General Guidelines for Introductions:
1. The goal of the intro is to ease the reader into your argument; so usually, you want to start out general and narrow down to your specific, focused thesis. (Use the "funnel" or "hourglass" model.)
2. However, you do not want to start out too general; you want to begin with an idea that is clearly connected to your thesis. Otherwise, your essay might seem disjointed, like you are jumping around from idea to idea. Also, if your first sentence is too general, it might not be interesting enough to catch the reader's attention--start with a "grabber" that draws the reader into your paper.
3. Give the reader enough background into your subject (whether it is a story, a novel, a poem, or an issue), so that the reader has some idea where your arguments are coming from. On the other hand, do not give so much background that you bog the reader down with too much information. You usually need only a sentence or two to set up your context.
4. Another option for your intro: you can present the "other side" before going into your thesis. This technique is especially helpful on compare/contrast papers, since it shows that you are aware of counterarguments to your thesis. Your paper will thus seem more balanced and fair.
5. Finally, provide enough transitions in your intro so that your ideas are connected and flow smoothly into your thesis. (See transitions workshop.)
Traditional Introduction : Mother Love
In The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, mothers and daughters seek to understand one another better despite a cultural and generational divide. Four sets of mothers struggle to know their daughters; their goal is to communicate their Chinese culture and their personal history to them. One pair, in particular, struggles to communicate: Waverly Jong and her mother often disagree and struggle over who has control. Although their relationship can be viewed as a battleground of a chessboard, in reality they are very similar in their single-minded approaches to acheiving their respective goals.
Although the model above is the surefire approach to a strong traditional introduction, other approaches are available, depending on the content of the essay. As you examine the direction of your essay, you may choose an alternate approach:
Anecdotal Example: Piano Lesson
Last week, my mother and I had our first big argument. While we usually get along well, this time was different. We began by disagreeing about piano practice:
"Hillary, honey, you need to put in more time on the piano, instead of the telephone. You don't want to lose your special talent. I've scheduled three recitals for your this fall."
"Mom, I practice all the time. I hate to break it to you, but I don't want to spend all this time practicing. You know I don't want to be a musician anyway; I want to be a doctor."
From there, the argument escalated to a point previously unseen. I thought we generally understood one another, but now I realize that my mother has a different agenda for my life than I do. In The Joy Luck Club, Jing Mei Woo's mother, Suyan Woo, shares these same unrealistic expectations for her daughter: she expects her daughter to fit a narrow mold and does not allow her room to create her own identity.
Quotation/Book Example: Two Faces
"These two faces, I think, so much the same. The same happiness, the same sadness, the same good fortune, the same faults" (Joy Luck Club 292).
Near the end of The Joy Luck Club, Waverly Jong and her mother gaze into a mirror at a beauty parlor. While Waverly has always considered herself quite different from her mother, now she begins to realize how similar they might actually be. Throughout their lives, Waverly has battled her mother, their relationship symbolized by a chess game with dueling pieces. Now, as Waverly finally is able to articulate what she personally wants, she also begins to understand that she and her mother fight for the same reason: to preserve a sense of independence and self-worth.
See How to Write Conclusions for a possible conclusion to this sample paper.
See sample papers for English 9 (coming soon), English 10, and English 11 and General Literary Compare/Contrast.
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About this page:
These materials were originally created as handouts by Margaret Yee and Crystal Land.
This page last updated on 13 June 2001