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Writing Strong Introductions

Good writing is like fishing: in order to catch the prize fish, a captivated reader, you have to bait your hook with the juiciest worm. In writing, the most alluring bait may be the introduction.

Here are some “hooks” that can be incorporated into successful introductions. These aren’t the only techniques you can try, so be creative!

Anecdote

A brief story with a point will paint a picture with words and then explain how it illustrates your argument or relates to your thesis. You can even allude to the story again in your conclusion.

Here’s an example from “Going, Going, GONE to the Auction!” by Laurie Goering in Chicago Tribune Magazine, July 4, 1994:

Mike Cantlon remembers coming across his first auction ten years ago while cruising the back roads of Wisconsin. He parked his car and wandered into the crowd, toward the auctioneer’s singsong chant and wafting smell of barbecued sandwiches. Hours later, Cantlon emerged lugging a $22 beam drill-for constructing post-and-beam barns—and a passion for auctions that has clung like a cocklebur on an old saddle blanket. “It’s an addiction,” says Cantlon, a financial planner and one of the growing number of auction fanatics for whom Saturdays will never be the same.

Startling Statement

A provable, eye-catching one-liner will help to grab a reader’s attention.

Here’s an example from “60 Seconds That Could Save Your Child” by Cathy Perlmutter with Maureen Sangiorgio in Prevention, September 1993:

Have a minute? Good. Because that may be all it takes to save the life of a child—your child. Accidents kill nearly 8000 children under age 15 each year. And for every fatality, 42 more children are admitted to hospitals for treatment. Yet such deaths and injuries can be avoided through these easy steps parents can take right now. You don’t have a minute to lose.

Famous Ideas

Rather than starting with a overdone quote from a famous person, try paraphrasing famous ideas as they relate to your argument.

Here’s an example from “Perfect Storm: The Genuis of Sharknado” by James Poniewozik in Time Magazine, July 2013:

One of the greatest legacies left behind by the late film critic Roger Ebert...was that a work of art needs to be approached critically on its own terms. A movie like Syfy’s Sharknado, say, should not be judged on how well it fulfills the standards of Band of Brothers. It should be judged on how well it fulfills the standards of a movie with the title Sharknado.

Question

A thought-provoking rhetorical question can help your reader evaluate his or her own opinions of your topic.

Here’s an example from “Today’s 90 Year Olds Are Mentally Sharper Than Their Predecessors” by Maia Szalavitz in Time, July 2013:

Worried that living longer will mean living longer with mental and physical disabilities? Your worries may be over.

First- and Second-Person Address

Words directly focused on audience help your reader easily identify with you. Try using “you” and “your” or “we” and “our.”

Here’s an example from “Pass the Bill” by David Brooks in the New York Times, July 2013:

It’s beginning to look as though we’re not going to get an immigration reform law this year.

A Combination

Use more than one of these techniques to grab the reader’s attention and develop your tone.

Here’s an example from “The Decline of Black Power in the South” by Thomas B. Edsall in the New York Times, July 2013. This example uses second-person address, “you” in a startling statement:

To understand the depth of the damage that the Supreme Court’s June 25 decision, Shelby County v. Holder, has inflicted on the voting rights of African-Americans, you have to measure it against the backdrop of the takeover of state legislatures, primarily in the South, by the Republican Party.

Once you have written your introduction, ask yourself these questions to evaluate your progress: 

  • What’s the main idea?
  • What are the points/details to be used to support this main idea?
  • What is the paper’s organization/structure?
  • What point of view will be used?
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