The opening paragraph or introduction of argumentative or analytical papers should indicate the purpose and establish the tone. The introduction does not need to be a certain length, although it should be well developed. (For timed writings, an introductory statement rather than a paragraph is sufficient.) The introduction should catch the attention of readers and provide context about the paper's topic. If you are discussing a particular book, article, or work of art, include its title and author in your opening paragraph. If you have trouble with introductions, try writing it after you have written the rest of your paper.

What to avoid

An introduction is important for setting the tone of your essay. There is no single right way to begin a paper, but here are some guidelines you should keep in mind:

  • Avoid obvious statements or generalities.

Drug use is an important issue in high schools today.

Capital punishment is a very controversial subject.

  • Avoid weak or thinly veiled restatements of the assignment.

It is illuminating to trace the clothing imagery in King Lear.

A person can make many interesting points in comparing the poems “The Happy Meercat” and “To a Wolf.”

  • Avoid flat statements of the thesis or main idea, particularly using I or this essay.

In this paper I will show that the overemphasis on winning is dangerous for young athletes.

This essay will cover the many opportunities available to young people who choose computer science as a major.

  • Avoid defining a term that doesn't need defining or that leads the reader nowhere.

The novel Silas Marner by George Eliot is about a man who is a miser. What is a miser? According to the definition in Webster's New World Dictionary, a miser is “a greedy, stingy person who hoards money for its own sake.”

Suggestions for introductions

An introduction should lead naturally into the rest of your paper and must be appropriate to its purpose, topic, and tone. Here are some suggestions for openings; but use judgment in applying them, and be careful not to overuse these techniques. Although beginning with an anecdote can be effective for some papers, don't force one where it doesn't belong. A story about your indecisive father is not the best way to begin a paper analyzing the character of Hamlet.

  • Use a relevant quotation from the work you are discussing.

“I am encompassed by a wall, high and hard and stone, with only my brainy nails to tear it down. And I cannot do it.” Kerewin Holmes, one of the main characters in Keri Hulme's novel The Bone People, describes herself as both physically and emotionally alone in a tower she has built by the New Zealand Sea. Throughout the novel Hulme uses images—the tower, muteness, physical beatings, the ocean—to suggest her characters' isolation from each other and the community around them.

  • Provide background or context for your thesis statement.

Until the second half of this century, Americans spent the country's natural resources freely. They mined for minerals, diverted rivers, and replaced wilderness with cities and towns. In the process they cut down forests that had been in place for thousands of years. Now, the reality that progress has its price is obvious to almost everyone. Only 10 percent of old‐growth forests in the United States remain intact, with demand for wood products expected to grow by 50 percent in the next fifty years. The country is in danger of losing its forests altogether unless citizens pursue solutions that range from everyday recycling to using wood alternatives to actively supporting government regulations.

  • Ask a question that leads to your thesis statement.

Is the United States still a country where the middle class thrives? Strong evidence suggests that the traditional American view of a successful middle class is fading. At the very least, the prospects for someone who stands in the economic middle have significantly changed since the 1980s. Years ago middle‐class people expected to own their own homes in the suburbs and send their children to college. Today, for many people, these expectations have become distant dreams. Three factors—growing unemployment, wage disparity in the labor force, and rising costs for education and goods—suggest that the middle class may be shrinking.

  • Begin with a relevant anecdote that leads to the thesis statement.

Doug was the star in my high school senior class. He was captain of the football team, dated the prettiest girls, charmed his teachers, and managed to get A's and B's seemingly without studying. When he headed off to a big Midwestern university, we weren't surprised. But when he was home again a year later on academic probation, many of us wondered what happened. Doug told me candidly that his year at the university was far removed from anything he'd experienced in high school. His small, noncompetitive high school classes hadn't prepared him for a large university where the professors didn't know his name, let alone his role as a big man on campus. I believe programs to help students like Doug make the transition from high school to college could help reduce the high failure rate among college freshmen.

  • Speak to your readers, and ask them to imagine themselves in a situation you create.

Imagine being escorted into a room and asked to disrobe every time you want to take an airplane trip. Picture someone in a uniform grilling you about your background or even hooking you up to a lie detector machine. Such scenarios seem impossible in America, but experts agree that the U.S. may be forced to take extreme measures to combat the increasing threat of domestic terrorism.

Your topic may suggest any number of creative beginnings. Try to go beyond the obvious in your opening sentences. For example, which of the following two openings for an essay on the qualities of a good mate sounds more interesting?

STUDENT 1 It is important to look for many qualities in the person you choose to spend your life with.

STUDENT 2 Finding a mate is hard enough. Finding a mate you're happy with for many years may seem nearly impossible.