Step 6: Introductory Paragraph
The essay introduction paragraph is the first impression that your reader has of your work, so it's important to start it off on the right foot. The main purpose of an introduction is to give the reader a brief overview of the topic at hand and then address how you plan on addressing the question or proving your point. Exactly how it's written or what needs to be in there heavily depends on the length of the essay and type. But the sample essay introduction paragraphs showed should be enough guidance to get you going in the right direction. This section of the Ultius essay writing guide is going to go over the most common and best type of introduction: the funneling method.
When you write your essay introduction paragraph, make sure your paragraph is focused and contains just the right amount of information. To keep your writing focused, select a length for your introduction and stick to it when you draft your essay. Exactly how long should your introduction be? This will depend on the total length of your paper and the essay type. For essays that are longer than ten pages, you will most likely need a longer introduction paragraph to fully introduce your topic. Technical essays or research-intensive essays might also require additional length to clearly explain complex topics. In both cases, your introductory paragraph still should not exceed one full double-spaced page. If you are writing an essay that is shorter than five pages and that is introducing a very simple subject, it is better to limit your introduction to half of a double-spaced page. Once you have decided on your paragraph length, you can organize your paragraph so that it fits within the selected parameters.
Tip: As a rule of thumb, your introduction should always be less than 20% of your total paper.
Writing an Essay Introduction - The Funneling Method
This style for writing an intro is exactly as it sounds: it funnels from broad to specific. The funneling method starts broadly and then narrows down the time/place, any relevant key terms or historical information and then gives the reader your main point, or thesis statement. The subject matter of each sentence therefore gets more specific as you go. If you're curious about how long your introduction should be, the rule of thumb is that it should be 20% of your total paper. So, a five page essay should have an introduction that is roughly one page. Anything less than 5 pages should not be more than 1 paragraph. It may seem tempting to include a longer introduction with more "fluff," but this isn't a good idea as your professor can sniff it out and it will reduce the overall quality of your writing.
The Funneling Method
1. Start with a broad statement
2. Narrow down to a time and place
3. Define key terms or give important background information
4. Thesis statement
To see how the funneling method works, think about how you would write your paragraph line-by-line. When you use the funneling method, you will start with a broad statement for your opening sentence. The key is to make a general statement about the essay topic in your sentence. Here is an example of a broad sentence that could be used to introduce an essay on the War on Terrorism:
“The War on Terror is a critical component of United States national security strategy.”
This sentence serves as a broad opening because it addresses the topic, the War on Terror, without being too specific in its focus. The second step in the funneling method is to narrow your topic to a specific time or place.
Tip: Use freewriting to generate ideas for topics. Write down any ideas you have that relate to the topic and just write about them for a few minutes.
The following sentence demonstrates this step using our War on Terror example:
“Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, counterterrorism has become a central focus of United States foreign policy.”
This sentence of the essay introduction focuses the topic by specifying that the topic addresses the time period following September 11, 2001. It also narrows down the place by signaling that the paper will focus on United States foreign policy. The third step in the funneling method is to define key terms or provide important background information. This sentence fulfills this step by defining the concept of terrorism:
“While terrorism has many definitions, it is commonly understood as the use of violence targeting civilians to achieve a political goal.”,
Keep in mind that it might take several sentences to provide the necessary definitions and background information to your reader. For this step, it is important to consider everything that your reader will need to know to understand your topic and appreciate the argument in your thesis.
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Tip: Having a difficult time focusing your thoughts? Take a break and write down the main points you are trying to make and compare it to the structure of your introduction. If you're going off topic, you need to keep things concise.
After you have carefully brought your reader up to speed on the background of your topic, the final step of the funneling method is to write your thesis statement. The thesis statement, the last part of the essay introduction, simply highlights the arguments that you will make in your essay. The following sentence is a thesis statement for our War on Terror topic:
“Though counterterrorism is critical to saving civilian lives, the War on Terror can be considered a failure in foreign policy because it precipitated unnecessary wars, galvanized pro-terrorist organizations, and alienated the United States from its allies.”
As this example demonstrates, the thesis statement can be written in one sentence. While the thesis can be written in multiple sentences, it is advisable to keep it as short as possible to avoid confusing your reader.
By following the four steps of the funneling method, you will introduce your reader to your topic, specify the focus of your topic, clarify any confusing terms, and present the argument of your essay. When you use the funneling method, you ensure that every sentence is put to good use in your essay introduction.
Getting the Reader to Pay Attention
When your grade is on the line, you don’t want your professor yawning before he or she even reaches the body of your essay. A bored professor might rush through grading your essay or overlook your main points, which could cause you to receive a lower grade. Using an attention grabber will engage your reader and make your essay more enjoyable. Consider these strategies to grab your professor’s attention from the first sentence:
Ask a Question
Will asking a question grab your reader’s attention? Yes. When you begin your introduction paragraph with a thought-provoking question it forces the reader to pause and consider the answer. By asking questions in your essay introduction, you force your reader to pay closer attention to your writing. If you use this strategy, just be sure to keep your question simple and related to the topic of the essay. Though you want to slow your reader down, you also don’t want to confuse them or distract them from the rest of your essay.
Use a Quotation
A profound quote from an expert on your topic can serve the dual purposes of capturing your reader’s attention and building your credibility. Quotations in your introductory paragraph will stand out simply because the voice of the person who is quoted will contrast with your writing style. Who the quotation is from is often more important than what the quotation is saying. When you select a quotation, be sure to quote renowned figures. For example, if you were writing an essay on the Supreme Court, a quote from a Supreme Court justice would be more interesting to your reader than a quote from an unknown law professor.
Tip: Unclear on how to effectively integrate quotes and citations? Visit our page on essay quotes and citations for further explanation.
Use a Hook
A hook is an interesting statement that piques the interest of your reader. As the name suggests, the purpose of the hook is to figuratively “hook” your reader and compel them to continue reading your essay introduction. Startling statistics are among the most effective hooks. For example, if your paper is on obesity, you might include a shocking statistic that demonstrates the high prevalence of obesity in the United States. When you open your essay with an interesting fact, you can return to your hook and refer to it in the body of your essay. An effective hook can be referred to repeatedly in order to regain the attention of your reader. It takes practice to write an effective hook, but once you get it down, you will keep your reader hanging on to your essay until the very last word.
Use an Anecdote
Many times, it is more effective to show rather than tell your reader the importance of your topic. An anecdote is a story that can be used to illustrate a point that you are trying to make in your introductory paragraph. For example, if you want to explain the importance of cancer research, you might begin your introduction with a story about a cancer survivor who benefited from treatment. An essay on the importance of fraud protection laws might begin with a story about a senior citizen who was swindled out of his retirement savings by a con artist. A carefully selected anecdote can appeal to the emotions of your reader and increase their interest in your topic.
Though any one of the attention grabbers will improve your essay introduction, you should use a combination of attention grabbers to really strengthen the impact. In longer introductions, several well-placed attention grabbers will keep your professor awake and interested in your essay.