Four Methods for Developing an Introduction

Personal Anecdote/Scenario

Perhaps the easiest and most effective introduction is to tell a brief story. (It can be true or made-up.) In a first-person essay, this story is called a personal anecdote. In a third-person essay, this story is called a scenario. In either case, you come up with a story that can be told in a few sentences. Make sure your story is relevant to your thesis and doesn't become too long and unwieldy.

For example, if you're writing a first-person essay about ways parents can promote good reading habits in their children, you might write an anecdote about your memories of your mother reading Peter Pan to you every night when you were six years old. If you're writing a third-person essay about the same question, you might make up a scenario about a child who wouldn't settle down to sleep without hearing Good Night, Moon at least three times.

Direct Quote

Another effective introduction is a direct or indirect quote. A direct quote cites another person's exact words in quote marks, while an indirect quote summarizes what someone else has said. Now, you may be thinking that you don't have any quotes lying ready in your brain to use in an essay. Again, you can make them up, just like a brief story.

For example, in an essay about the causes of divorce, you might begin a first-person essay with the sentence, "My mother gave me one piece of advice about the opposite sex: 'Avoid men who carry no cash in their wallets.'" You could also create a quote for a third-person essay, such as this indirect quote: Counselors suggest that while money is often targeted as a reason for marital difficulties, the real problem stems from a couple's inability to talk about money.

Make sure you don't make up a quote, however, that is false. For example, you wouldn't write to write, "Experts tell us that ninety percent of marriages end in divorce." False statements do penalize your essay.

Surprising Statement

A third method to begin an essay is to use a surprising statement, perhaps one that is contrary to common thought.

For example, you might begin, "Contrary to common wisdom, it is better to receive than give." Of course, you then must support your provocative statement. In this example, I would talk about the joy others experience when I graciously and appreciatively receive their gifts.

General-to-Narrow Focus

The time-honored general-to-narrow focus introduction can work well, of course. In such an introduction, you begin with a general statement and become more specific as you work your way through your introduction.

This method can also lead to over-obvious statements, such as this opening line from a student essay about how fast food can affect personal eating habits: "People need food to live." Be careful not to begin an essay with a vague line that everyone knows is true. In other words, don't "go global" by starting with a TOO general statement.

Avoid Referring to the Process of Writing

Once you decide upon your strategy, make sure you don't write lines like these:

"The purpose of this essay is to ..." or
"I've decided to write my essay about ...."

Indeed, don't refer to your essay in the introduction or anywhere in the essay itself. These are also lines to avoid:

"As I mentioned before in this essay..." or
"I'm not sure if I know enough about this essay topic...."

Just write your essay; don't refer the process of writing it or to something you've said in the essay.

Bridges to Thesis Statements

 

As you're writing your introduction and leading up to your thesis statement, it is important to LEAD UP TO YOUR THESIS STATEMENT. You must keep your thesis in mind as you write, and you must provide a "bridge" to it.

For example, you don't want to write a nice anecdote about relaxing in your recliner while you enjoy a can of diet Canada Dry and a rerun of Star Trek and then abruptly write, "My recliner is my favorite piece of furniture."

In order to keep your essay flowing smoothly, you need a phrase or sentence that segues between your introduction and thesis. It can be as easy as writing, "As I enjoy my afternoons in my recliner, I am reminded that it is my favorite piece of furniture."

Here are two introductions. Can you identify which one has a bridge that leads to the thesis and which one doesn't?

For a student to achieve academically, he or she needs more exposure to learning than what school provides. By creating an environment in the home that is conducive to learning, parents can enhance the likelihood of their children's academic success. Home exposure to challenging educational opportunities can even compensate for poor schooling, although the highest academic achievement is possible when both home and school contribute to learning. Parents must be ready to help their children with reading, writing, and math skills in the home.


For a student to achieve academically, he or she needs more exposure to learning than what school provides. By creating an environment in the home that is conducive to learning, parents can enhance the likelihood of their children's academic success. Home exposure to challenging educational opportunities can even compensate for poor schooling, although the highest academic achievement is possible when both home and school contribute to learning. Because parents may have limited control concerning classroom instruction, they must be ready to help their children with reading, writing, and math skills in the home.

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