ENGL 101
English Composition I
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Introductions are the reader's first impression of the argument you intend to present in your essay. The introduction should let the reader see the tone and approach that you will use for the rest of the essay. You should approach an introduction as a form of movie preview or trailer. You want to get the reader interested in your topic, but you don't want to give away your entire argument . After all, if you preview your entire argument, why does the reader need to read any further in the essay?

An Introduction needs to include the essay's topic and a sense of how the author is going to handle that topic. The introduction DOES NOT have to include the thesis, nor does it have to list the subject of each body paragraph. In fact, most of the time, the author should try to give away as little as possible about their body paragraph content in the introduction. Most readers decide within the first few paragraphs whether or not they are going to read the entire essay. The introduction is an important part of this process. What the introduction SHOULD try to do is grab the reader's attention and make them want to keep reading.

To summarize: an introduction has two main roles in an essay -

There are many different ways to introduce an essay; more than any single handout could explain. This handout shows examples of some of the more common types of introduction, but should not be seen as an exhaustive list. I have used the same topic-the Columbine shooting-in order to show the contrast between each type more clearly.

Analogy (outside reference)-

This type of introduction makes a comparison between an unfamiliar subject and a subject that the reader will be very familiar with in order to make the reader see the essay subject in a new or different light. This particular example uses a popular older movie cliché "Revenge of the Nerds" to put the aftershocks of the Columbine shootings into a different perspective than the reader may have been expecting.
It's a real-life Revenge of the Nerds.

Ever since the Colorado massacre, it's not the meeker kids at high school who fear the athletes, it's the other way around.
Scott Flander "Some Jocks Say They Fear Nerds' Revenge"

Foreshadowing the Conclusion-

This type of conclusion eliminates any confusion on the part of the reader. The conclusion, the final thesis, is clearly presented to the reader in the introduction as well as the conclusion. The author loses much "suspense" with this approach, and it should be used only in very specific circumstances. When the author knows that they are presenting the reader with a controversial idea, or one that the reader is unlikely to be expecting, it can sometimes be helpful to put the idea up front to "soften the blow" and prepare the reader for the unexpected analysis or explanation.
The Columbine killings-with chat rooms, Websites, multiplayer games, and the general weirdness and unknownness of the Internet taking the rap-represent something of a new-media rite of passage. Such finger-pointing is always about selecting a target that you can't miss. So what's really being said is that new media is big media, that it's everywhere, and that, by virtue of its sudden, shocking ubiquity, along with its disconcerting newness, there's a pretty good chance it has something to do with what's going wrong.
Michael Wolff "Why Your Kids Know More About the Future Than You Do"

Asking Leading Question(s)-

Introductions are supposed to grab the reader's attention. Asking questions is a wonderful way to make the reader keep reading. Once you have asked a question, the reader will keep reading in order to see what your answer is, and whether they agree with that answer. One word of caution, the author is OBLIGATED to actually answer the questions in the essay, not just ask them and then run away from the hard answers. This particular example asks multiple questions, but a question introduction can work very well asking only one question. That question should be very specific and focused on what the author intends to prove about the topic, however.
People have come by the thousands to Clement Park to gaze at the center of the horrible mystery. They've followed winding paths to the dirty yellow police tape, or trudged through sopping late-spring snow to the top of a bluff where, spread out below them, Columbine High School quietly lies.
What went on in there? By now the world has read the chilling story of the laughing killers, heard the terrified screams and relentless gunshots. But it isn't the ghastly What or the gruesome How that draws these thousands, so much as the inscrutable Whys. Why didn't anyone see it coming? Why was such hatred allowed to fester? Why did this happen, and why here?
David Van Drehle "At Such a Fine School, Why?"

Historical perspective-

It is often very important to get the reader up to speed on the subject at hand before moving into the specific argument. At these times, the historical perspective helps the reader better understand the bigger context or issues before working into the specifics of the author's argument. The author prepares and sets up a foundation of basic knowledge about the topic for the reader. The history or background information presented should go back as far as is necessary for the reader to fully understand everything contained in your essay.
When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire in their high school on April 20, they couldn't have imagined how many people would benefit. For some of the students who survived, it was a chance to perform in the biggest media circus since Monica. For the news networks, it was an excuse to cut away from the parage of desperate Kosovars that had been turning viewers off in droves. Law-and-orders types found a platform for their long-standing plan to turn high schools into military camps, while liberals saw a powerful opening to pound home their demand for regulating guns. The president seized the triangulating moment, calling for stricter gun laws and a Hollywood summit on teen violence. And everyone agreed that violent video games were to blame.
Richard Goldstein "The Faggot Factor"

Definition-

Many times the reader and the author understand a topic from different perspectives. Thus, defining the terms or topic to be discussed is a very effective technique for an introduction. It makes sure that everyone is on the same page while discussing the issue at hand. The particular example shown below uses the definition technique in an interesting way. The author is not defining a word or particular concept as much as trying to define the mood of the young men involved in the Columbine incident.
They were 18 and 17, it was almost the end of the school year, and you look forward at the end of the school year to freedom. Eighteen and life: the whole vista, the whole landscape, is opening in front of you. They saw nothing. They had utterly nothing to live for, and they chose to die, and there was no meaning in their life and they tried to give meaning to their death, and they came up with a really stupid meaning, a live-action video game with victims who really bled and couldn't fight back. A sad painful story, considering what must have been inside those two boys. However smart they were, they did not look inside themselves because looking at whatever was closing them off would have hurt too much. It hurt less to kill people and finally to kill themselves.
Frank Kogan "School's Been Blown to Pieces"

Anecdote (putting a face on issue)-

Many times an issue is abstract or too large for a reader to fully comprehend at first. Telling a story or an anecdote about the topic helps the reader put a human face on the issue. This helps the reader put the issue into perspective so that they can understand how the issue affects them personally. Most newsmagazines, both print and television, regularly use this technique to get the reader's attention about a topic, so audiences are familiar with this approach and respond positively to it.
It was a phone call that will stay with Denver Police Officer John Lietz for the rest of his life. Shortly after 11 last Tuesday morning, he picked up the line to hear the voice of Matthew Depew, the son of a fellow cop: Depew and 17 other Columbine High School students were trapped in a storage room off the school cafeteria, hiding from kids with guns. Lietz himself had a daughter in the school, and he could hear bursts of gunfire in the background. Lietz told the kids to barricade the door with chairs and sacks of food, and to be ready to attack the gunmen if they got in. Several times Lietz heard the shooters trying to break into the room; they were so close that he could hear them reloading cartridges. At one point, as they pounded on the door, Depew calmly told Lietz that he was sure he was going to die. "Please tell my father I love him," he said.
"Anatomy of a Massacre"

 

Quotation from a relevant source-

Sometimes an author wants to support their argument with quotes from relevant sources. Quoting a source about a topic does add some strength and authority to the author's argument, especially if the quoted source is a noted expert on the field or has specific relevant information. The author needs to be careful that the quoted source does not dominate the essay, however. The essay should still be focused around the author's arguments and evidence. The quote used below is interesting, because it can be seen as ironic in terms of what dream is being referenced.
Dylan Klebold "is intelligent enough to make any dream a reality," a juvenile court counselor wrote last year. The police will investigate, the psychiatrists will speculate, the moralists will fulminate, but none of them are likely to make comprehensive sense of the knotted fantasies and rages that led Klebold and Eric Harris-as coldly planful and Leopold and Loeb, as unforgiving as Carrie, as well armed as Rambo-to apply that intelligence to their murderous rampage at Columbine High School. Still, the pinstriped mafioso of the culture wars, from Gary Bauer to Trent Lott, are busy presenting these two psychopaths as the embodiment of the dangers of unfilitered Internet access, Goth culture, abortion and godless parenting. So in the interests of reality-testing, let it be noted that the current generation of teenagers is less likely to use drugs, is more sexually conservative and less likely to be caught up in school violence than that of twenty years ago.
Bruce Shapiro "The Guns of Littleton"

 

Contradict the Common View-

After a subject has been in the news for a period of time, a general consensus forms in the public's mind about what the "truth" is about a given topic or subject. Once a consensus forms, it is very difficult to convince an audience that something else might possibly be true about the topic. If the author comes across new evidence or information, or intends to take a different approach to the subject, it can be very effective to present this contrary view in the introduction. This shocks the reader, and makes them want to keep reading to try to figure out how in the world the author is going to prove this obviously "wrong" theory. Be careful. The author is OBLIGATED to live up to the challenge and support the argument appropriately.
The tenth or eleventh time DanCBS/PeterABC/TomNBC told me the massacre in Littleton, Colorado was especially horrific because it happened in a high school, "somewhere children feel safe," I started screaming at the television. What high school were they talking about? I went to three, and in none of my high schools did I for a moment feel safe. High school was terrifying, and it was the casual cruelty of the popular kids-the jocks and the princesses-that made it hell.
Dan Savage "Fear the Geek"

First Person Focus-

This particular type of introduction is a way of personalizing an abstract or large issue. Many times big issues can be overly complex and difficult for readers to fully understand. By putting yourself in the equation very early, you help the reader see how their lives are or can be affected by the issue being discussed. This approach needs to be used very carefully, as not all audiences or subjects are appropriate for first person voice. If you are expected to remain very neutral or objective on the subject, you DON'T want to be using first person.

I first heard the news of Littleton on the radio that evening while driving to a friend's house. Someone had broken the antenna off my car a few days earlier; between the lousy reception and the sketchiness of early reports, I couldn't tell at first exactly what had happened. Another school shooting. Twenty-five or more feared dead. Twenty-five? My first thought was entirely weary and entirely cynical. At least the killer understood the moral economy of the situation. One or two bodies wouldn't have made much of a story, not anymore.

Steve Perry "Blank Hearts: Life is Cheap and Getting Cheaper"