Much like an interview, an introduction provides an opportunity for your reader to preview who you are as a student and scholar. As a college student, you would like to avoid being thought of as informal, unprofessional, and boring by your instructor. Sometimes, an introduction can give that impression due to its numerous errors and lack of substance. Some readers will immediately dispose of a piece if its first paragraph is not entertaining or interesting enough, which is why this handout aims to help you write introductions that are appropriate, professional, and engaging.

Keep in Mind

  • It’s an opportunity to establish a first, unrepeatable impression upon the reader.
  • The introduction should grasp the reader’s attention in those first lines and announce what the paper will be about.
  • The introduction should hold a thesis statement announcing the argument. While the thesis statement has traditionally been placed at the end of the introduction, or even at the end of the paper, some scholars include it at the very beginning. Keep in mind your writing context when deciding on the placement of a thesis statement.
  • An introduction’s length should be in balance with the rest of the paper. For example, avoid writing a full page introduction for a paper only two pages long.
  • Though a well-drawn introduction discusses broadly the paper’s topic, it should not contain statements too broad which do not contribute to the paper’s substance.
  • Introductions often convey any necessary background information about your chosen topic that your reader will need to know to be prepared for the argument you present in your paper (can include relevant history, theory, issues, or other information).
  • It is common to tweak the introduction should you feel the main idea of the paper has not been properly stated. You can always wait and write the introduction last if you have trouble starting your paper.
  • Your introduction should reflect the tone of whatever the assignment is you are writing. You should also consider your intended audience, context, genre, and purpose, and befit your introduction to those aspects of the rhetorical situation.

Next, we have provided examples of introductions for you to see how you can incorporate these tips and strategies above into your own writing.

Sample Prompt

In 5-7 pages, explore a major theme in one of the books we read for this semester and explore how that theme was portrayed. Your thesis should identify the theme and the characteristics your paper will discuss.

Unsuccessful Introduction

Since the beginning of time, people have been relocating and moving for better yards and resources. For example, all American suburban homes have a front yard, a white picket fence, a trimmed lawn, and a pristine paint job. But the first description we receive of Jenny’s home has many aspects of the traditional suburban home, but it is twisted and dark. The home is described as “a two storey white house with brown shutters and brown trim, much in need of painting, and the lawn was overgrown and the white rail fence along the driveway collapsing and askew” (Highsmith 9). This is not what a typical suburban house looks like, and no house should look like that.

Tips and strategies for this example introduction:

  • The opening is too general and may not be accurate.
  • Avoid using “all” since not every suburban home has those features.
  • Depending on the essay, the description of the house may be more useful as evidence rather than introductory material.
  • There is no thesis statement that identifies the theme or characteristics.
  • This introduction does not name the book, author, or any information that would provide context to what the author is writing about. For example, we as readers do not know who Jenny is or why her house is being discussed.

Successful Introduction

In the 1950s, a majority of the 1.4 million new housing units constructed were located in the suburbs, marking a significant migratory trend of families departing the large cities. Many families during this time wanted to move out of the city for more space and clean air, less traffic and noise, and better schools and opportunities (Lindop 54). This great migration to the suburbs became a topic among writers during this time period, and the nature of the suburbs was a theme Patricia Highsmith explored in her early novels. Her three early works, The Cry of the Owl, This Sweet Sickness, and Deep Water, are concerned with the “stifling suburbs of 1950s America” (Peters 1). Positive aspects of the suburbs in The Cry of the Owl are twisted and transformed into frightening and creepy scenarios. For Highsmith, large spaces become hiding places for prowlers and shooters; the quiet becomes eerie and uncomfortable. Highsmith’s suburbs are characterized by its descriptions of the homes and open spaces, the neighbor’s attitudes, and the mental instability that comes as a product of these spaces.

Notes about this successful introduction:

  • This introduction contains relevant background and historical knowledge to understand the context of Highsmith’s work.
  • Sometimes, professors advise against putting citations in the introductions because they do not want students presenting their evidence so early in the paper. In this case, since the information is serving as background information and not as evidence for the argument, it would be appropriate to include citations.
  • Given this assignment is for a college-level course, the language is sophisticated, yet accessible. The information is aimed to an educated audience who may not be familiar with this history.
  • Contains a clear thesis statement that explains what the argument is, previews the topics, and is narrow enough to still be significant, but broad enough to write 5-7 pages.


Works Cited

Highsmith, Patricia. The Cry of the Owl. Vintage Books, 1962.

Lindop, Edward. America in the 1950s. Lerner Publishing, 2010.

Peters, Fiona. Anxiety and Evil in the Writings of Patricia Highsmith. Ashgate Publishing, 2011.