An introductory paragraph for an academic essay contains a narrowly-focused thesis statement and highlights evidence you will use to argue your thesis.
An intro to an essay is the first and possibly only occasion for a writer to gain a reader’s attention; thus, students must take care to professional opening 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 you find you need to refine your thesis statement after having done your research. The introduction to your article, however, needs to contain the following elements:
- the name of the author and the work
- a sentence or two introducing your topic
- a written thesis statement
- a summary of evidence that you are going to use to support your argument.
The introductory paragraph can vary slightly in length; however, it should be about 1/2 to 3/4 of a page long for a 10-page essay as a rule of thumb.
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.” According to Maxine Rodburg and the Writing Center tutors 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 confuse 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 humanity’s downfall.
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 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. It results in 1) hackneyed arguments and does 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 general information 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 to sustain her image of youthfulness. Simultaneously, 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 contains definite language may take a bit of extra time. Still, the introduction will establish the structure and logic for the rest of the essay to almost write.