The introductory paragraph of any essay is where you will, ideally, capture your reader’s attention. Whether you’re writing an argumentative, persuasive essay for a debate class or creating a poetic piece of descriptive writing, the opening paragraph should invite the reader in and make the purpose of your essay clear. Depending on the complexity of your essay assignment, there are a few methods you can try to make your essay introduction strong, powerful and engaging.
Establishing Voice and Point of View
When writing an essay, it’s important to determine your point of view and use it consistently. The most common POVs in essay writing are the following:
- First-person POV. Commonly used in narrative essays, the first-person POV includes lots of “I” statements and personal connection to the subject matter. For example, “In this essay, I will describe the most memorable moment of my childhood.”
- Third-person POV (omniscient). The third-person POV never includes “I” statements. Instead, the writer uses a neutral (or “omniscient”) voice that avoids personal statements and focuses on facts and/or descriptions. For example, “This essay will argue that children should be allowed to choose their own bedtimes.”
Once you decide on the appropriate POV, you should stick to it throughout your entire essay. In other words, avoid using an “I” statement in the introduction, only to switch to a neutral third-person POV in the body paragraphs. Your introduction is the place to establish the voice you’ll be using in the essay, so the first step is making sure you’re clear on which voice to use!
Essay Opening Techniques
Once you’ve established your POV, you can decide which opening technique you’d like to use to capture your audience’s attention and introduce your essay subject:
- Question. Asking a rhetorical question will engage your readers and get them to relate to your topic. For example, “Can you recall your very first childhood memory?”
- Anecdote. Telling a very brief story that relates to your essay subject can help get your audience interested. Focus on something you can communicate in two or three sentences; the anecdote will lose steam if it goes on for half a page.
- Quotation. A relevant quotation can help get your reader thinking about and relating to your subject matter. Be sure to always properly credit your source using the author’s or speaker’s full name.
- Small to Large. Start with a very small detail or fact; then, relate it to something larger. For example, “On average, Americans use about a gallon of water every time they brush their teeth, which means we’re losing 600 million gallons down the drain in this country every day.”
- Large to Small. Start with a larger fact; then, narrow it down to something smaller and more relatable. “Water scarcity affects nearly 3 billion people every single day, but average Americans waste a gallon down the drain every time they brush their teeth.”
State Your Purpose and Your Plan
Once you’ve gained your audience’s attention with one of the above techniques, you can move into stating the purpose of your essay. For an expository or persuasive essay, this can be your thesis statement. The thesis statement is typically one sentence that clearly summarizes what your paper is about and/or what you’re trying to prove. Narrative and/or descriptive essays don’t always have a formal thesis statement, but they should still make clear in the opening what the essay will cover. Here are some examples of purpose setting for each type of essay. Note the different POVs!
- Expository: “This essay will tell you all you need to know about the science behind creating childhood memories.”
- Persuasive: “Sleep in childhood is a necessary component of memory formation, which is why this essay will seek to prove that children must have a say in creating their own bedtime routines.”
- Narrative: “I will take you through one of the most memorable experiences of my childhood.”
- Descriptive: “This essay will bring alive one of the most beautiful places I ever visited.”
A Final Note
The opening paragraph of your essay may be easier for you to write once you’ve already drafted your body paragraphs. Once you know where your essay is going, it can be easier to introduce it to your readers. If you find yourself getting stuck on the introduction, shift your focus to the main body of the essay; then, come back to it after you’ve read through your work.