Sixth Step in Essay Writing: Developing a Good Introductory Paragraph

The introductory paragraph in any essay is the first glimpse and impression the reader gets of a paper as well as its purpose. Hence, it is essential to get your project off on the best possible footing. An introduction’s primary purpose is to provide the reader with a quick insight on the topic and to show how the writer intends to address a given question or prove a particular point.

How an essay is written or what it includes largely depends on the length and type of essay. The advice and sample introductory paragraphs provided here are, hopefully, sufficient to get you off to the right start. This guide will cover the most popular style of introduction, known as the funneling technique. When writing an introduction, it is important to ensure the whole paragraph is properly structured and provides the correct amount and type of information. One way to help retain the focus is to choose a specific length for the entire paragraph. However, what is the right length for an introductory paragraph?

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Like so many aspects of essay writing, much depends on the overall length of the essay and the type of assignment. Usually, with a ten-page or longer essay, you will be required to deliver a lengthier introduction. When essays are research-heavy or tend to have somewhat a technical nature, the first paragraph may also need to be longer to enable the writer to properly introduce complex subject matter. In either of these cases though, the opening paragraph should not be longer than one page of a double-spaced text. For an essay of five pages or less and where the subject matter is relatively straightforward, the introduction need not be longer than a half page of a double-spaced text. Once the length has been decided, the paragraph can then be organized so that it complies with the parameters set by a tutor or instructor.

Helpful hint: Generally, an introductory paragraph should not be longer than 20% of an entire paper.

The Funneling Style

This method does precisely what it says – the topic is funneled from a broad perspective right down to a specific entity. With the funneling technique the writer starts with a broad topic and then narrows it down to the most relevant information before finally arriving at their key point known as a thesis statement. Therefore, the focus of every sentence becomes more specific as the work progresses.

Anyone who is keen to know how long an introductory paragraph should be would do well to remember that generally it should equal about 20% of the total length of the paper. Hence, the introduction for an essay of less than five pages should be around one paragraph (half a page) and around one page where the essay is goes beyond five pages. Although it is often tempting, it is best not to fill a long introduction with “fluff” because this affects the quality of the work and a professor will spot the trick.

Find more tips that will come in handy: "Writing the Body Paragraphs of an Essay"

How Funneling Works

  1. Begin with a broad-ranging sentence/statement
  2. Whittle it down to a place, time or other specific parameter
  3. Provide key background data and explain important terms
  4. Write a thesis statement.

To understand how funneling works, consider how you would write any paragraph one line at a time. Essentially, you start with a first sentence that is broad ranging in its scope and nature. The aim here is to provide general information about the topic. The following broad statement is an example of how you might start introducing a paper on lets say on dealing with terrorism: “Tackling terrorism is a crucial component of the country’s security strategy if the USA is to be kept safe and secure.” A sentence like this is broad enough as an opener insofar as it introduces the topic without being too specific. The next stage is to narrow it down to more specific details, such as time, location, etc.

Helpful hint: A good technique for generating topic ideas is a free writing. This involves spending a few minutes writing down any topic-related ideas that come to your mind without evaluating them first.

This next sentence illustrates this technique (using the same example – dealing with Terrorism subject). “Countering terrorism has been a key focus of the US foreign policy since the devastating attacks of 9/11.” This particular sentence in the introduction makes the topic more focused by referring to the time period i.e. the time since 11/9/2001. It also pinpoints the place by indicating the paper will dwell on the foreign policy in the USA. The next stage of funneling is to provide significant background details or explain key terms. This next sentence achieves that objective by providing a definition of terrorism: “Although there are many ways to define terrorism, it is generally taken as the use of violence to achieve political objectives, often targeting civilians in the process.” Do not forget that a number of sentences may be needed to provide readers with all the necessary explanations and background information. During this stage, it is essential to think of every piece of information your readers will need in order to understand your subject matter and thesis. There is no doubt that essay writing can be a real challenge. At WritingLeader we understand this and offer a professional writing service to assist you anytime.

Helpful hint: If you are finding it difficult to stay focused, have a break. Make a note of all the key points you want to make and compare this to how you have your introduction’s structure.

If you find you are straying from the topic, you will have to address this to keep everything concise. Once you have provided your readers with sufficient background information, the last stage of the funneling technique is to draft a thesis sentence or statement. This should come at the end of your introductory paragraph and it should present the argument you will be making. This next sentence is a sample thesis statement based on the dealing with terrorism topic: “While fighting terrorism is crucial for saving the lives of civilians, the way terrorism has been dealt with so far cannot be considered a foreign policy success because it has led to controversial wars, given rise to pro-terrorist activity and caused division between the USA and its allies.” The above example shows that a thesis statement can be condensed into a single sentence. Although it is permissible to use two sentences, it is recommended to keep it brief so that readers do not become confused. Adhering to the four funneling steps described above, you will successfully introduce your topic to your readers, clarify the focus of your work, explain any complex terms, and outline your argument. With this method you can make sure each sentence in your introduction is used effectively.

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You may also be interested in reading our article: "How to End an Essay Powerfully"

Getting the Attention of Your Readers

When your grade is at stake, you do not want your professor to lose interest while he/she is still on the introduction part. A professor who is bored may miss your key points and this could lead them to giving you a low grade. Your work will be made more engaging for the reader if you put an attention-grabber in the opening paragraph. The following are some ways to get an attention of your readers.

  • Ask a Question

This method is known as it is one of the most common ones to get readers interested. If you start your opening paragraph with a question it gets people thinking and makes them stop to contemplate the answer. Therefore, a question forces readers to pay more attention to what you have to say. Should you decide to use this method, just make sure your question is relevant to the topic and simply stated. While you want your readers to pause, you do not want to distract or confuse them.

  • Include a Quotation

A philosophical or reflective quotation from a subject matter expert can serve two purposes, which are 1) to capture the attention of readers and 2) to lend credibility to your work. A quotation in an introduction will immediately stand out because the voice in which it is delivered will differ from your style. The value of a quote is often more determined by who provided it than what it says. So, when you use quotations, make sure they come from people who are well known.

Helpful hint: Maybe you are not sure how to combine quotations and citations effectively? For more information on how to do this, feel free to take a look at our guide on the use of quotations and citations.

  • The Use of Hooks

Hooks are attention grabbing or interesting phrases/statements that make readers take notes. As the term indicates, this technique is used to get readers “hooked” so that they will keep on reading your work. One effective type of a hook is alarming statistics. If, for instance, you are writing about obesity, you could include a disturbing statistics to show how prevalent the problem is in the USA. If you start an essay with some interesting piece of information or a startling revelation, you can make further reference to this later in the body of your work. In fact, a good hook can be frequently referred to, and once you find it, your readers will hang on to your every word right to the end of your essay.

  • Use of Anecdotes

Very often it is possible to achieve even greater effect if you actually illustrate well. A type of storytelling, anecdotes are very effective at illustrating a particular point. If, for instance, your task is to explain how important some type of a medical research is, you could start your essay with a story or anecdote about a patient who survived a serious illness because they received the appropriate treatment.

If your essay is about scams protection, you might start with an anecdote about an older person who lost all their savings to a fraudster. A well-chosen story can have an emotive effect on readers and make them more interested in your essay. While any of the tricks above are good for gaining the reader's attention and improving an introductory paragraph, it is best to use a mix of these methods for the maximum impact. When an introductory paragraph needs to be longer, a number of well-chosen attention-grabbing tricks will rouse your professor’s interest and make him eager to hear what you have to say.

When an introductory paragraph needs to be longer, a number of well-chosen attention-grabbing tricks will rouse your professor’s interest and make him eager to hear what you have to say.