How To Write an Introduction

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Have you ever walked in on the middle of a play or movie?  You generally have no idea what is going on and unless someone explains it to you, you often never really understand the plot.  That is what happens when an author leaves out the introduction of a piece of writing.

An introduction serves several purposes.  It gets the reader's attention.  An introduction also gives a brief summary of the piece.  It also describes the intention of the author and what she intends to accomplish  with the particular piece of writing.  An introduction brings order to writing.  Just as a conclusion wraps it up, the introduction opens it up.  It lets the reader know what's going on. 

All pieces of writing require an introduction of some kind.  Whether you are writing a letter, a research paper, an editorial, an essay, a short story, a narrative, a persuasive speech or a novel, you need an introduction.  So how do you write one?

Here are some basic steps to follow when writing your introduction.

  1. Get the reader's attention.  It doesn't matter how good your writing is if the reader isn't engaged or interested. Here are several useful attention-getters:
    • Ask your reader a question pertaining to your topic.  Make it a personal experience question.  'Have you ever...' type questions work well.  I began this article with a question.  This gets the reader thinking.  It also gets her involved, by calling on her personal experience.  This works in fiction and non-fiction.  Your question should set the tone of your paper (casual, personal, informative, formal).
    • State an interesting fact or statistic related to your topic.  This works well for non-fiction writing.  You can combine the question and fact techniques with a 'Did you know that...' question.
    • Relate a funny incident which has to do with your topic.  It shouldn't be demeaning or crude, just funny. It can be from your personal experience.
    • Make an interesting statement.  For a short story, novel or other piece of fiction this is crucial.  Melville's classic opening in Moby Dick 'Call me Ishmael' was perfect.  I also like the first line of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, 'When I stepped out of the movie theater, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.'
  2. State the purpose of your writing or what you intend to prove.  This is generally for non-fiction, but even in fiction, the author generally gives a brief overview of the story.  Your reader needs a frame of reference to understand what you are going to write about.  Be clear and specific, especially if you are presenting a non-fiction piece.

    If you are writing a piece of fiction, this is the place where you establish the setting and tone (satire, drama, comedy).  You can introduce the conflict as well.  It should be subtle; just give the reader a feel for your style and story.  Use techniques of description here, to create for the reader the mood you want.  Jack London creates a mood of  intensity and harshness in To Build a Fire.  The conflict of man against nature is clear.

  3. Length will depend upon what you are writing:  Your introduction can be as short as one paragraph if your paper is only 200-300 words long.  However if you are writing a longer piece, your introduction will need to be more involved.

The introduction is a small  but crucial part of any piece of writing. Your reader needs the introduction to understand your article and to connect with you, the author.   If the introduction is left out, the whole piece of writing lacks structure and usually doesn't make sense. 


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