How to Write an Introductory Paragraph for an Essay

An introductory paragraph for an academic essay contains a narrowly-focused thesis statement, and highlights evidence you will use to argue your thesis.

An introduction to an essay is the first and perhaps only opportunity for a writer to gain a reader's attention, thus, students must take care to craft introductory paragraphs that are dynamic, include a thesis, introduce evidence, as well as comply with academic writing standards.

Writing the Introductory Paragraph to an Essay

Introductions to essays will often be rewritten several times, particularly if after having done your research, you find you need to refine your thesis statement. The introduction to your essay, however, needs to contain the following elements:

  • the name of the author and the work
  • a sentence or two introducing your topic
  • a clearly written thesis statement
  • a brief summary of evidence that you are going to use to support your argument.

The introductory paragraph can vary slightly in length; however, as a rule of thumb, it should be about 1/2 to 3/4 of a page long for a 10-page essay.

What is a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement is a clearly defined sentence or two that takes a position on a particular issue. It is the point that you are going to argue in your essay. It is not a fact, nor can it be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Further, according to Maxine Rodburg and the tutors of the Writing Center at Harvard University in their 1999 article, " Developing a Thesis," a thesis should never be "combative or confrontational." A thesis statement that is not clearly articulated can result in confusion in the rest of the essay as you continue to build evidence on a shaky argument.

The following statement is not a thesis because it is an accepted fact:

1) In Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan tempted Eve, which led to the downfall of humanity.

The following is a better thesis statement:

2) In Milton's Paradise Lost, although many argue that Eve is a victim of Satan's seductive powers, Eve is in fact a victim of her own narcissism and idolatry, which leads to her fall from paradise.

Common Mistakes in Intro Paragraphs

Below are common mistakes that many students make while trying to write an introductory paragraph to an essay:

  • Using language in your thesis such as, "I will try and argue that Hamlet loses his sanity through his inability to reconcile his philosophy with that of the older generation" is weak. Remove all wording that indicates that you do not have a firm grasp of your topic so you end up with: "Hamlet loses his sanity through his inability to reconcile his philosophy with that of the older generation."
  • Not getting to the point fast enough. Often students will start writing their introductory paragraph using very general statements. This results in: 1) statements that are hackneyed and do not attract the reader's attention; and 2) statements that do not provide a roadmap to where the thesis is headed. Think twice before starting an introductory paragraph with a general statement such as:"The Modernist period in literature focuses on the disillusionment experienced by the population living in the early 20th century after World War I."

Sample Introduction to an Essay

The following introduction to an essay contains an opening sentence that is not too general, a clear thesis statement, and a summary of evidence that will be introduced to support the thesis:

"In Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and Jean Rhys's Good Morning, Midnight, the protagonists, Clarissa Dalloway and Sasha Jensen, experience the disillusionment that was rampant after World War I." Both Clarissa Dalloway and Sasha Jensen adopt ideologies that deny the passage of time and buffer them from the pain and self-doubt of their actual existence. Clarissa Dalloway creates her ideology by becoming a perpetual hostess of parties in order to sustain her image of youthfulness while Sasha Jensen modifies her appearance, drinks to excess, and controls her environment and the people in her life to escape feelings of low self worth.

Writing an introduction to an essay that includes a well articulated thesis, introduces evidence to support your argument, and includes definite language may take a bit of extra time, but the introduction will establish the structure and logic for the rest of the essay to almost write itself.

Prof. C.A. Silber. "Some General Advice on Academic Essay-Writing." Department of English, University of Toronto.

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