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Basic structure introduction paragraph

Things NOT to do in an introductory paragraph:
  • Apologize. Never suggest that you don't know what you're talking about or that you're not enough of an expert in this matter that your opinion would matter. Your reader will quickly turn to something else. Avoid phrases like the following:

    In my [humble] opinion . . .
    I'm not sure about this, but . . .

  • Announce your intentions. Do not flatly announce what you are about to do in an essay.

    In this paper I will . . .
    The purpose of this essay is to . . .

    Get into the topic and let your reader perceive your purpose in the topic sentence of your beginning paragraph.
  • Use a dictionary or encyclopedia definition.

    According to Merriam-Webster's WWWebster Dictionary,
    a widget is . . .

    Although definitions are extremely useful and it might serve your purpose to devise your own definition(s) later in the essay, you want to avoid using this hackneyed beginning to an essay.
  • Dilly-dally. Get to it. Move confidently into your essay. Many writers find it useful to write a warm-up paragraph (or two, even) to get them into the essay, to sharpen their own idea of what they're up to, and then they go back and delete the running start.

The following material is adapted from a handout prepared by Harry Livermore for his high school English classes at Cook High School in Adel, Georgia. It is used here with his permission.


Students are told from the first time they receive instruction in English composition that their introductory paragraphs should accomplish two tasks:

  1. They should get the reader's interest so that he or she will want to read more.
  2. They should let the reader know what the writing is going to be about.

The second task can be accomplished by a carefully crafted thesis statement. Writing thesis statements can be learned rather quickly. The first task — securing the reader's interest — is more difficult. It is this task that this discussion addresses.

First, admit that it is impossible to say or do or write anything that will interest everybody. With that out of the way, the question then becomes: "What can a writer do that will secure the interest of a fair sized audience?"

#Professional writers who write for magazines and receive pay for their work use five basic patterns to grab a reader's interest:

  1. historical review
  2. anecdotal
  3. surprising statement
  4. famous person
  5. declarative

What follows is an explanation of each of these patterns with examples from real magazine articles to illustrate the explanations.

1 Historical review: Some topics are better understood if a brief historical review of the topic is presented to lead into the discussion of the moment. Such topics might include "a biographical sketch of a war hero," "an upcoming execution of a convicted criminal," or "drugs and the younger generation." Obviously there are many, many more topics that could be introduced by reviewing the history of the topic before the writer gets down to the nitty gritty of his paper. It is important that the historical review be brief so that it does not take over the paper.

from "Integration Turns 40" by Juan Williams in Modern Maturity, April/May, 1994.

The victory brought pure elation and joy. It was May 1954, just days after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. At NAACP headquarters in New York the mood was euphoric. Telegrams of congratulations poured in from around the world; reporters and well-wishers crowded the halls.

2 Anecdotal: An anecdote is a little story. Everyone loves to listen to stories. Begin a paper by relating a small story that leads into the topic of your paper. Your story should be a small episode, not a full blown story with characters and plot and setting. Read some of the anecdotes in the Reader's Digest special sections such as "Life in These United States" to learn how to tell small but potent stories. If you do it right, your story will capture the reader's interest so that he or she will continue to read your paper. One caution: be sure that your story does not take over the paper. Remember, it is an introduction, not the paper.

from "Going, Going, GONE to the Auction!" by Laurie Goering in Chicago Tribune Magazine, July 4, 1994.

Mike Cantlon remembers coming across his first auction ten years ago while cruising the back roads of Wisconsin. He parked his car and wandered into the crowd, toward the auctioneer's singsong chant and wafting smell of barbecued sandwiches. Hours later, Cantlon emerged lugging a beam drill-for constructing post-and-beam barns—and a passion for auctions that has clung like a cocklebur on an old saddle blanket. "It's an addiction," says Cantlon, a financial planner and one of the growing number of auction fanatics for whom Saturdays will never be the same.

These patterns can give a "lift" to your writing. Practice them. Try using two or three different patterns for your introductory paragraph and see which introductory paragraph is best; it's often a delicate matter of tone and of knowing who your audience is. Do not forget, though, that your introductory paragraph should also include a thesis statement to let your reader know what your topic is and what you are going to say about that topic.

basic structure introduction paragraph UCSB – The Introductory Paragraph - Writing Program

Basic TSE Structure Paragraph Portal - Research


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