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Tip Four: Engage Your Reader

While some writing projects, like case studies, business proposals, or lab reports, may require that you follow a prescribed format for the introduction, most kinds of writing allow you to play around with different ways to begin.

A good introduction is like a warm welcome. It says "Come on in; stay for a while." You want your reader to feel excited — or at least encouraged — to read further. There are lots of ways to do this. You can draw an analogy, ask a question — always a good way to keep people reading — or you might define a term. (Remember, though, to avoid the boring old dictionary definition.)

Here are a few ideas we came up with:

  • Tell a story or paint a picture.

    Beginning with a brief anecdote or description is a great way to open an essay, especially if the subject at first seems a little dry or abstract. If your reader can connect to an idea on a personal level — or a sensory level — she is more likely to want to read on.

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  • Provide interesting background information and quotations.

    Including compelling facts or quotations may help your reader understand why your topic is important. Beginning with a shocking statistic about the number of children without health insurance, for example, will alert your reader to the urgency of your topic — the effects of a proposed policy on health reform — and encourage her to read further.

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  • Set up a contrast

    Often an introduction will set up one idea as a kind of contrast to the thesis. You might begin with one idea and then refute it in the argument. For example, if you start out by saying, "everybody knows that divorce is a problem," and then turn around and say, "but I'm going to argue it isn't," you've immediately piqued your reader's interest.

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  • Use a combination of approaches

    Introductions can be written in a myriad of ways, and you will find that each essay you write will probably demand a slightly different introduction. Some introductions will integrate quotations along with an anecdote; some will begin with the thesis, then bring in background material; some will tell two contrasting stories. Others will just provide context and a thesis. Well, you get the picture.

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