Your introduction acts like a map for your essay’s readers. It should give necessary background or contextual information for your topic as well as present your thesis statement. A good introduction addresses the “what,” “why,” and “how” of your topic: What is your essay going to discuss? Why is it important or useful? How are you going to argue your point?  It can seem a bit intimidating at first, but with some good preparation and a little hard work, you can write a great introduction.
Part One of Four:
Building a Concise Introduction Edit
Start with an example. Before diving into the specifics of what’s important in an essay introduction, it can be helpful to see an example:
- Literary Essay: “Anyone reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula today has seen the conventions of vampire fiction a million times before: the garlic, the mirrors, the bats, a villain who is powerful, cunning, and erotic. There is an ever-growing mythology of vampires that the novel sits near the roots of, and the ubiquity of vampires threatens to make the conventions seem overused and unoriginal – part of the mythological canon. Yet Dracula still terrifies to this day. We can suspend our disbelief because we are in on the action; we’re holding the actual copy of events that Mina typed, being taught with the skeptical Doctor Seward about the very superstitions we too are being asked, while we read, to believe. He conflates the reader and the characters and grounds us in a strange world where science and superstition stand hand in hand. In doing so, Stoker crafts a shockingly modern novel, so that Dracula that feels frightening and new even today because we are never quite sure if it is true. After all, we’re reading the same “book” as the main character.”
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Hook the reader with a great first sentence. You can use anecdotes, surprising facts, fun turns of phrase, or quotes. This is designed to bring the reader into your essay, not tell the whole story. It can be broadly related to your paper, not laser focused. Check below for even more examples of a great hook. 
- Literary Essay: “Anyone reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula today has seen the conventions of vampire fiction a million times before: the garlic, the mirrors, the bats, a villain who is powerful, cunning, and erotic.”
- Research Essay: “According to Max Weber, one of the most influential developments in the Modern West has been the “demythologization” (entzauberung) of the world– surely there has been a noticeable change in the world from the days of the Greek gods or medieval witchcraft.”
- Personal Essay: “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back changed my life, but, like all pivot points in a child’s life, I was too young to realize it at the time.”
Give your argument some context. Ground the reader with some information that might not be in the paper, but is relevant to understand your thesis. It could be historical background, related papers/research, or a few scattered facts to set the “mood.”
- Literary Essay: “There is an ever-growing mythology of vampires that the novel sits near the roots of, and the ubiquity of vampires threatens to make the conventions seem overused and unoriginal – part of the mythological canon. Yet Dracula still terrifies to this day, appearing in movies, TV, and books.”
- Research Essay: “But has the West moved towards rationalism, has it really cast off the old myth and magic, or has it only done so on the surface? The West is not, as Weber suggests, on a linear climb towards rationality, though it seems that there has been a desire for it.”
- Personal Essay: “I clamored for the VHS tapes when they were released while amassing all of the action figures, comics, and games I could get my hands on. One day, in the midst of my youthful obsession, I walked downstairs and proclaimed to my parents that all I wanted when I grew up was “to be George Lucas.” In short, I wanted to be a professional storyteller.”
Preview the structure of your paper. This is why some people write introductions last, but it is not necessary if you’ve planned ahead with an outline. You want a short, concise roadmap of your argument. You don’t have to preview each paragraph, but you should give a general idea of where your argument will go. 
- Literary Essay: “We can suspend our disbelief because we are in on the action; we’re holding the actual copy of events that Mina typed, being taught with the skeptical Doctor Seward about the very superstitions we too are being asked, while we read, to believe. He conflates the reader and the characters and grounds us in a strange world where science and superstition stand hand in hand.”
- Research Essay: “In the years since 1830, intellectual history has had its moments of rationality, moments that fulfill Weber’s words, yet the overall trend has been more of an arc; a slow, often faltering embrace of entzauberung that peaks with Nietzsche and dissolves into a rejection of the concept at the hands of the postmodernists.”
- Personal Essay: “Complex, fictional metaphors have defined humanity for years, but what drives people to create them, or spend money going to school to learn them? What does storytelling really help accomplish in a world so full of real problems and horrors? And why would someone want to do it for a living?”
Craft a unique, arguable thesis. The thesis is the heart of your entire essay. It is the argument or point you’re making. Remember, then, that the best thesis are specific, provable, and striking. They give the reader a reason to keep on reading. 
- Literary Essay: “In doing so, Stoker crafts a novel that feels frightening and new even today, because we are never quite sure if it is true.”
- Research Essay: “In the past one hundred and eighty years there has been a conscience effort to demystify the world in favor of rationalism, but a closer look at these arguments shows that this push towards rationality has undercut itself at almost every turn.”
- Personal Essay: “Ultimately, however, the question, “why write fiction,” is more important than any answer. Storytelling is about asking questions, about probing into human issues that may have no answer at all, and using the boundless human imagination to shed light on the best, and worst, experiences in our life.”
Transition into your first paragraph to wrap everything up. Sometimes your thesis is the last sentence, and the transition is natural. But your thesis might not be last. One short, easy sentence can be a great way to launch into your argument and keep the reader engaged.
- Literary Essay: “After all, we’re reading the same “book” as the main character.”
- Research Essay: Generally unnecessary, as presenting the research (historical or scientific) is often more important.
- Personal Essay: “But how do stories actually shed that light?”
Part Two of Four:
Prewriting For Your Introduction Edit
Think about your “angle” on your topic. If you’re writing an introduction, you probably already know what your topic is and what you want to say about it. (If you don’t, you need to go back and do that before you try to write an introduction!) A good essay has an “angle,” or way of presenting argument or information, to its readers. Think about what questions your essay addresses and why they’re important. 
- You should have your thesis before you start writing your introduction. It can even help to save the introduction for last, after you’ve written the rest of your essay, so you know exactly what your argument is.
- Remember that a thesis statement Is an assertion, not a fact or an observation. It takes a stand; someone should be able to argue either in favor or against the argument in your thesis. For example: “Because of its humiliating and demoralizing effect on African American slaves, black face was used less as a comedy routine and more as a way of enforcing racial segregation” and “Science is beginning to seriously question whether a comet, not an asteroid, was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs” are both thesis statements. The first is for an analytical essay, and the second is more for an informative essay.
Consider your readers. Your audience probably includes your teacher or professor, but consider your audience more generally, too. What information would they need to make your argument or discussion helpful? Is there background information you need to provide? Are there terms you need to define? Knowing the answers to questions like these will help you know what information needs to go into your introduction.
- Remember that your readers probably already know some things, and they want to get to the “meat” of your essay as soon as possible. Avoid opening your essay introduction with huge generalizations or broad statements such as “Human beings love to learn” or “Throughout the history of time, people have written poetry.” These statements almost never add anything to your argument, and thus they aren’t helpful for your readers.
Think of a “hook. ” Your first sentence should pull the readers in, making them want to read the essay because they are fascinated, intrigued, or even outraged. Opening with a catchy saying or provocative statistic can be helpful, but make sure that you don’t wander too far from your essay’s overall purpose. Consider a couple of different types of hooks, and choose the one that feels the most effective to you. 
- You can use an interesting fact or statistic to surprise your reader. While the fact should be relevant to what you’re saying, this is not the place to state the facts that you are using for evidence down in the body of your essay. Instead, use it as a way to grab your readers’ attention and let them know what’s coming. For example: “Although we tend to think of social media as a young person’s game, the fastest-growing demographic on Twitter are people aged 55-64.”  This statistic confronts an expectation your readers may have and could set up an argument on the importance of, say, access to the internet for senior citizens.
- You can also use an anecdote as a hook. If you are writing a less formal paper, consider beginning with a relevant, humorous, or moving story. This will provide context and allow the reader to get to know you, or the person or thing you’re writing about, a little bit better. For example: “Sergei Filin was walking home on a cold Moscow morning when a man in black approached him. With his hand held behind his back, the man in black muttered something menacing. Before he knew what hit him, Filin was on the ground, tossing snow in his face, his skin literally burning off. Filin had been attacked with acid.”
- You can sometimes pose a question as a hook. This is particularly effective if you are writing a persuasive essay. Draw the reader in with a question that is both relevant and provoking. For example: “What would you do if you could play God for a day? That’s exactly what the leaders of the tiny island nation of Guam tried to answer.”
- A quotation can be used as a hook, but be careful: this is a clichéd way of opening your essay, and some readers may interpret it as lazy rather than inventive. It’s usually best to start off with your own words, rather than someone else’s.
- Avoid the “The dictionary defines ____ as” type of openings. They add nothing to your essay and usually aren’t even helpful (everyone knows how the dictionary defines love/war/peace/ice cream).
Make an outline. It can be helpful to outline your introduction, especially if you have a lot of information you need to present in it. An outline will let you know how your introduction “builds up steam” before presenting the thesis statement. 
- After the hook, you’ll probably need to give some background information for your topic. Give anything that will help your readers have context for what you’re going to argue. For example, an essay on whether the government should subsidize farming probably needs to present some information about what types of crops are grown in the area you’re describing, as well as the challenges that farmers face.
- You can also give any information about the topic that your readers will need to understand your argument. For example, if you’re writing an analysis of a Shakespeare play, it could be helpful to give a brief synopsis of what it’s about and who the major characters are.
- End with the thesis statement. Here’s where you state your argument or, in an informative essay, the topic for discussion. If you are not sure how to write a thesis statement, check out our handy article, Write a Thesis Statement.