresses. Your introduction should not only include your proofs, but should allude to a logical ordering of the argument. For example, proofs are often ordered by importance, ending with the most important point.