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Writing

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How to Write An Engaging Introduction to Keep the Audience Involved with the Story

Student writers often overlook the importance of the introduction and conclusion, and generally save these components to complete after the body of the text is completed. Tossing in a few words to introduce or wrap up a discussion can be detrimental to your entire essay. Both components have very important functions:

The introduction engages the audience. Without proper development, the introduction can actually turn readers away.

The conclusion is just as integral to the story; an effective conclusion encourages readers to continue to engage with the subject matter after the story has concluded.

INTRODUCTIONS

In order to recognize an "effective" introduction, it is a good idea to review a few poorly developed introductory paragraphs and why they are ineffective.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center offers an excellent discussion of the types of Introductions students often draft but should avoid. A copy of the Introductions handout can be found by clicking anywhere in this section. In addition to the Placeholder, Restated Question, Webster's Dictionary, the Dawn of Man, and the Book Report styles of introductions discussed by UNC, the Announcement technique should also be avoided. This is when the writer makes an "announcement" concerning the subject matter:

This paper will discuss the reasons why MySpace was killed by Facebook.

WHY THE INTRODUCTION IS IMPORTANT

An effective introduction performs a number of critical functions in an essay:

  • Grabs the reader's attention (develops the "hook");
  • Clarifies what the reader can expect in the discussion;
  • Introduces the thesis, thus providing focus and purpose for the writing.

There are a number of techniques you can use to engage readers with your writing:

Powerful Introduction Styles

Introduction Style: THE QUOTATION LEAD

Introduction Style: STARTLING STATISTIC

Introduction Style: BACKGROUND OR HISTORICAL LEAD

Introduction Style: SET THE SCENE

Introduction Style: PUT THE AUDIENCE IN THE STORY

Introduction Style: ASK A (RELEVANT) QUESTION

THE QUOTATION LEAD [TOP]

You can offer a quotation.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be famous – but it must be clearly related to your subject matter.  You must also explain its importance to your thesis.

Example:

"A firing squad is a better, 'messy but effective,' alternative to our current method of lethal injection says United States 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (LA Times, 2014).

THE STARTLING STATISTIC [TOP]

This is self explanatory.  You can offer a startling piece of information related to your subject matter.

Example:

Thirty-one states allow rapists to sue for parental rights for children concieved through their actions (Zuckerman, 2012, par. 1).

THE BACKGROUND OR HISTORICAL LEAD [TOP]

This type of introduction seeks to educate the reader to circumstances surrounding the subject matter.

Example:

On September 1,1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. Within one month, the Polish army was defeated and the Nazis began their campaign to destroy Polish culture and enslave the Polish people, whom they viewed as subhuman.

SET THE SCENE [TOP]

This type of introduction provides a clear illustration of the setting of the discussion..

Example:

There is a housing project standing now where the house in which we grew up once stood, and one of those stunted city trees is snarling where our doorway used to be. This is on the rehabilitated side of the avenue.  –James Baldwin, Vintage Baldwin

PUT THE AUDIENCE IN THE STORY

This type of introduction could be an imaginative projection of the future, or some hypothetical moment to make a point.

After waking in the middle of the night to check on your children, you notice an odd chill in the air.  As you walk to each room checking for open windows, you notice a neatly cut vertical slit in the screen door just inside your slightly opened patio door.  Your heart begins to pound in your chest, cutting each breath you struggle to take.  As you swiftly move to the bedroom of your two small children, you notice that your youngest daughter has been removed.  The only thing left lying in her place is the one-eyed rabbit she clung to every night before drifting off to sleep.

NOTE: Formal writing guidelines dictate the use of Third Person Perspective. This technique calls for the use of second person in order to put the reader right into the action.  You may wish to consult your instructor before using this perspective in your writing in class to avoid any penalties. 

ASK A (RELEVANT) QUESTION [TOP]

Provoke your reader to consider the problem but remember, this technique must be used with care.  If you ask a yes or no question, “Have you ever thought about how many innocent people have been put on death row?”  And the answer is, “no”, you may lose your reader right away.  When using this technique, make sure you use an open-ended question (why, how). 

Example:

How many lives have to be destroyed by child predators before legislation is developed to effectively address the profits earned in this industry?  Children are used to generate billions of dollars each year as victims of child prostitution, human trafficking, child pornography and international sex tourism (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Fact Sheet, 2006).

Learning should be challenging but not frustrating. Please do not hesitate to contact your instructor with any questions or concerns you may have in any of your classes. Be sure to make your issue very clear to avoid losing precious time to question clarifications through email replies.

See these additional resources on this subject:

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Writing Center: Introductions handout

Gallaudet University: Guide to Writing Introductions and Conclusions

I hope you find this information helpful!

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Learning should be challenging but not frustrating. I am happy to provide these stress-free suggestions for making your journey to success one to enjoy!

Join the conversation on my Facebook page: Education Coffeehouse: Encourage, Engage and Educate

~Professor Marsha

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