How to Write Winning Introductory Paragraphs

While I don’t necessarily advocate for formulaic writing or the standard five-paragraph essay, generally introductory paragraphs do contain the following:

  • A hook
  • Background information on the topic
  • Thesis/Claim statement

There are exceptions, of course.

If you are writing a news article or narrative, for example, the writing is completely different.

However, it is a safe bet that when writing an argumentative, informative, or analytical essay, you can write a winning introduction by including those elements.

If you would rather learn how to write the career summary through watching a video tutorial, check out my YouTube tutorial on this topic. 

Thesis/Claim Statement

Your thesis/claim statement states the topic of your paper.

The thesis statement for an argumentative essay can be called a claim.

To learn how to write effective thesis statements for your informational or analytical essay, check out my thesis statements blog.

To learn to write an effective claim statement for your argumentative essay, check out my claim statements blog.  Those blog posts will walk you through writing these statements both for a standard five-paragraph essay and a more complex essay.


Hook

The purpose of a hook is to do just as the name suggests and hook the reader in. Unfortunately, many students butcher the hook, and it ends up doing quite the opposite: boring me to death. I haven’t died yet from reading a student’s essay, but I have come quite close.

NOTE: I wrote most of these examples. The ones/parts I didn’t write are in italics with a reference note.

 

Question—a thought-provoking question

 

Students tend to use this one the most often because they think it is easy.

But they end up writing questions that do not engage or hook the reader. I have had students write very mundane questions as hooks:

  • “Do you like Basketball?”
  • “Have you ever heard of Michael Jordan?”
  • “Do you like homework?”
  • “Do you know how many people live in Utah?”

None of these questions make you think at all. Not really. Maybe you don’t know how many people live in Utah; I sure don’t, but it isn’t an engaging question. I answer no, and I move on.

If you use a question for a hook, you want to pose a question that causes the reader to stop and think or to be so intrigued that they have to read on.

Examples of effective question hooks:

  • While cell phones are becoming a given in teenagers’ lives, are they doing more harm than good?
  • “What would you do if you could play God for a day? That’s exactly what the leaders of the tiny island nation of Guam tried to answer”(Essay Hook Ideas).

 

Quotation—a quote from literature, a famous person, or a quote found on motivational sites

 

While this is a great hook, it can easily be misused: you can’t just insert a quote related to your subject and then move on. You need to connect the quote to the rest of your introduction.

Examples of effective quotation hooks:

  • “‘Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen’ said Michael Jordan, arguably the best player to ever play in the NBA. While many people want, dream, wish, and pray that they will one day make it to the big stage, they are just wishers and dreamers. It is only when these dreamers and wishers take matters into their own hands and strive to be the best that they actually get to play professional basketball in the NBA” (Writing Studio). [this whole thing is the hook: Quote + connecting the hook to the rest of the introduction] Michael Jordan certainly worked hard to get to the NBA and make his dreams a reality. [this is the start of the background information]

 

  • Steven Spielberg said, “Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.” As Steven noted, cell phones can negatively affect adults who have not had the time to mature and develop their story, so you can imagine how much it can affect the life of a young teenager. [this whole thing is the hook: quote+ connecting it to the rest of the introduction, leading into the background information]

 

Statistic

 

This is often given as a quote, but since it contains an interesting statistic, it acts as its own type of hook.

This type of hook works best for informational essays. Just like with quotations, you have to connect the statistic to the rest of your introduction. You cannot just drop the statistic and move on.

Examples of effective statistic hooks:

  • “Just 0.00545 percent of the 550,000 boys playing high school basketball each year in the United States become a first-round draft pick — 1 in 18,333,” stated Jeff Rabjohns, a writer for The Indianapolis Star, in an article titled “Prep players face long odds of making it to NBA” (Writing Studio). Basically, only a few high school players will make it to the NBA. Even though there are many that strive, play, train, practice, and fight to be great, a huge majority of them do not make it. Not only did Michael Jordan make it, but he went on to become one of the biggest names in the NBA.

 

  • The average person checks their cellphone 110 times a day. That’s an average of 9 times hourly, with the greatest proportion of phone attendance during downtime evening hours. We’d like to believe those hours serve leisure and relaxation (if feverishly updating your social media profiles qualifies as relaxation), but the data suggests a smartphone is, for many of us, as much a liability as it is a luxury.” Checking their phone a 110 times a day and spending hours on social media can cause young teens to need to fill their downtime without leaving room to explore other hobbies and interests.

 

Surprising fact or definition

 

Start by surprising your reader with information about your topic they may not know.

Examples of effective surprising facts:

  • Michael Jordan was the first athlete in history to become a billionaire.

 

  • The first mobile call was made by Martin Cooper in 1973. But while the technology was available, they didn’t start selling them until the 80s. However, since the first cell phone cost $4,000, it isn’t too surprising that very few people owned one then.

 

Anecdote—a fancy word for a short story

 

People love to read stories, so even if your essay is informational, argumentative, or analytical and not a narrative, you can begin with a short story. This story can be a figment of your imagination or a real story—yours or someone else’s.

Examples of effective anecdotal hooks:

  • “When I was in high school, I remember playing in an AAU basketball league. We had to travel to downtown Philadelphia on the weekends for basketball practice. Each and every time we had basketball practice (which was at 8 a.m.), there was a boy around my age in the gym by the time we arrived. He was always covered in sweat, throwing up shots, practicing his layups, practicing his dribbling, and running laps around the gym. He was in such great shape. One day, I mustered up the courage to ask his about his ambitions, and he told me that he gets up at 5:30 a.m. to go to the gym and practice hard until my team comes in for practice. A few years later, this guy was entering the NBA draft from high school. When I saw him get drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, I knew exactly why. All that hard work had paid off for him. This is the hard work ethics and mindset that everyone that wants to make it to the NBA should have” (Writing Studio). 

 

  • I remember when I first got a cell phone. Waking up Christmas morning, I scrambled to get photo-ready per my mom’s requirement. While the magic of Christmas had decreased over the years, I still enjoyed watching my siblings, especially my younger ones, tear into their gifts with glee.  I opened mine seemingly nonchalantly, but even at the age of 20, I still had some eagerness. When I opened my Santa gift, I was shocked. No way! Santa had gotten me a phone. I grumbled, “Merry Christmas, Katie, now you have to pay a monthly cell phone bill.” My parents, fumbling for the right words, said, “We thought…I mean you are away for College, and it just well, I thought you would want a phone.” I most certainly did not want a cell phone. My landline worked perfectly fine. My tune changed soon enough when I discovered the magic of texting. Although I refused to get a smartphone until my late 20s and, thus, didn’t deal with apps like Facebook, Marco Polo, snapchat etc., I still dealt with a bit of addiction. Texting and receiving texts filled me with joy.

 

Dialogue

 

While this is similar to an anecdote, instead of telling a full short story, you just include a few lines of dialogue—people talking back and forth or just one person talking to someone. Just like with the anecdote, this dialogue can be real or imagined.

Examples of Dialogue Hooks:

  • Mom, I need a cell phone.  Mom, please get me a cell phone—all my friends have one.  I will be a responsible please….  Ugh you are ruining my life,” whine the teenagers across the country who do not have a cell phone.

 


Background Information

Once you have your readers’ attention, you can start giving some background information on your topic leading up to the thesis.

Make sure the information you put here is not information found in the body of your paper.

Sometimes, you may not need background information. In this case, you just have your hook; some type of transitional sentence, phrase, or word; and then your thesis.

For a rhetorical analysis on a piece of literature or non-fiction: Introduce the book title and author. Then give a brief synopsis of the piece.

For an informational essay: If you reader needs to know information about your topic (and you know most of your audience doesn’t) in order to understand your thesis statement, use the background information to fill in those gaps.

This information can be scientific, historical, cultural, or even personal.

  • Example: For an informational essay describing the attack on Pearl Harbor—how it happened, the result, and how the country reacted—the reader would need to know the relationship between Japan and the U.S. at that time and some information about WWII.

You can use the background information to transition and connect your hook to your thesis.

During this background information, you may introduce your topic’s broad subject

  • Example: Michael Jordan, but it shouldn’t tell the specific topic of your paper: example, Michael’s childhood and rise to the NBA.)

For a literary analysis: Introduce the book title and and author. Then give a brief synopsis of the piece. Since a literary analysis analyzes the theme, you will also want to provide how the piece’s theme relates to society.

For an argumentative essay: Along with providing information about your topic that your reader needs to know in order to understand your claim, you can also explain the controversy surrounding your stance.


Example Introduction Paragraphs

I have a handout of a few introductory samples that I wrote from my school days. You can scroll through them to look at examples for the type of essay you are writing.

The handout is color-coded for you: the hook is in blue, the background information is in black, and the thesis is in red.

 DEVIATIONS FROM STANDARD FIVE-PARAGRAPH ESSAY

    • One introduction is two paragraphs long.  There is nothing wrong with a multi-paragraph introduction if one is called for.
    • With one of my examples, I had a hook, a portion of the thesis, background information, and then more of the thesis. This works too.
    • One example doesn’t have any background information. Sometimes you don’t need it.

The idea here is just to have the important elements, not to follow some formulaic pattern.

 

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