Introduction Paragraphs

(The following is adapted from Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student)

The Introduction is the starting point

The introduction, which warms up the audience, establishes goodwill and rapport with the readers, and announces the general theme or thesis of the argument (at the end of the introduction paragraph).

The introduction has three jobs:

  1. 1. To capture your audience’s interest
  2. 2. Establish their perception of you as a writer 
  3. 3. Set out your point of view for the argument. 

These multiple roles require careful planning on your part. You might capture interest by using a focusing anecdote or quotation, a shocking statistic, or by restating a problem or controversy in a new way. You could also begin with an analogy or parallel case, a personal statement, or (if you genuinely believe your audience will agree with you) a bold statement of your thesis. The language choices you use will convey a great deal about your image to your audience; for instance, if you’re writing about abortion, audiences will react differently to language about “pro-lifers” than they will to language about “people who oppose abortion” or “pro-family supporters.” This introduction usually funnels down into a solid, clear thesis statement; if you can’t find a sentence in this section that explicitly says what point you are supporting, you need to keep refining the introduction.


[Attention-Getter] After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, the debate surrounding racial profiling in airports intensified. Many people believed that profiling was the best way to identify possible terrorists, but many others worried about violations of civil liberties. While some airports began to target passengers based solely on their Middle Eastern origins, others instituted random searches instead. [Begin setting-up the thesis] Neither of these techniques seems likely to eliminate terrorism. Now many experts in the government and in airport security are recommending the use of a national ID card or Safe Traveler Card. [Thesis] If every US citizen had a national ID or Safe Traveler Card, airlines could screen for terrorists more effectively than they do now and avoid procedures that single out individuals solely on the basis of race.

(The following comes from the They Say, I Say with Readings, 3rd Ed.)

Another way to approach introductions.

A good starting point to also consider when thinking about YOUR Introduction is Graff and Birkenstein’s Introduction and Chapter 1 of They Say, I Say.

In their Introduction, the authors point out the use of templates, a key aspect of the textbook, and note that “Some of these templates represent simple but crucial moves like those used to summarize some widely held belief.

Many Americans assume that _____________” (2).

This example is a good starting point for beginning an introduction to a paper. It is NOT the only way but it is ONE possible way. One can begin by summarizing what might be seen as a “widely held belief” or assumption (2).

Moving along, in Chapter 1, the authors lead you into their “They Say” section of the textbook. Chapter 1 is entitled “They Say”: Starting with What Others Are Saying. This is in fact a good thing because this is not only a good place to start your Introduction, but also your research for your argument as well.

The chapter opens with a story about Dr. X (you can read the story on p. 19-20) and how, other than the thesis, the other most important thing a writer needs to make clear, crystal clear, for the audience is “to indicate . . . what larger conversation that thesis [your thesis] is responding to” (20). This is important to note because you need to lead your audience/reader to your thesis by providing them with an indication of why and to what your argument is responding to. This means being aware of larger controversy or issue, but also clearly informing your audience so they can understand why your argument, your thesis, is important.

The book contains a good example (on p. 22) by George Orwell from his article “Politics and the English Language”:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse . . . [But] the process is reversible. Modern English . . . is full of bad habits . . . which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. (22)

What Orwell is doing here is introducing us to his SUBJECT that he is arguing over by starting out with an assumptionHe then leads this assumption into elaboration, laying out the “current” argument of “helplessness” in order to set up his own position, which is the opposite.

Ideally, I would like to see a thesis in your paper fleshed out more. The templates found in Chapter 1 can help you accomplish a similar move in your own way.

This approach, and the one discussed by Corbett earlier are meant to help you begin to think about how you can begin YOUR OWN Introduction that would, at the end, be punctuated by a Thesis Statement.

One thing that you can do to help you visualize how this might work, to put it another way, consider this proposition:

YOUR INTRODUCTION should be designed to move from the GENERAL to the SPECIFIC as part of DEDUCTIVE REASONING.

Let me illustrate this concept for you:


You do NOT need to bog down or give us EVERY detail about your topic and jam it into your Introduction Paragraph. You need to simply give us enough information to help “introduce” us to the TOPIC so we can move to YOUR THESIS STATEMENT and then proceed with your paper.

Extra detail and introduction material can be saved and included in your BACKGROUND or NARRATION Paragraphs that come after your INTRODUCTION paragraph and THESIS STATEMENT.