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4.2: Introductory Paragraphs

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  • A strong introductory paragraph is crucial to the development of an effective persuasive essay. Without an introductory paragraph that properly introduces both the topic and the writer’s argument, persuasive essays fail to convince the reader of the validity of the argument. Since the introductory paragraph contains the thesis statement, or the core argument and purpose of the essay, introductory paragraphs are essential to the overall success of the paper.

    Introductory Paragraph:

    • Introduce the issue.
    • Provide each of the arguments that will later appear in each body paragraph.
    • Refute any counterpoints to the argument.
    • Provide the thesis statement.

    Since the success of the paper rests on the introductory paragraph, it is important to understand its essential components. Usually, persuasive papers fail to make a clear argument not because the writer’s ideas or opinions are wrong but rather because the argument is not properly explained in the introduction. One of the most important jobs of an introductory paragraph is that it introduces the topic or issue. Most arguments cannot be made without at least some background information. Thus, it is essential to provide a foundation for your topic before you begin explaining your argument. For instance, if you wanted to argue that the special effects in the movie Avatar are innovative, your introductory paragraph would first need to provide background information about movie special-effects. By doing so, you ensure that your audience is as informed about your topic as you are, and thus you make it easier for your audience to understand your argument.

    Below is a table describing and explaining the main jobs of the introductory paragraph.
    Main Job Example Explanation
    Introductory paragraphs introduce the topic and suggest why it is important. An analysis of the San José State University Writing Center survey answers reveal that a significant portion of tutees improved their writing skills, and this has correlated to an improvement on their essay scores. This sentence tells the reader both that the topic of the paper will be the benefits of the Writing Center and that the significance of these benefits is the improvement of essay scores.
    Introductory paragraphs outline the structure of the paper and highlight the main ideas. Considering the SAT average of high school juniors in California, it is apparent that schools are not addressing basic math skills such as fractions, percentages, and long division. This sentence provides the main ideas of the essay and indicates the order in which they will be presented in the body paragraphs.

    Introductory paragraphs state the thesis.

    San José State University should require all students to enroll in Creative Writing courses in order to better prepare them for employment. This thesis statement indicates the argument of the paper.

    In addition to introducing the topic of your paper, your introductory paragraph also needs to introduce each of the arguments you will cover in your body paragraphs. By providing your audience with an idea of the points or arguments you will make later in your paper, your introductory paragraph serves as a guide map, not only for your audience but also for you. Including your main sub-points in your introduction not only allows your audience to understand where your essay is headed but also helps you as a writer remember how you want to organize your paper. This is especially helpful if you are not writing your essay in one sitting as it allows you to leave and return to your essay without forgetting all of the important points you wanted to make.

    Another common, though often forgotten, component of an introductory paragraph is the refutation of counterpoints. In order for your argument to appear strong, and in order for your audience to know that you considered the points against your claim, it is essential to refute, or disprove, counterpoints, or arguments against your thesis, in your introductory paragraph. The most common error a writer faces when dealing with counterpoints is to not refute them. Sometimes, a writer forgets to show how the counterpoints are wrong and how his or her opinion or argument is correct. To avoid this error, consider using the sentence constructions in the chart below that help refute counterpoints. By using words such as while, although, yet, or however in compound sentences, you can be sure that you are properly refuting any counterpoints to your argument while support your own claims.

    In the examples listed below, X is the counterargument and Y is the writer’s argument.

    • While most people believe X, Y is true.
    • Although people argue X, Y is correct.
    • This expert claims X, yet this expert in the same field argues Y.
    • This book says X; however, this book indicates that Y is true.

    There are also some important dos and don’ts when it comes to writing introductory paragraphs. It is crucial when writing your persuasive paper to avoid apologizing or using sweeping generalizations since both undermine your argument. If you continue to apologize in your paper, you make your argument seem weak, and thus your audience is unconvinced. Likewise, if you base your argument on a generalization or stereotype, something which your audience will likely disagree with, your entire argument will lose credit or validity. Also, it is important not to rely to heavily on dictionary definitions, especially in your thesis. A thesis must be composed of a fact and an opinion. Thus, if you base your argument on a definition, which is an irrefutable fact, your thesis is no longer an opinion but a truth.

    Things to always do Things to never do
    • Capture the interest of your reader.
    • Introduce the issue to the reader.
    • State the problem simply.
    • Write in an intelligible, concise manner.
    • Refute any counterpoints.
    • State the thesis, preferably in one arguable statement.
    • Provide each of the arguments that will be presented in each of the body paragraphs.
    • Apologize: Do not suggest that you are unfamiliar with the topic.
      Example:I cannot be certain, but...
    • Use sweeping generalizations.
      Example:All men like football...
    • Use a dictionary definition.
      Example:According to the dictionary, a humble person is...
    • Announce your intentions: Do not directly state what you will be writing about.
      Example:In the paper I will...

    Most importantly, when writing an introductory paragraph, it is essential to remember that you must capture the interest of your reader. Thus, it is your job as the writer to make the introduction entertaining or intriguing. In order to do so, consider using a hook, or a quotation, a surprising or interesting fact, an anecdote, or a humorous story. While the quotation, story, or fact you include must be relevant to your paper, placing one of these at the beginning of your introduction helps you not only capture the attention or the reader but also introduce your topic and argument, making your introduction interesting to your audience and useful for your argument and essay. However, after using a hook, you must transition from the quote, fact, or story that used into the main topic of your paper. Often, writers include interesting hooks that they do not connect to their topic or argument. In these instances, the hook detracts from rather than supports the introductory paragraph.