The Characteristics of a Compelling Introduction

introduction
"The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first" (Blaise Pascal). (Paul Thomas/Getty Images)

An introduction is the opening of an essay or speech, which typically identifies the topic, arouses interest, and prepares the audience for the development of the thesis. Also called an opening, a lead, or an introductory paragraph.

For an introduction to be effective, says Brendan Hennessy, it "should persuade readers that what you have to say is worth close attention" (How To Write Coursework and Exam Essays, 2010).

Etymology

From the Latin, "to bring in"

Examples and Observations

  • "In addition to appealing to readers and helping them to anticipate tone and substance, the opening passage can also help readers read by helping them to anticipate the structure of what will follow. In classical rhetoric, this was called the division or partition because it indicates how the piece of writing will be divided in parts."
  • Methods of Introducing an Essay
    Here are a few possible ways to open an essay effectively:
    • State your central idea, or thesis, perhaps showing why you care about it.
    • Present startling facts about your subject.
    • Tell an illustrative anecdote.
    • Give background information that will help your reader understand your subject, or see why it is important.
    • Begin with an arresting quotation.
    • Ask a challenging question. (In your essay, you'll go on to answer it.)
  • Examples of Introductory Paragraphs in Essays
    - "Bill Clinton loves to shop. On a March day in an elegant crafts store in Lima, the Peruvian capital, he hunted for presents for his wife and the women on his staff back home. He had given a speech at a university earlier and just came from a ceremony kicking off a program to help impoverished Peruvians. Now he was eyeing a necklace with a green stone amulet."
  • Introductions to Speeches
    "An effective introduction has four basic goals:
    • Catch the audience's attention and focus it on your topic.
    • Motivate the audience to listen by pointing out how your topic will benefit them.
    • Establish credibility and rapport with your audience by creating a common bond and letting them know about your expertise and experience with the topic.
    • Present your thesis statement, which includes clarification of your central idea and main points.
  • Examples of Introductions to Speeches
    "The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners, and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion."
  • Quintilian on the Appropriate Time to Compose an Introduction (or Exordium)
    "I do not, on these accounts, agree with those who think that the exordium is to be written last; for though it is proper that our materials should be collected, and that we should settle what effect is to be produced by each particular, before we begin to speak or write, yet we ought certainly to begin with that which is naturally first. No man begins to paint a portrait, or mold a statue, with the feet; nor does any art find its completion where the commencement ought to be. Else what will be the case if we have no time to write our speech? Will not so preposterous a practice disappoint us? The orator's materials are, therefore, to be first contemplated in the order in which we direct, and then to be written in the order in which he is to deliver them."

    Pronunciation

    in-tre-DUK-shun

    Sources

    • Richard Coe, Form and Substance: An Advanced Rhetoric. Wiley, 1981
    • X.J. Kennedy et al., The Bedford Reader. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000
    • Introduction to "It's Not About Bill," by Peter Baker. The New York Times Magazine, May 31, 2009
    • Cheryl Hamilton, Essentials of Public Speaking, 5th ed. Wadsworth, 2012
    • J.K. Rowling, commencement address at Harvard University, June 2008
    • Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, 95 AD
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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "The Characteristics of a Compelling Introduction." ThoughtCo, Aug. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/introduction-essays-and-speeches-1691186. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, August 10). The Characteristics of a Compelling Introduction. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-essays-and-speeches-1691186 Nordquist, Richard. "The Characteristics of a Compelling Introduction." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/introduction-essays-and-speeches-1691186 (accessed December 12, 2017).