How to Write an Introduction: 3 Tips for Writing an Introductory Paragraph

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 21, 2019 • 3 min read

When writing an academic paper, beginning writers may think that the introduction is nothing more than an obligatory summary of the paper’s main points—or even just a quick first paragraph to capture the reader’s attention. However, introductions are actually an essential part of academic writing and maybe one of the most important parts of the writing process. If you don’t get your introduction right, you risk losing your readers.



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What Is an Introduction?

An introduction is the beginning section of a paper. It can range from a brief introductory paragraph to an extensive multi-page overview, but a good introduction will have the following elements:

  • An attention-getter: Introduction paragraphs should start out with something attention-getting, ideally in the first sentence. This could be an anecdote, a surprising fact, a question, or an interesting quote. Try to avoid dictionary definitions, clichés, or sweeping generalizations.
  • A brief overview of the academic landscape: An introduction should give readers context for the paper’s relevance within a particular field of study, including a brief history of important shifts in thought.
  • An explanation of how your argument fits into its academic context: Introductions should transition from the background information to the paper’s particular argument—how is your paper related to the academic work that came before it, and what new perspective is it bringing to the table.
  • A thesis statement and road map for the paper: Introductions should culminate in a thesis statement—a brief statement of the paper’s main argument or research question—and a quick overview of how the paper will defend the thesis. Think of it as a mini version of your paper to prime readers for your argument before you jump in to the analysis in the main body paragraphs. This is arguably the most important part of the introduction, because it lets readers know what the paper is really going to be about.

What Is the Purpose of an Introduction?

An introduction serves three main purposes:

  1. To capture the reader’s attention: The opening paragraph is the most crucial part of your paper because it’s the reader’s first impression and the best clue as to whether the paper will be worth the reader’s time. The best introductions will not only be informative but also include a hook to keep readers reading.
  2. To give vital background information: You should assume that not all of your readers are experts in your specific field, especially when you’re zeroing in on a particular concept within that field. To make sure that readers can follow your argument, you’ll need to equip them with important contextual information—that way, they’ll be prepared to understand your main points without being distracted by terms and trends they aren’t familiar with.
  3. To serve as a road map for the paper: Beginning writers may save their results or main points for the body of the paper—but that’s a mistake. By leaving out the overview of the paper, writers rob readers of a vital road map and make it significantly harder for readers to understand their argument’s progression. A strong introduction will always give a brief sketch of each of the main points to show readers where the paper’s headed.
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The Importance of a Good Introduction

Introductions aren’t just the first thing that readers see—they’re often the only thing they read in-depth. When most readers pick up an academic essay, they read the introduction to see what the paper is about, then skim through the body paragraphs to get to the method or conclusion. If your introduction is a clear, interesting, and detailed map of the rest of your paper, readers will be able to digest your argument more easily.

3 Tips for Writing a Good Introduction Paragraph

Here are a few tips to make your introductions shine:

  • Start general, then go specific. Think of your essay introduction is as a funnel; it starts with the most general information—including information about the academic landscape and your research—and then it slowly narrows the focus until it brings readers to the thesis. Build upon the more general knowledge to get to your more specific topics.
  • Follow the formula. You may feel like sticking to an introduction formula will make your essay writing boring and stiff. However, readers will benefit much more from an introduction that’s built upon the traditional format because they can anticipate the organization and follow your argument more easily.
  • State your interest. If you’re having a difficult time coming up with a good hook for your introduction, ask yourself what interests you about writing the paper. Chances are, your interests will align with the interests of your readers. Centering your introduction around your own interest in the topic can serve as a great opening attention-getter.


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