Monday, September 28, 2015

Introduction Paragraphs and Lead-Ins

A Well-Written Introduction and Conclusion Work Like Bookends
Bookends Image Used by Permission of Ole Husby

The introduction of an essay serves two purposes. First, the writer uses it to capture a reader's attention. Then, the writer smoothly leads the reader from the attention-getting material to the thesis, which is the claim, position, or revelation about a narrowed topic.

Since there are already oodles and oodles of posts and articles written about thesis statements (some of them mine), let's focus here on that other part of an introduction, the lead-in or attention-getter.

Introductory Lead-ins

Quintilian, in Traditions of Oratory, defines the purpose of the introduction, called exordium, as  "to prepare our audience in such a way that they will be disposed to lend a ready ear to the rest of our speech."  Although he was discussing oratory, specifically, this same rule applies when we write essays.  Writers want audiences to want to continue reading the essay through the conclusion.

There are several techniques a writer can use to lead a reader into an essay and capture his or her attention.  Writers choose the best lead-in technique after carefully considering several options.  Just like the rest of the essay, the lead-in must be relevant to the thesis, have an appropriate tone, and attract the specific intended audience.

Make a Lead-in Relevant to the Thesis

If a lead-in strays in any way from the main point of the essay, the reader will not be prepared to read the information the writer has presented.  This, in turn, makes the reader say "Huh?  What's going on?"  Once that happens, it is very difficult to regain a reader's trust, or even his or her attention.

The following lead-in is a startling statistic from an authority.  What might the best, relevant thesis for the following lead-in be?

According to the American Cancer Society's Web site, there will be over 230,000 new cases of breast cancer this year, and over 40,000 woman will die from breast cancer (2015).

a. Everyone should be tested for breast cancer as soon as possible.
b. Because of these startling statistics, women should all be tested every year.
c. These numbers are startling, but women can avoid becoming this year's statistics if they practice self exams each month for early detection, have a  mammogram if they are over age 40, and visit their doctors for yearly testing if they have not yet done so this year.

Write a Lead-in with an Appropriate Tone

Tone is very difficult to define, but people generally understand tone of voice when they hear variables of it.  For example, people know when someone is angry, being sarcastic, bitter, or ironic, being flippant or cutesy, being mushy or sentimental, preachy, or pompous.  Furthermore, because people understand these tones when they hear them, they can generally also understand and identify them when they read them.  Unfortunately, when people read these particular tones in essays, they stop reading.  If these tones present themselves in the very first few sentences of an essay, readers won't even make it to the thesis.

It's also important that the tone of the lead-in matches the topic.  For example, a funny anecdote or joke is not an appropriate lead-in for a serious matter like breast cancer or child abuse.  In the same way, a joke about child abuse may not be funny, but that doesn't make it appropriate for a serious essay, either.

Which of the following might be appropriate lead-in techniques for a serious essay?

a. An emotional description or cause and effect scenario related to the narrowed topic
b. A statement of a problem or popular misconception about the narrowed topic
c. Relevant facts or statistical evidence about the narrowed topic

Write the Lead-in with a Specific Audience in Mind

The intended audience of an essay should affect the way the essay is presented from the opening lead-in to the conclusion of the essay. A lead-in, in other words, should be written to attract that specific, intended audience.

For example, an essay about seat belts on school buses could be directed toward any number of specific audiences, from the students riding the buses, the bus drivers, a school board, or parents of riders.  Each of these specific audiences will need to be addressed in the manner most relevant and interesting to them.

Which of the following lead-ins would be the most interesting if the example essay about seat belts on school buses was intended for students who ride buses?

a. Do you sit next to a friend on the bus on your way to and from school?  Imagine what would happen to that friend if the bus hit a tree, rolled into a ditch on a slippery, icy road, or was hit from behind by another large vehicle.  Now, imagine the same scenario, but imagine your friend wearing a seat belt.  Which scenario would you prefer?
b. School buses account for 12% of all traffic accidents each year, and some of those accidents include fatalities.
c. Bus drivers are trained to avoid distraction and get students to and from school safely.  However, everyone is human, and some things that happen on the bus simply cannot be ignored, like students swapping seats or fighting while the bus is moving.  Seat belts could help alleviate or discourage some of those distractions.


The introduction is an exceptionally important part of an essay.  The lead-in statement of an essay's introduction helps the writer attract the attention of a specific audience while preparing that audience to receive the information presented in the thesis.  Whether the essay is written to inform, convince, or tell a story, the essay must have a beginning for its middle and its end.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

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