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Arts & Letters Daily


Writing Tutorial – Introductory Paragraph

Have you ever experienced ‘writer’s block’?
Suppose you have been asked to write an essay … you have done your research and collected a pile of notes … you have prepared an outline or concept map of what you want to say. You think you are ready to write the essay. Now comes the moment of truth … ‘How to begin the essay’. In other words, you are trying to determine what you should say in the introduction to your essay. But, you don’t know how to get started! That’s writer’s block.
This is a very important issue because the introductory paragraph often determines whether readers will read an essay or report. The introductory paragraph has the critical task of announcing to the reader what the essay or report is all about and of capturing the readers’ interest. That is why an introductory paragraph should include the main idea and a hook. Try the following thinking strategies to write a strong introductory paragraph.
The main idea may be stated in a topic sentence, thesis, or a hypothesis/hunch. I discussed the main idea in a paragraph in Lesson 1. That applies to an essay or report as well. The only difference is that the main idea applies to the entire essay … not just to a paragraph. For example, in the essay below, ‘Time is Running Out’, the main idea is: Canadians need to act.
The second challenge for writers is: ‘How can I get the readers’ interest’? There are several approaches a writer can use. These include: a brief story, a problem statement, a question or a brief description about an event or person. In the essay, Time is Running Out, I tried to capture my readers interest by recognizing that ‘scientists are debating whether the people of the earth should be concerned about global warming’. This fact raises questions about my main idea: Canadians need to act. If scientists are still debating the issue of global warming, why should Canadians act? The reader waits to be persuaded, and, for that reason may decide to read the essay. In short, the reader is hooked!
THINKING STRATEGY # 3 Applying thinking strategies
Readers also want to know how an essay or report is written. Does it describe, compare, analyze, present facts and evidence, present cause and effect arguments or a combination of some of these strategies?
Finally, readers want to know what kind of text they are facing. Is it an essay or a report? When readers detect these clues in a brief well written introductory paragraph, they are prepared for what lies ahead. They might decide to read the entire essay or report.

Notice what I have done again … I have approached the task of writing an introduction from the perspective of readers. After all, when we write we hope some people will read it. Frequently, we have a certain reader in mind. For example, in the essay, Time is Running Out’, the writer seems to be writing to Canadians when he announces in the first sentence ‘Canadians need to act’.
In summary, writers should include the following key features of an introductory paragraph:
Main Idea 
  • state the main idea in a sentence OR
  • state a thesis or position OR
  • state an hypothesis or hunch
  • present a problem OR
  • tell a brief story OR
  • ask a question OR
  • give a description
Identify a Thinking Strategy (choose one or more)
  • Describe; Analyze; Compare; Facts and Evidence; Cause and Effect
Identify a Format
  • Essay or Report
Let me demonstrate what an introductory paragraph looks like. I have chosen an essay; so I will illustrate an introductory paragraph for an essay. First, let’s read this essay together.
Time is Running Out
While scientists are debating whether the people of the earth should be concerned about global warming, Canadians need to act. This is not said to belittle the debate among scientists; their research provides vital information. However, since many scientists claim that the global warming trend is likely to have negative consequences, the people of Canada should plan for the future with this information in mind. The predominantly negative effects of global warming on Canada will be described in this essay.
Why the people of Canada? Many scientists agree that if the atmosphere continues to get warmer, many regions will experience negative effects. True, some regions may enjoy some benefits. For example, the farmers on the prairies might enjoy a longer growing season.
But, most Canadians would suffer negative consequences. The Maritimes and the West Coast would experience coastal flooding; arid regions of southern Alberta would turn into deserts; and the permafrost in the Yukon would decay more and more. Skiers would have fewer places to ski in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec because of a shortage of snow. The fish migration patterns along the eastern shoreline might change so much that the prime fishing areas may disappear. All these changes together would have a negative impact on the lifestyle of most Canadians.
Of course, more research is needed to determine the impact of global warming. But that is not good enough for responsible Canadians. We need to take steps immediately to slow down the global warming trend. Canadians should object more strongly to clear cut logging in British Columbia. We must change from being one of the highest users in the world of fossil fuels to one of the lowest.
This would be a promising start to save Canada, as we know it. Not to respond to the threat of global warming would be like ignoring a tornado warning. Let’s not wait till devastation is upon us.
Now, let’s see how the strategy for writing an introductory paragraph applies to this essay, ‘Time is Running Out’. Let’s use the following template.
Template: Introduction
Main Idea – Thesis
  • Canadians need to act
  • While scientists are debating whether the people of the earth should be concerned about global  warming
Identify a Thinking Strategy
  • Description – will be described
Identify a Format
  • Essay
Try this …
  1. Go to, click on Writing and scroll to INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH. Read the introductory paragraphs and complete the templates. Use the answer Key at the end of the activities to check your answers.
  2. Write an introductory paragraph using the paragraph format to organize it and one of the paragraph patterns to develop your idea. Use the template as a guide to ensure that you have accomplished what an introductory paragraph.
    3. After you are pleased with your paragraph, edit it for grammar to create a reader’s draft.
If you have any questions about the writing process, send them to Ask Dr. Otto at
Enjoy your writing experience.