Essay introductions can be the hardest part of the writing process. You’ve done the research, crafted your arguments but how do you begin? How do you get readers interested in what you have to say? How do you avoid being too general, too academic or too boring?
A good introduction sets the tone and context for your argument in a way that’s concise, clear and interesting. A tall order. Here are some tips for delivering a great essay introduction:
Start With an Anecdote
Stories and anecdotes lend a personal touch to an introduction. Readers would rather hear something they can relate to than jump into a sea of academic wordiness:
In 1995, when I was 22, I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Back then, there were warnings about brown bears and a set of protocols to follow to avoid running into one. When pushing through a particularly difficult day, I ended up hiking through the night to make my day’s distance goal. I broke protocol. And found myself face-to-face with a brown bear on a rock cliff in the dark. Today there’s no longer a chance for such encounters as the brown bear population has been all but decimated along the Appalachian Mountain chain.
By giving the reader a background story, they’re now emotionally invested in learning more about the topic.
Find a Killer Quote
Sometimes a quote can sum up the essence of your argument like nothing else. If this is the case, then by all means, use one. For instance, an essay that argues that Christians don’t follow Christian values could use a quote by Gandhi, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This quote has the benefit of not only being concise and clear, but it was stated by one of the most admired public figures in history. Just make sure not to use quotes that have become cliches. That will detract from your introduction instead of adding to it.
Use Statistics and Facts
Using facts and statistics helps establish your authority on the topic. They’re also useful in getting the reader’s attention and helping them understand why something is important. For instance, “Today, there are over 15,000 child soldiers in South Sudan.” A sentence like this makes the reader understand the gravity of the situation you’ll be talking about. It gives them a sense of scope and measurement.
Ask a Question
A question has the benefit of tempting the reader to answer it. It gets them involved in your essay and makes them feel like you’re speaking to them. It’s a great technique to get people to read on. If it’s a polemical topic, even better. Ex: Are we responsible for stopping climate change? You can bet that a lot of readers will fall on one or other side of this issue. And therefore be tempted to read on to see if they agree or disagree with your take on the subject.
State Your Thesis
After you get readers interested with any of the above techniques, it’s time to hit them with your thesis. A thesis is the summary of your essay’s argument. It deserves time and attention to get it right. The thesis is a statement that is crafted so that it could be argued for or against. Ex: “The best way to prevent crime is to impose harsher sentences.” One could argue for or against this statement.
A Word About Length
An introduction should consist of about 1/10 of the total word count. So, for a 500 word essay, the introduction should be about 50 words. As you write more essays, you’ll get a feel for the appropriate length. It shouldn’t be too short, otherwise you probably haven’t worked enough on crafting the hook. Nor should it dominate the essay. The majority of your essay is going to consist of your argument and research. Find the balance.
A great essay introduction reels the reader in with an interesting story, a fact or statistic, a question to be answered or a quote that sums up your argument well. And, of course, the introduction includes your well-crafted thesis statement. Good luck and happy writing!