It’s that time of the semester where papers are running ramped and you have no idea how to even begin tackling them. I know; I’ve been there. I’m there now. And the number one daunting task that haunts the minds of young academic writers is this: the introduction.
Dun, dun, dun.
How do you even begin? What is this hook you speak of? My thesis goes where? All of these questions can be mind numbing while also trying to sort the jumbled mess of relevant arguments inside of your brain.
But introductions don’t have to be complicated. They don’t even have to be hated. In fact, they can become your favorite part to write in your essay. Allow me to show you.
Why All the Fuss?
Just as introductions are in face-to-face interactions, your essay’s introduction is the first impression that a reader receives from you. You can turn them off, or you can turn them on. Either way, readers will react to what you say in your first few opening lines. However, unlike face-to-face introductions, this particular introduction doesn’t have a second chance at getting the reader to like you.
Also, the introduction is your guide for the rest of your paper. You are mapping out the twists and turns that your words take, and with this guide, your reader won’t have to worry about getting lost. Because if you lose your reader, you have a chance of losing their interest. You don’t want to lose their interest.
That First Bite
The hardest part is beginning. Duh. Of course it is. Whether you’re the student that writes their introductions before they begin their papers, or the student that writes their introductions after their conclusions, those first few lines are a doozy.
Go ahead dive in, and don’t be afraid to rewrite your tentative introductions. You can always come back and revise later.
So take that first bite and begin brainstorming. Try free writing for five minutes on your topic. Think about the questions you are trying to answer in your paper. After the five minutes is up, go back through and highlight sentences that you believe would be useful, and you might even find that pesky hook you’ve been looking for.
Those Nasty Condiments: Gross!
Speaking of those pesky hooks, most people find this strategy to be a hard act to balance correctly. When trying to find a first line that is captivating, beginning writers struggle with performing the right moves and avoiding the wrong ones.
So here are some don’ts.
Don’t throw in empty words. When you are struggling to come up with a way to introduce your topic, it’s easy to ramble on about useless information to fill up white space. Instead, condense the rambling and focus on inserting more effective that could contribute to your topic.
Don’t use the Webster’s Dictionary. It seems cool, and even unique. It’s not. And in all actuality, it screams that you couldn’t find a more creative way to introduce your topic. Readers would rather see your own version of a terms definition, and they would rather see it in the body of the paper rather than the first line.
Don’t use cosmic statements. I understand the idea that you need to be dramatic to catch the reader’s attention. This is certainly not the way. Avoid the clichés that contain since the beginning of time, the dawn of man, human kind has always… They are ineffective and inaccurate. And most often, they fail to contribute to the thesis.
But Those Tasty Toppings, Eh?
So what exactly can we do to hook the reader? I might have just axed all of your go-to introduction hooks, and now you are frustrated because if you can’t write your introductions like your used to, then what can you do? Fortunately, I can help you with that.
So here are some dos.
Do ask an intriguing question. Get the reader to start thinking. If you can get them to pause and carefully consider what you’ve asked, then you have them hooked. Be careful, though, and make sure that it is thought provoking and that it doesn’t easily offend your prospective audience.
Do provide a descriptive image. Some might feel more comfortable in dabbling with creative writing that invites the reader to imagine a scene that is relevant to their topic. If you can successfully immerse the reader in well-written anecdote, you can successfully grab their attention.
Do provide a provoking quotation. Sometimes other’s words can work better than your own, but you have to know what quotations work best to achieve the desired response. If you are able to find a quote that is impactful and relates well to your argument, then by all means, use it! It is a much better use of a quote than the dictionary entry.
Don’t Forget the Main Ingredient
This would be your thesis. Your thesis is what tells the reader what you are arguing and what you plan to acknowledge in your paper. It’s the most important part of your essay because it brings about a clear idea of what the paper is about. It is how your reader will interpret the entire essay. It’s a big deal.
You want your thesis to come towards the end of your introduction. Give yourself some time to lead the reader to your thesis and use your hooks to gather their interest. You want it to appear naturally as opposed to throwing it in their face.
Also, use relevant questions that you will be answering in your paper. It encourages the reader to take up these questions and keep them in mind as they are reading your essay.
And finally, try to make it as clear as possible. You don’t want the reader to have to hunt for it; this loses their interest and only confuses them. You don’t have to come right out and say, “here is my thesis!” Rather, try saying, “I plan to argue that…”
Your thesis is the star of your introduction, so you should treat it as such.
You can look at that annoying introduction until your eyes bleed, or you can hand it over to your friend and let their fresh eyes catch errors and provide feedback. Peer review has been consistently found to be a very useful tool in the writing process. You can spend hours writing and reviewing, and even reading helpful guides such as this, and still hit writer’s block head-on until your headache turns from a mild throb to a pulsing terror.
So pass it on. Have someone that you trust as a reader and writer to glance over your introduction. Have them explain to you what they think it is that you are trying to accomplish. Ask them to identify the thesis, and to give their honest opinion on your opening hook. If their answers match up yours, then you should be set! If they don’t, you now know what needs the most revision.
Now You’ve Got Yourself A Tasty Introduction
Do you feel like you can conquer those horrifying papers? I hope so. And maybe, just maybe, after enough time has passed and enough practice hours have been logged, you might come to love the introduction as much as I do.
And if not, at least now you can write one.