Introductory Paragraphs

Introductory paragraph should:

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.

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

1.       historical review

2.       anecdotal

3.       surprising statement

4.       famous person

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.  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.[After reaching back forty years ago to bring up the landmark Supreme Court decision that started school desegregation, this article discusses school segregation in the present time.]

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.

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 $22 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.[This is an anecdote, a little story about one man and his first auction, that is the lead to an article about auctions. In this article the author explains what auctions are, how to spot bargains in auctions, what to protect yourself from at auctions, and other facts about auctions and the people who go to them.]

3 Surprising statement: A surprising statement is a favorite introductory technique of professional writers. There are many ways a statement can surprise a reader. Sometimes the statement is surprising because it is disgusting. Sometimes it is joyful. Sometimes it is shocking. Sometimes it is surprising because of who said it. Sometimes it is surprising because it includes profanity. Professional writers have honed this technique to a fine edge. It is not used as much as the first two patterns, but it is used.

from "60 Seconds That Could Save Your Child" by Cathy Perlmutter with Maureen Sangiorgio.

Have a minute? Good. Because that may be all it takes to save the life of a child—your child. Accidents kill nearly 8000 children under age 15 each year. And for every fatality, 42 more children are admitted to hospitals for treatment. Yet such deaths and injuries can be avoided through these easy steps parents can take right now. You don't have a minute to lose.[This article begins with a surprising, even shocking, statistic, 8000 children die each year from accidents. The article then lists seven easy actions a person can take to help guard a child against accidents. These range from turning down the water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to putting firearms under lock and key.]

4 Famous person: People like to know what celebrities say and do. Dropping the name of a famous person at the beginning of a paper usually gets the reader's attention. It may be something that person said or something he or she did that can be presented as an interest grabber. You may just mention the famous person's name to get the reader's interest. The famous person may be dead or alive. The famous person may be a good person like the Pope, or he or she may be a bad person like John Wilkes Booth. Of course, bringing up this person's name must be relevant to the topic. Even though the statement or action may not be readily relevant, a clever writer can convince the reader that it is relevant.

from "Dear Taxpayer" by Will Manley in Booklist, May 1, 1993.

The most widely read writer in America today is not Stephen King, Michael Chrichton or John Grisham. It's Margaret Milner Richardson, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, whose name appears on the "1040 Forms and Instructions" booklet. I doubt that Margaret wrote the entire 1040 pamphlet, but the annual introductory letter, "A Note from the Commissioner," bears her signature.



Introductory Paragraphs

·                     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 . . .

·                     Use a dictionary or encyclopedia definition.

According to Merriam-Webster's 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 un-original beginning to an essay.