introductory paragraph (essays and reports)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

introductory paragraph roadmap
A good introductory paragraph offers readers a road map to the rest of the essay or report. Nicholas Eveleigh / Getty Images


An introductory paragraph is the opening paragraph in a conventional essay, composition, or report.

The primary purpose of an introductory paragraph is to attract the reader's attention and identify the topic and purpose of the essay. A thesis statement often appears at the end of an introductory paragraph.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Examples of Introductory Paragraphs in Student Essays

  • "As a lifelong crabber (that is, one who catches crabs, not a chronic complainer), I can tell you that anyone who has patience and a great love for the river is qualified to join the ranks of crabbers. However, if you want your first crabbing experience to be a successful one, you must come prepared."
    (Mary Zeigler, "How to Catch River Crabs")
  • "Working part-time as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly has given me a great opportunity to observe human behavior. Sometimes I think of the shoppers as white rats in a lab experiment, and the aisles as a maze designed by a psychologist. Most of the rats--customers, I mean--follow a routine pattern, strolling up and down the aisles, checking through my chute, and then escaping through the exit hatch. But not everyone is so dependable. My research has revealed three distinct types of abnormal customer: the amnesiac, the super shopper, and the dawdler."
    ("Shopping at the Pig")
  • "We watch baseball: it's what we have always imagined life should be like. We play softball. It's sloppy--the way life really is. I figured that out a long time ago, on a soft summer evening when I was 13 years old and dying of embarrassment in center field as our opponents touched us up for 17 runs in the top half of the first inning. Now, beer in fist, gaping at a blank TV screen as I wait for the first major league game of the season, I'm trying to define just what it is I'm waiting for."
    (Lubby Juggins, "Watching Baseball, Playing Softball")
  • "I started to dread arithmetic back in the third grade because I didn't want to memorize the multiplication tables. Unlike learning how to read, studying math seemed to have no purpose other than to give me massive headaches and shattered nerves. The alphabet was a wonderful code that, when deciphered, entertained me with stories and revealed all kinds of secrets about the world. Multiplication tables, on the other hand, just told me how much six times nine was. There was no joy in knowing that. Although even in third grade I understood that I shared with many other students a terrible fear and hatred of mathematics, I drew little comfort from that fact. Since then, I have struggled with math for a number of reasons."
    (Anne Miller, "Learning to Hate Mathematics")
  • "The music was composed as a drinking song for an 18th-century London social club. The words were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key to commemorate a battle. And on March 3, 1931, "The Star-Spangled Banner" officially became the national anthem of the United States. Ever since then, people have been complaining that the tune is unsingable and the lyrics are offensive. In response to these complaints, a bill was recently filed in Congress to replace "The Star-Spangled Banner" with "America the Beautiful" as our national anthem. For a number of reasons, this bill deserves wide support."
    (Shelby Wilson, "Time for an Anthem the Country Can Sing")
  • "U2 have always produced rhetorically powerful songs. From the spiritually driven "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For" to the blatantly sexual "If You Wear That Velvet Dress," audiences have been persuaded to examine their religious doubts as well as to give in to their emotions. Never a band content in sticking to one style, their music has evolved and taken many forms. Their more recent songs show a level of complexity so far unsurpassed in music, drawing heavily on the ambiguity of paradox in songs like "So Cruel" while evoking sensory overload with the aid of the list structure in "Numb." But one of the most powerful songs dates back to their early years, when their style was Senecan-like, seemingly simpler and more direct. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" stands out as one of U2’s finest songs. Its rhetoric is successful because of its simplicity, not despite it."
    (Mike Rios, "The Rhetoric of U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'")

    Introductory Paragraphs: Observations and Recommendations

    • "Many writers find writing an introduction a difficult way to start the process and instead work through the body and conclusion first. . . .

      "[S]ince the introduction gives an overview of your paper, an introduction is naturally easier to write once you have developed your line of thought. Writing, or at least revising, your introduction as a last step gives you an opportunity to incorporate upfront the insight that you gained as you worked through the body and conclusion of your paper."
      (Dona J. Young, Writing From the Core: A Guide for Writing. Writer's Toolkit Publishing, 2009)
    • Some Common Introductory Patterns
      1. Begin with a general subject that can be narrowed down into the specific topic of your essay.
      2. Begin with specifics (a brief anecdote, a specific example or fact) that will broaden into the more general topic of your essay.
      3. Give a definition of the concept that will be discussed.
      4. Make a startling statement.
      5. Start with an idea or statement that is a widely held point of view, and then surprise the reader by stating that this idea is false or that you hold a different point of view.
      (Sandra Scarry and John Scarry, The Writer's Workplace with Readings: Building College Writing Skills, 7th ed. Wadsworth, 2011)
    • Reversing Expectations
      "In March 2006, I found myself, at 38, divorced, no kids, no home, and alone in a tiny rowing boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I hadn’t eaten a hot meal in two months. I’d had no human contact for weeks because my satellite phone had stopped working. All four of my oars were broken, patched up with duct tape and splints. I had tendinitis in my shoulders and saltwater sores on my backside.

      "I couldn’t have been happier. . . ."
      (Roz Savage, "My Transoceanic Midlife Crisis." Newsweek, March 20, 2011)

      "MENARD, Tex., Feb. 24--Here on a stony meadow in West Texas, at the end of 10 miles of unpaved road through mesquite-covered, coyote-infested scrub land, several hundred bearers of a strategic commodity of the United States of America are gathered.

      "They are goats. . . ."
      (Keith Bradsher, "'Strategic' Goats Gobble Up Trade Subsidy." The New York Times, February 26, 1993)
    • Introductory Paragraphs in Essay Exams
      "Do not give any supporting information in your introductory paragraph. That will come later. Keep this paragraph simple. On an essay test, especially, it is better to write one powerful sentence than to write several that are weak and wordy. In any event, do not write more than just a few sentences. You really do not want to spend too much time on this paragraph; move as quickly as you can into the main part of your answer."
      (William H. Peltz, Dear Teacher: Expert Advice for Effective Study Skills. Corwin Press, 2007)


    Also Known As: opening paragraph