Powerful First Impressions: a Guide to Making Your Introduction Sparkle


In essays as in life, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. A professor or teacher can read the first few lines of a paper and tell you with a high degree of certainty whether the paper is going to be good or bad, and whether the person who wrote it is a good student, or one near the bottom of the class. As a result, the introduction is a vital aspect of your essay, and making it as effective as possible will improve your mark for essays dramatically.

One of the most important lessons to learn about introductions is what not to do within them. Many times students will begin with a very dramatic line, or a generalization about life, or time, or human history which is almost entirely beside the point of the essay. Perhaps the worst possible but most common first line of student introductions is "Throughout the ages, mankind has...." Your essay is not long enough to deal with the complete history of humanity, so you should not mention it in your introduction. Remember, be as specific as possible, and you will be rewarded. You are not being asked to write something that has universal significance and solves mysteries of life. You have been given a specific task, and completing this is enough.

Try to begin by stating the important but uninteresting facts alongside more interesting statements, rather than just listing boring information on its own. For example, in a literary essay it is important to list the names of the authors and book you will be discussing. However, these points are not particularly interesting. Despite this, many students feel the need to give each of these its own sentence, which makes the introduction chunky, awkward, and uninteresting. As an alternative to this, try combining these elements into a sentence that also says something beyond the simple and boring facts of title and authorship. An example might be something like, "George Orwell's dystopic novel 1984 reveals the disturbing potential of advanced technology in a world obsessed with surveillance." The boring but necessary information is presented, but it is almost swallowed up by the far more interesting conclusion the sentence comes to.

This reveals another important principle about introduction construction. You have a very limited space to say many things, so make sure that each sentence does more than one thing. In the above sentence, we can see that at least four details are being considered: the name of the book, its author, its genre, and its content broadly conceived. This is the essence of efficiency, and even after you have completed your introduction, go back and try to unite separate sentences to form more efficient combined ones.

Finally, make sure that your introduction includes your thesis statement, as well as the main points that will take you there. Another example will help to clarify this: "1984 critiques technology through its criticism of warfare, its presentation of evil technocratic governments, and the hope it holds for the simple proles." Your thesis leads the sentence (1984 critiques technology), and this is followed by the points that support it. The order of these points is important for the rest of your paper, for these broad categories will form the different large sections of your essay. Make sure that their order here matches the order in which you present them in the paper itself. This makes your argument clear, and also sets up the structure your essay will follow, allowing the reader, and your professor or teacher, to see that you have a clear idea and a definite plan for proving it.

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