Writing Center

Get Hooked On Writing Introductions

by Morgan Doty, Writing Center Tutor

You have the prompt, and you've thought about what to write about, but how do you start? Everyone knows that papers follow a basic order-introduction, body, conclusion-but introductions are sometimes the hardest thing to write. By the time you sit down to write your paper you have a basic idea of your argument; this will likely change as you work through the essay, but you have something to work with. Introductions, on the other hand, give the writer a great amount of freedom as to content, which can make writing them difficult.

So what goes into an introduction? Of the few basic staples of the introduction, the hook is probably the most difficult. Your introduction must grab the attention of the reader, or the rest of your paper will be written in vain. There is often a great deal of pressure to execute it well. The good news: you have options. Here are a few of my go-to options for writing an attention-grabbing opening:

  1. Speak from personal experience. The best way to draw in your reader is often to tell a story or narrative that relates to your topic. If the topic is something you've had personal experience with or have a hypothetical situation for, this is often a good way to draw your reader in. For example, if you are writing about budget cuts to high school athletic departments and your school excised a team you were on, you could open by retelling the situation.
  2. Use an interesting quote. Sometimes, the best way to get your point across is to start with someone else's (and give them credit, of course). This quote could be something from a secondary source you found incredibly striking, or a well-known adage that pertains to your argument. If you are writing about a particular text, quoting directly from the source is another option. Then, explain what is being said and how that relates to your topic. Therefore, if you struggle coming up with things to say in an introduction, explaining a relevant quote will allow you to seamlessly transition into your topic.
  3. Ask a question. What's so important about getting the reader's attention? When you ask a question that the reader cares about, they will continue reading the paper to consider both their own answer to the question, and, when provided, the author's. If you are able to get their thoughts in line with your own, your readers will be "hooked" and invested in your argument.
  4. Provide a statistic. "47% percent of statistics are made up on the spot." This is not a real statistic, but rather a silly joke. While silly, it's effective because it's catchy. (Word to the wise: don't make up your own statistics.)When someone gives an eye-catching percentage or number, the reader is enthralled, and feels the need to know more about the situation surrounding that number. Statistics are not always applicable, but if you are writing a research paper, they can be a great way to introduce your issue and captivate the reader simultaneously.

If you're struggling to come up with a hook, it's okay to skip it and come back to it later in your writing process. Some people write best when they sit down and write the whole paper in order; others experience writer's block when they try too hard to write in order. If you're in the latter group, try writing the other parts of the introduction first, then see what sort of hook will work best. This strategy applies to all parts of your paper. If you really don't like writing introductions, but you know what your body paragraphs should say, write that first. Then come back and introduce the relevant background and thesis statement. And don't forget the hook.

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