19 Introductions & Titles

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Questions to Ponder

Discuss these questions with your partners: What is happening in the pictures above? How do you introduce yourself to someone new? Are introductions the same in every situation? Describe the differences to your partners.

Your Title and Introduction are your first chance to make a positive impression on your audience. You want to get your readers’ attention, state your main point, and establish your credibility as an author. In this first section, we will discuss Introductions; the end of the chapter includes brief advice about writing Titles.

Drafting Powerful Introductions

Once you know what your essay will be about, and you have a some ideas for your thesis, you can begin to draft your Introduction. Some writers like to start with the Introduction; some like to begin with the Body Paragraphs. As you practice writing more essays, you will discover what approach works best for you.

There may be times when you are very certain of your thesis, and so you can start with your Introduction. Often, however, in academic writing, it is better to start with an open mind as you read and conduct research about your topic. You may find that you change your mind – and your original idea for your thesis – as you do your research. In that case, you may choose to start drafting Body Paragraphs to learn more, and then work on your Introduction later.

A good Introduction will usually provide these three things:

  1. a catchy “hook” to open your essay and grab your readers’ interest in the first sentence or two
  2. background information about your topic
  3. a clear thesis statement that provides your topic and shows the direction your essay will take

Typically, in an ENGL 087 essay, the Introduction is one paragraph. In longer college essays, you may need more than one paragraph.

Drafting Hooks

The opener, or “hook,” for your essay is, along with your title, a first chance to grab your readers’ interest and attention. This first sentence should make your readers want to read and learn more about your topic. There are many ways to open your essay effectively; here are some suggestions:

  • a surprising statistic
  • a personal anecdote
  • an interesting quotation from an expert
  • a thought-provoking question

Remember your audience as you draft some possible hooks to use. In your opener, try to avoid:

  • obvious statements or well-known facts
  • over-used expressions like “Since the beginning of time, people have…”
  • over-used questions for common topics (“Have you ever wondered about global warming?” is not a catchy hook. “Have you ever gone scuba-diving with sharks?” on the other hand, might grab your audience’s attention.)

Drafting Background Information

Once you have your readers’ attention, you need some sentences to provide background information about your topic. These sentences explain more about your topic, and they lead your reader from the opening hook to the thesis. Again here, remember your audience as you draft your background information. What will your audience already know? Avoid re-explaining things that would be obvious to your reader. People will want to read your essay to learn something new, not to read something they already know.

The background information should be related in some way to your opener, and it should lead your reader to your thesis statement. It can be general information about your topic, data, or a personal story – something that connects your hook to your thesis.


Activity A ~ Analyzing Hooks & Background

One way to improve your Introduction-writing skills is to look at different choices that other writers make when introducing a topic and to consider what catches your interest as a reader and what doesn’t. Read the pieces of Introductions below about teenagers and decision making. Which ones pull you in? Which ones are less interesting? What’s the difference? What’s missing? Work with your partners to decide. Which would be best for a formal college essay?

  1. Throughout history, teenagers have challenged the authority of adults. They do this because they want to be given more freedom and to be treated like adults themselves. This can cause real problems between teens and the adults in their lives.
  2. Some days my sixteen-year-old niece, Rachael, does all of her homework, helps friends study after school, and practices her cello, and other days she forgets her books at school, lies about where she’s going, and doesn’t do her chores. This sporadic behavior seems like it comes out of nowhere, but it turns out teenage brains are different from adult brains, causing teens to sometimes not think about consequences before they act.
  3. If teenage brains aren’t fully formed, causing them to act before they think about the risks they’re taking, should teens be restricted from some adult freedoms like driving, working, and socializing without adult supervision?
  4. Teenagers are known to be less responsible than adults, so they should have at least some adult guidance to make sure they stay safe. Without adult supervision, teens will make poor decisions that could put them at unnecessary risk.
  5. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the frontal cortex in the brain, where reasoning and thinking before acting occurs, is not fully formed in teenagers. However, the amygdala, “responsible for immediate reactions including fear and aggressive behavior,” is fully formed early in life. This means teens aren’t as good at considering the consequences of their behavior before they react, so the adults in their lives should limit the risks in their lives until they’re better able to reason through them. (Note: an in-text citation would be needed after the direct quotation in this example.)


Drafting Thesis Statements

A thesis statement is often in the final sentence or two of the Introduction.

A strong thesis statement will:

  • tell your readers your overall main idea, including your point of view about the topic
  • make a claim about your topic and show your purpose for writing the essay

In other words, after reading your thesis statement, your audience should understand what you will write about and why the topic is important.

You may choose to write a thesis without the main ideas (sometimes called “controls”) of your essay:

Because illegal drug sales continue to increase, communities should do more to combat this problem.

Or you may choose to include the specific points your essay will discuss:

Because illegal drug sales continue to increase, communities should do more to combat this problem by forming neighborhood watch organizations and supporting their local police forces.

In both examples, it is clear that the author will write about what communities should be doing because the sale of illegal drugs is on the rise; both thesis statements show the what and the why of the essay.

In ENGL 121, you will learn more about developing an argument in your college essays. For most academic essays, your thesis will need to have a claim that is debatable – not one that is obvious. Here are some examples:

Junk food is bad for your health is not a debatable thesis. Most people would agree that junk food is bad for your health.

Because junk food is bad for your health, the size of sodas offered at fast-food restaurants should be regulated by the federal government is a debatable thesis. Reasonable people could agree or disagree with the statement.

Federal immigration law is a tough issue about which many people disagree is not an arguable thesis because it does not assert a position.

Federal immigration enforcement law needs to be overhauled because it puts undue constraints on state and local police is an argumentative thesis because it asserts a position that immigration enforcement law needs to be changed.

An effective thesis is also specific. If your thesis is too general, you will need to write a very long essay or book to defend your point of view. Instead, try to narrow your focus, as in this example:

The federal government should overhaul the U.S. tax code is not an effective argumentative thesis because it is too general (What part of the government? Which tax codes? What sections of those tax codes?) and would require an overwhelming amount of evidence to be fully supported.

The U.S. House of Representative should vote to repeal the federal estate tax because the revenue generated by that tax is negligible is an effective argumentative thesis because it identifies a specific actor and action and can be fully supported with evidence about the amount of revenue the estate tax generates.

In your thesis drafts, try to avoid “writing about writing,” as in:

In this essay, I will argue that communities should take more action to protect themselves.

Instead, just get straight to the point:

Communities should take more action to protect themselves.

Try also to avoid hedging and redundancy, as in:

In my opinion, I believe that all children should have free health care.

The preferred approach is to state your position directly:

The government should provide all children with free health care.

Note: Hedging can be very effective in other places in your essay; for instance, when you want to show that you are open-minded about a topic, you may choose to use this technique by using words like possible, likely, suggest, and so on. A strong thesis, however, is usually more direct.

As you draft your essay, a working thesis can be very helpful. A working thesis is a work in progress; it is an initial draft of your thesis. You may draft and re-write your working thesis several times as you write and conduct research for an essay. This shows good scholarship; it means that you are keeping an open mind and that you are learning and considering new ideas as you do your research.


Activity B – Fixing Problematic Thesis Statements

  1. Examine these working thesis statements. All of these are problematic in some way. What advice would you give the writer? Are the thesis statements debatable? Are they too obvious or too general? Do they use too much “writing about writing,” hedging, or redundancy?  With your partner, write an improved thesis statement for each example.
    1. Prisons in the United States are overcrowded.
    2. In the following essay, I will discuss the problem of overcrowding in U.S. prisons, and I will propose solutions for this problem.
    3. According to my opinion, firefighters and other first responders should have better salaries and health care.
    4. Health care providers often suffer from stress because they are overworked and underpaid.
    5. I think that students should be allowed to use cell phones in their classes.
    6. It might be a good idea for children to have pets.
    7. American pre-schoolers eat too much sugar.
    8. There are many causes and effects of climate change, which I will discuss in the following paper.


Activity C ~ Practice Writing Introductions

Now that you’ve had an opportunity to think about some different approaches and techniques for writing Introductions, try some practice writing. Choose a draft of an assignment you have created this term and use what you’ve learned in this section to write an attention-getting Introduction to your piece.

For more practice, you can write an Introduction using one of the following scenarios. Read through the following list and choose one. Write as much as you can for a possible Introduction.

  1. Persuade your readers to visit your country.
  2. Persuade students to learn a foreign language before they graduate from college.
  3. Give some tips to new parents that will help lower their stress and make their new baby feel safe and loved.
  4. Review a movie, book, product, or trip for someone thinking of making one of these purchases to help them decide that they should or shouldn’t do it.

Share your Introduction with your classmates and discuss what about it is effective and how it could be improved.

Drafting Titles

Often, the title of your essay will be the last thing you finalize. You can start with a working title, which is an initial attempt at capturing your essay’s main ideas. As you draft and revise your essay, you will want to revise your working title; it will change over time as your essay develops. A good title will be short and interesting; this is your very first chance to grab your readers’ attention. Be sure your title relates closely to your thesis and draws your reader in.

See MLA Formatting Guides for information on formatting your essay title.

Is this chapter:

…too easy? –> Read “Developing a Thesis” from Harvard’s Writing Center.

…about right, but you would like to read more? –> Check “Introductions and Conclusions” from University of Toronto. See also “Introductions” from Lumen’s Writing Skills Lab and “Parts of a Thesis Sentence” from Excelsior’s OWL for sample pieces of Introductions.

…about right, but you would like to listen to a student-writer as she drafts a working thesis? –> Watch “See It in Practice: Argumentative Thesis” from Excelsior OWL.

For more practice, try “Practice in Identifying Effective Thesis Statements” from ThoughtCo.

Activities in this chapter were adapted from “Writing Introductions” from The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Some examples (“junk food” through “U.S. House”) were from “Argumentative Thesis Statements” in Lumen’s Writing Skills Lab; they appeared originally as:  Argumentative Thesis Statements. Provided by: University of Mississippi. LicenseCC BY: Attribution

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ENGLISH 087: Academic Advanced Writing Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Hutchison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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