Writing Introductions

Introductions should make a splash, but be sure your audience is ready.

Your introduction has a few basic purposes: to grasp your audience’s attention, establish the context for your argument, and to present your claim a.k.a. thesis.  It INTRODUCES what you are going to talk about so your audience is prepared for what you’re going to tell them.  You don’t want to take too long belaboring your point, but you don’t want to throw your audience headfirst into the deep end without even giving them a chance to at least take the iphone out of their pocket, ya know what I mean?

There are just three basic things you need to include in your introduction:

  1. a HOOK to get your reader’s attention and start the paper
  2. CONTEXT: establish and narrow down the situation, problem, or idea
  3. THESIS: state the argument, position, and main idea of the paper

Here are a few introduction strategies and types of theses you might try in your own writing:

As you get more experienced in your writing, try combining and altering some of these.

5 Types of Introductions:

5 Types of Theses:


The funnel method:

The funnel method is the easiest one to get you writing and benefits from clarity.  It is also the most common among high school and early college students, so the downside is it can be seen as formulaic or simplistic.  When you just have to get the job done, use the funnel.  When you’re stuck and don’t know how to start, use the funnel.  You can always go back and change your introduction later if you need to get more creative.

How it works:

Pretty simple, huh? Just 3-4 sentences and we’re ready to start our body paragraphs. That’s all you need in most cases.

The Picasso:

Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso

Using imagery as your hook can draw your audience in with a dramatic, creative picture, but be careful that you don’t get so dramatic that it hides your thesis and leaves people confused as to what you’re trying to illustrate.

Whoosh, chop!  Whoosh, chop!  A young man wipes the sweat from his brow.    His hands are vibrating from all the blows, but the large V of fresh, yellow wood flesh is growing, much like his own strength, and he’s proud of himself.  A few more swings and he’ll have it, his manliness proved!  He hefts the heavy axe again, winds up all the might his body can muster and swings again, whack!  Whack!  WHACK!  Timberrrr!  The thirty-foot giant is felled!  Triumph!  Until he notices a small pair of cherry buds on one of the branches.  That’s why dad wanted him to wait – it’s the wrong tree!  He knows he’ll have to face the consequences and the only response he can think of will become one of the most quotable lines in history: “I cannot tell a lie.”  While George Washington probably never chopped down a cherry tree, this apocryphal tale can reveal a lot about the values America wishes to uphold and the character our first president would come to embody.

Ok, maybe that was a little too melodramatic, but you get the idea.  Also, introductions and conclusions tend to be areas where you can be more dramatic and creative than the rest of the paper.

Open Thesis

The thesis in these last two examples (The story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree reveals a lot about the values America wishes to uphold and embody) is an open thesisAn open thesis presents a general idea and claim, but doesn’t explicitly state the specific points the paper will make. This example is not the most open though.  Often times you start out with an open thesis and make it less open as you go.  This thesis may have started, for example, as the idea that American folklore shows America’s ideal values.  Then, as the student did more research, they focused on something more specific, but it’s not quite a closed thesis yet.

Expository Thesis

The above thesis may also be seen as an expository thesis.  An expository thesis doesn’t make a particularly strong claim, but instead exposes the reader to an idea that the writer will explain. Expository theses lend themselves towards history papers, synthesis papers, and  research papers.

The Question:

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Use the rhetorical question introduction sparingly as it’s a middle school favorite and can give your writing a juvenile or awkward feel when not used well.  But when it is used well, starting with a rhetorical question can really pull your audience in and help them to identify with your paper.  Good rhetorical questions can persuade your audience to  coming to the same conclusions as you or can invite introspection and new points of view, so make sure to craft your question in a way that meets the goals of the paper rather than just starting with a question for the heck of it.

Remember the first time you realized Santa wasn’t real?  The disappointment and disbelief – that your parents would lie to you like that, that those presents didn’t just appear out of thin air from selfless good will and altruistic elves?  Life can be full of disappointments like that, but it doesn’t mean that we stop these things from being part of our culture because the values they represent and their roles in our culture are still there. The same can be true with our founding fathers.  They were far from perfect, owning slaves, having affairs, fighting each other in duels, but the stories we craft around them can tell us a lot about our culture.  While George Washington probably never chopped down a cherry tree, this story can reveal a lot about the values America wishes to uphold and the character our first president has come to embody.

The ol’ Switcheroo

Day and Night by M. C. Escher

Use a bit of misdirection in your introduction to draw your audience in one direction, then PSYCHE!  Hit ‘em with your real claim. Like a good magic trick or backfield reverse, a little misdirection can lower your audience’s defenses and help you pick up some serious yardage. The contrast can really highlight the importance of your idea.

Our nation is facing a pretty serious problem.  Nearly every single American kid plays video games, some more than 40 hours a week.  That’s time that they’re not exercising, learning, or interacting with others.  We have a nation of disgruntled, socially maladapted, overweight tech addicts; potential hackers “sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” (Trump qtd in Bump).  We need to do something about video games for the sake of our kids’ social, psychological, and physical health, right?  Wrong!  What needs to change is the public view of gamers.  New research shows that video games can actually help adolescents develop in each of these areas.  They are actively doing something instead of just sitting there watching TV.  They are problem solving and adapting.  They are playing with family and friends.  Gamers even tend to be less obese than our non-gaming counterparts.

Closed Thesis

Notice this example also ends with what’s known as a closed thesis. A closed thesis explicitly states the points this paper is going to make in support of the main argument (video games can be healthy; stereotypical views of them are not healthy). Closed theses are particularly helpful to beginning writers because of the organization and focus it creates: each of those last sentences will then become the topic sentences of your body paragraphs.

Argumentative Thesis

The above thesis (video games can be healthy; stereotypical views of them are not healthy) is also an example of an argumentative thesis. An argumentative thesis has to be debatable and strive to convince the audience of something they may not have agreed with or thought about beforehand. This is a good subject matter for an argumentative thesis because there is research to support the argument, but the positive benefits of gaming is a topic most people don’t readily see or agree with.

The Smarty Pants:

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

Starting your paper with a famous quotation can pull in your audience and establish ethos. “But you don’t have to take my word for it” (LeVar Burton).

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference” (Aristotle).  How about a habit where kids learn how to focus on a series of tasks for long periods of time in order to reach a goal?  Where they often have to work with others to finish these tasks, trying and developing new strategies, mapping out various scenarios in their imaginations, increasing computer literacy, and even honing their own physical coordination?  Sounds like a pretty good habit to form, right?  Contrary to many popular beliefs, this is exactly what video games do.  Don’t believe me?  How about one of the world’s foremost engineers and the guy who’s probably going to get us to Mars and back, Elon Musk:  “I like video games [laughs]. In fact, that’s what got me into software engineering when I was a kid. I wanted to make money so I could buy a better computer so I could play better video games” (qtd in Clash).

  • Notice also these last two introduction examples had elements of the switcheroo, the Picasso, the funnel, and the question.  It’s very common and a good idea to combine elements of various strategies, mix in your own style, maybe even a dash of cinnamon or cayenne 😊 to give your writing flavor and kick.
  • Likewise, notice the thesis was in the middle of the paragraph instead of the end, and it was a disguised version of a closed thesis. Some theses are more open than others, some more closed than others; some theses are more argumentative than others, some more expository. Theses will often be a combination of types and styles depending on the purpose of the writing and the author. To make it yours, you’ll have to make it unique.

Analyzing Literature:

Introductions and theses for literary analysis follow a similar format.  Your goal is to get the reader’s attention by provocatively introducing your argument while establishing context.  Typically 3-5 sentences is sufficient for this paragraph, though more complex arguments and lengthy essays may support a slightly longer introduction.  Just like the previous examples, a literary analysis will often focus on the effects of a certain device or strategy employed by the author.  Use one of the openers from above, such as imagery or funnel, or preview your strongest point, then transition into your thesis, which should include the following three parts:

3 Part Thesis:  Context + device or strategy +  analysis

Context = author and title.  If you have already established this earlier in the introduction, use the author’s last name.

Device or Strategy: You may wish to talk about technical literary devices such as metonymy, anthropomorphism, metafiction, etc. but you don’t have to.  Seemingly simple things like selection of detail and perspective are also strategies.  The important part is not to go device finding – here’s a symbol, here’s imagery, etc. – but to offer insight on the text and use the effects of devices to support that insight.  Analyze, don’t just summarize or identify.

Analysis: Here’s the important part.  Here’s where you break down the story behind the story.   Some call it theme or message.  Identifying the literary elements and strategies is the HOW, analysis is the WHY. I.e. answer the question: what’s the point?


In the novel Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen uses the caricatures of Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennett to highlight the fickleness of class worship and marrying for money in nineteenth century England.

The novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides traces the history of an intersex protagonist to explore the artificiality and narrowness with which we approach gender constructs in our society.

In the memoirA Long Way Gone, Ishmeal Beah’s selection of dream sequences act as a  representation of the internal conflicts he, and likely many soldiers, experience well into adulthood.

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