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Introductory Paragraphs

In focusing on introductory paragraphs, it is clear that the cultural expectations in written English are that the writer introduce the topic or subject of the essay and then proceed to a statement of the main point of the essay. In introducing the topic, it is important that the writer engage the attention or curiosity of the reader.

Often, students are not expected to write a fully developed introductory paragraph in their first drafts of an essay. In these drafts, students should be honing in on their basic point and fine-tuning their supporting ideas.

The challenge of introducing a particular topic comes with a set of reader expectations. One way in which writers create introductions is to begin with a broad approach to the topic. For example, when introducing the topic of "my most valued possessions," one could describe the valued possession(s) of a number of people (for example, Elvis Presley, Hillary Clinton, or one's grandparents) before focusing on one's own possessions.

Another way to introduce the topic would be to offer snapshots of one's many possessions before finally focusing on the most valued possessions. Introducing this topic could begin with a description of funky things one owns or the most expensive things owned. This could lead to the most valued things one owns.

Sometimes, writers will create an introduction which leads to a shift in expectations. A long diatribe about all the worthless things that are cluttering up one's life may lead to an ending concerning the valuable things one cherishes most.

Some topics naturally lend themselves to particular types of introductory paragraphs. In content areas, students are often asked to create essays about topics in which they may need to write an introduction giving the reader background information on the topic. An essay about perceived dangers in American culture may begin with statistical information on violent crimes.

All of these various strategies may be used alone or in combination. In the aforementioned topic concerning dangers in American culture, one may also use questions or quotations related to this topic. Quotations may stimulate readers' background knowledge regarding the topic, and posing questions to readers gives them a sense of how they would approach the topic.

Langan (2001) lists various strategies for creating introductions. A number of strategies can be used in one introductory paragraph. An adapted list includes the following:

A. Begin with a broad approach to the topic and narrow it down.
B. Begin with an opposite idea you will develop or one that leads to a shift in expectations.
C. Give important background information or create a brief story.
D. Utilize surprising questions or quotations related to the topic.

Transitions and Thesis Statements

While students often have developed a thesis statement prior to the fleshing out of their introductory paragraph, thesis statements sometimes need to be changed to fit into the introductory paragraph. Frequently, a transition will assist the student in creating coherence in the introductory paragraph (see the SEA Site module Expressing Logical Relationships). Transitions also serve to alert the reader to the importance of the sentence. In the basic essay sample provided later, note how the "skeleton" thesis statement given in examples above has a transition which facilitates the flow of the introduction.