Introductory Paragraphs

Lesson Content

Inquire: Introducing an Argument


DecorativeIt’s easy to have an opinion and to voice it, perhaps IN CAPITAL LETTERS if your mode of communication is written. In an age of ubiquitous information dissemination, it seems that everyone can argue about anything, no matter how absurd the topic. With such a widespread wealth of argument, it can be difficult to get an audience to pay attention to what you have to say. This is where an interest-catching introduction becomes important. An effective introductory paragraph will grab your reader’s attention and draw them into your argument, giving you the attention you need to present and successfully defend your thesis — the statement that succinctly defines your argument.

In this lesson, we’ll do a sentence by sentence breakdown of a general outline for an introductory paragraph. This outline is defined by five sentences, one of which will be your thesis statement. This structure keeps the introduction simple and straightforward.

Big Question

How do I introduce my argument in a way that interests my audience?

Watch: Introducing your Argument

Read: Building an Introduction with Five Sentences


DecorativeWhen you start to construct your introductory paragraph, you’ll want to keep three things in mind: 1) What is the point that I am arguing?, 2) Who is my reader, and how is this relevant to him or her?, and 3) Where is my argument coming from? This last question refers to the general subject that concerns your thesis: e.g. biology, literature, etc. The language in your introduction should be informed by your subject, and the level of specialized language you use must be defined by what you are writing about and to whom you are writing. Keeping these questions in mind, you are ready to write your introduction. In this lesson, we’ll do a sentence by sentence breakdown of a general outline for an introductory paragraph. This outline is defined by five sentences, one of which will be your thesis statement, which keeps the introduction simple and straightforward.

So, Why Five Sentences?

It is important to note that this is simply a general model for an introduction. As you become more comfortable with essay writing, you may want to expand or reduce your introduction as fits your particular style and the substance of your paper. However, these five sentences are a practical way to introduce any well-developed argument. It is also important to remember that your introductory paragraph should include your thesis statement; the point of this paragraph is to ultimately lead to your thesis statement. Think of this paragraph like a funnel. At the top, you have a very general statement, and as you move down the funnel, each sentence will be more specifically related to your thesis. As a whole, they should move from general statements related to your argument to specific examples supporting your argument.

First Sentence

The first sentence of the introduction should be broadly related to your thesis and should hook the reader into the essay. It needs to be immediately interesting, and should be a gateway into your argument. You may choose to ask a rhetorical question which relates to your argument in some way, or you may make a general statement about the subject to which your thesis pertains. The key here is to get your reader’s mind on your subject, and to start them thinking about what you want them to think about. There should not be any surprise as to what your thesis is arguing, so be sure that the reader understands what they are in for when they start reading.

Second Sentence

The second sentence should make a specific reference to the first sentence that moves the reader closer to your argument. This may take the form of an answer to your rhetorical question. You could also contradict the previous statement by showing that a previously held assumption about your subject is incorrect. Juxtaposing a sentence about misconceptions regarding your topic with your first sentence can stimulate your reader’s thinking on the matter. Remember, the goal is to get from a general idea to your thesis, while holding your reader’s attention.

Third Sentence

The third sentence should make a specific, concrete link between the general topic you’ve introduced in the first two sentences and your thesis. You could elaborate on the answer you’ve given as your previous sentence, or you may explain a bit why a previously held assumption was arrived at incorrectly. The point here is to set up what you are about to argue.

Fourth Sentence

The fourth sentence should be your thesis statement — a succinct statement of your argument. By this point, you need to have won your reader over into at least considering your argument, which is presented in your thesis statement. Remember to state your thesis clearly and not let it become too cluttered by excessive wording or restatement.

Fifth Sentence

The fifth sentence should serve as a short outline of the rest of your essay, introducing the points you will be using throughout your body paragraphs to support your argument. This should serve as a spoiler for the rest of your paper. After reading your fifth sentence, your reader should understand what topics will be covered, and how you are using these to argue your point. It is important to organize this sentence in the same way that you are organizing your paper, so that each topic listed appears in the same position it will appear in the body paragraphs of your essay: i.e. topic one is the same point as body paragraph one, topic two is the same point as body paragraph two, and so on. This will also serve as a natural transition point into the body of your essay, and get your reader into the mindset to understand and relate to the substance of your argument.

Reflect: How Would I Get Started?


Which strategy would you be most comfortable using to start your essay?

Expand: Who is Your Reader?


When writing your introduction, it is vitally important that you keep in mind who you are writing this paper for. If you use too much specialized language, or pad out your introduction before you get to your thesis, your reader may lose interest and give up on the essay before giving the argument a chance.

Things to Keep in Mind

Avoid Jargon

DecorativeA general rule often used in collegiate writing courses is to avoid jargon, and this is usually a good rule to follow. Using terminology that is specific to a particular field of study can alienate more general readers. However, if your paper is only meant to be read by an audience of your peers in a specific field, then it may be alright, or even better, to use more specialized language; you can then reasonably expect that your reader will understand it.

The key thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to lose your audience’s interest. Even if your reader may understand the technical language you use, if you pepper your writing with obscure terminology, it can make your writing dry and unengaging. A good way to stay in a “reader friendly” mode is to read through what you’ve written as if you are seeing it for the first time and ask yourself, “Do I want to keep reading?” If you keep yourself interested, chances are you’ll be able to keep someone else interested as well.

Set-up and Payoff

Another thing to keep in mind is that your reader is expecting you to present your argument up-front. In other words, don’t try to build anticipation as if you’re unveiling a magic trick. Grab your reader’s interest, and then give them your argument. An introduction doesn’t need to be its own essay, it’s just a gateway to establish relevance. This is why moving from a general idea, one the reader may already be aware of or in agreement with, to your specific argument works well in a short time span. The reader already knows what you are talking about, so there is no reason to leave them guessing as to what you are arguing.

Lesson Resources

Lesson Toolbox

Additional Resources and Readings

A Proper Introduction

Some more advice on writing introductory paragraphs, such as do’s and don’ts
Source: Capital Community College, Hartford, CT

Source: Cambridge Rindge & Latin School

Examples of Great Introductory Paragraphs

Examples of a few introductory paragraphs along with analysis on what makes them effective
Source: ThoughtCo

Writing an Introduction

A short tip sheet on introductory paragraphs with a couple of simple, but direct examples

Lesson Glossary


AJAX progress indicator
  • academic essay
    a structured discussion of a particular subject; written to inform
  • essay
    a structured written argument that uses multiple sub-points to support the main argument
  • film essay
    an alternative essay form, which takes a particular point of view and presents an argument through film, in order to gain the audience's support
  • informal essays
    a loose structured, one-sided conversation with the reader that generally states the writer’s perspective on a subject; written to entertain and inform
  • musical essay
    an alternative essay form, created either by putting a written essay’s text to music or by using musical forms and structures to provide a commentary on a song’s lyrical content
  • New Journalism
    a loose mix of reporting, criticism, and fiction written in the 1960s, which increased the essay form’s popularity
  • photographic essay
    an alternative essay form, made up of photos showing either a sequence of events or a sequence of thematically linked images that, when viewed in a particular order, implies a specific point of view toward a subject based on the audience’s reaction to the images
  • thesis statement
    a sentence that defines an argument

License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Matt Huidens for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA

Media Sources

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