An effective introductory paragraph both informs and motivates:
it lets readers know what your essay
is about and it encourages them to keep reading.
countless ways to begin an essay effectively. As a start, here are 13
introductory strategies accompanied by examples from a wide range of professional
State your thesis
briefly and directly (but avoid making a bald announcement, such as "This
essay is about . . .").
It is time,
at last, to speak the truth about Thanksgiving, and the truth is this.
Thanksgiving is really not such a terrific holiday. . . .
(Michael J. Arlen, "Ode to Thanksgiving." The Camera Age: Essays on
Television. Penguin, 1982)
Pose a question related to your subject and then answer
it (or invite your readers to answer it).
What is the
charm of necklaces? Why would anyone put something extra around their neck and
then invest it with special significance? A necklace doesn't afford warmth in
cold weather, like a scarf, or protection in combat, like chain mail; it only
decorates. We might say, it borrows meaning from what it surrounds and sets
off, the head with its supremely important material contents, and the face,
that register of the soul. When photographers discuss the way in which a
photograph reduces the reality it represents, they mention not only the passage
from three dimensions to two, but also the selection of a point de vue that
favors the top of the body rather than the bottom, and the front rather than
the back. The face is the jewel in the crown of the body, and so we give it a
setting. . . .
(Emily R. Grosholz, "On Necklaces." Prairie Schooner, Summer 2007)
interesting fact about your subject.
peregrine falcon was brought back from the brink of extinction by a ban on DDT,
but also by a peregrine falcon mating hat invented by an ornithologist at
Cornell University. If you cannot buy this, Google it. Female falcons had grown
dangerously scarce. A few wistful males nevertheless maintained a sort of
sexual loitering ground. The hat was imagined, constructed, and then
forthrightly worn by the ornithologist as he patrolled this loitering ground,
singing, Chee-up! Chee-up! and bowing like an overpolite Japanese Buddhist
trying to tell somebody goodbye. . . .
(David James Duncan, "Cherish This Ecstasy." The Sun, July 2008)
thesis as a recent discovery or revelation.
figured out the difference between neat people and sloppy people. The
distinction is, as always, moral. Neat people are lazier and meaner than sloppy
(Suzanne Britt Jordan, "Neat People vs. Sloppy People." Show and Tell.
Morning Owl Press, 1983)
describe the place that serves as the primary setting of your essay.
It was in
Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was
slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the
condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal
cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within
except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown
silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round
them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or
(George Orwell, "A Hanging," 1931)
incident that dramatizes your subject.
afternoon three years ago while I was visiting my parents, my mother made a
request I dreaded and longed to fulfill. She had just poured me a cup of Earl
Grey from her Japanese iron teapot, shaped like a little pumpkin; outside, two
cardinals splashed in the birdbath in the weak Connecticut sunlight. Her white
hair was gathered at the nape of her neck, and her voice was low. “Please help
me get Jeff’s pacemaker turned off,” she said, using my father’s first name. I
nodded, and my heart knocked.
(Katy Butler, "What Broke My Father's Heart." The New York Times
Magazine, June 18, 2010)
Use the narrative strategy of delay: put off identifying
your subject just long enough to pique your readers' interest without
Though I have photographed them before, I have never heard them speak, for they
are mostly silent birds. Lacking a syrinx, the avian equivalent of the human
larynx, they are incapable of song. According to field guides the only sounds
they make are grunts and hisses, though the Hawk Conservancy in the United
Kingdom reports that adults may utter a croaking coo and that young black
vultures, when annoyed, emit a kind of immature snarl. . . .
(Lee Zacharias, "Buzzards." Southern Humanities Review, 2007)
Using the historical present tense, relate an incident from the past as
if it were happening now.
Ben and I
are sitting side by side in the very back of his mother’s station wagon. We
face glowing white headlights of cars following us, our sneakers pressed
against the back hatch door. This is our joy--his and mine--to sit turned away
from our moms and dads in this place that feels like a secret, as though they
are not even in the car with us. They have just taken us out to dinner, and now
we are driving home. Years from this evening, I won’t actually be sure that
this boy sitting beside me is named Ben. But that doesn’t matter tonight. What
I know for certain right now is that I love him, and I need to tell him this
fact before we return to our separate houses, next door to each other. We are
(Ryan Van Meter, "First." The Gettysburg Review, Winter 2008)
describe a process that leads into your subject.
I like to
take my time when I pronounce someone dead. The bare-minimum requirement is one
minute with a stethoscope pressed to someone’s chest, listening for a sound
that is not there; with my fingers bearing down on the side of someone’s neck,
feeling for an absent pulse; with a flashlight beamed into someone’s fixed and
dilated pupils, waiting for the constriction that will not come. If I’m in a
hurry, I can do all of these in sixty seconds, but when I have the time, I like
to take a minute with each task.
(Jane Churchon, "The Dead Book." The Sun, February 2009)
secret about yourself or make a candid observation about your subject.
I spy on my
patients. Ought not a doctor to observe his patients by any means and from any
stance, that he might the more fully assemble evidence? So I stand in doorways
of hospital rooms and gaze. Oh, it is not all that furtive an act. Those in bed
need only look up to discover me. But they never do.
(Richard Selzer, "The Discus Thrower." Confessions of a Knife. Simon
& Schuster, 1979)
Open with a riddle,
joke, or humorous quotation, and show how it reveals something
about your subject.
Q: What did
Eve say to Adam on being expelled from the Garden of Eden?
A: "I think we're in a time of transition."
The irony of this joke is not lost as we begin a new century and anxieties
about social change seem rife. The implication of this message, covering the
first of many periods of transition, is that change is normal; there is, in
fact, no era or society in which change is not a permanent feature of the
social landscape. . . .
(Betty G. Farrell, Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a
Controversy in American Culture. Westview Press, 1999)
Offer a contrast
between past and present that leads to your thesis.
As a child,
I was made to look out the window of a moving car and appreciate the beautiful
scenery, with the result that now I don't care much for nature. I prefer parks,
ones with radios going chuckawaka chuckawaka and the delicious whiff of
bratwurst and cigarette smoke.
(Garrison Keillor, "Walking Down The Canyon." Time, July 31, 2000)
contrast between image and reality--that is, between a common misconception and
the opposing truth.
what most people think they are. Human eyes, touted as ethereal objects by
poets and novelists throughout history, are nothing more than white spheres,
somewhat larger than your average marble, covered by a leather-like tissue
known as sclera and filled with nature’s facsimile of Jell-O. Your beloved’s
eyes may pierce your heart, but in all likelihood they closely resemble the
eyes of every other person on the planet. At least I hope they do, for
otherwise he or she suffers from severe myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia
(far-sightedness), or worse. . . .
(John Gamel, "The Elegant Eye." Alaska Quarterly Review, 2009)