- A good introductory paragraph 1. gets your reader’s attention, 2. introduces your topic, and 3. presents your stance on the topic (thesis).
Right after your title is the introductory paragraph. Like an appetizer for a meal, the introductory paragraph sets up the reader’s palate and gives him a foretaste of what is to come. You want start your paper on a positive note by putting forth the best writing possible.
Like writing the title, you can wait to write your introductory paragraph until you are done with the body of the paper. Some people prefer to do it this way since they want to know exactly where their paper goes before they make an introduction to it. When you write your introductory paragraph is a matter of personal preference.
Your introductory paragraph needs to accomplish three main things: it must 1. grip your reader, 2. introduce your topic, and 3. present your stance on the topic (in the form of your thesis statement). If you’re writing a large academic paper, you’ll also want to contextualize your paper’s claim by discussing points other writers have made on the topic.
There are a variety of ways this can be achieved. Some writers find it useful to put a quote at the beginning of the introductory paragraph. This is often an effective way of getting the attention of your reader:
“Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives…”
Hmm. Interesting…Tell me more. This introduction has set off the paper with an interesting quote and makes the reader want to continue reading. How has Jefferson’s public life differed from his private life? Notice how this introduction also helps frame the paper. Now the reader expects to learn about the duality of Thomas Jefferson’s life.
Another common method of opening a paper is to provide a startling statistic or fact. This approach is most useful in essays that relate to current issues, rather than English or scientific essays.
“The fact that one in every five teenagers between the ages of thirteen and fifteen smokes calls into question the efficacy of laws prohibiting advertising cigarettes to children…”
The reader is given an interesting statistic to chew on (the fact that so many children smoke) while you set up your paper. Now your reader is expecting to read an essay on cigarette advertising laws.
When writing English papers, introducing your topic includes introducing your author and the aspect of the text that you’ll be analyzing.
“Love is a widely felt emotion. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas uses the universality of love to develop a connection with his reader…”
Here, the reader is introduced to the piece of text that will be analyzed, the author, and the essay topic. Nice.
The previous sample introduction contains a general sentence at the beginning that bring up a very broad topic: love. From there, the introductory paragraph whittles down to something more specific:
how Dumas uses love in his novel to develop a connection with the reader. You’d expect this paragraph to march right on down to the thesis statement,
which belongs at the end of the introductory paragraph. Good introductory paragraphs often have this ‘funnel’ sort of format–going from something broad (such as love) to something more specific until the thesis is presented.
Try to avoid the some of the more hackneyed openers:
- “Have you ever wondered why…”
- “Webster’s dictionary defines…”
- “X is a very important issue facing America today…”
The purpose of close reading is to suspend personal judgment and examine a text in order to uncover and discover as much information as we can from it.
In close reading we ask not just “what does this passage say?” but also “how does it say it?” and even “what does it not say?” Close reading takes us deeper into the passage, below its surface to the deeper structures of its language, syntax and imagery, then out again to its connections with the whole text as well as other texts, events, and ideas.
• Identify and reflect on major themes in the book.
• Analyze specific details, scenes, actions, and quotations in the text and discuss how they contribute to your interpretation of the meaning of the larger text.
• Extract as much information from a chosen passage of writing as possible.
• Listen to and understand others’ differing (perhaps) interpretations of the same text.
• Generate questions and topics for further inquiry.
Assignment One: A Close Reading
Now that you’ve finished the book, choose a passage from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and compose your own close reading of it. Apply the same techniques to this paper that were applied in in-class close readings and discussions, now taking into account the context of your chosen passage, additional selections from the text, as well as the book as a whole. Following MLA documentation style, correctly cite your chosen passage and any other quotations from the text that support your interpretations and claims. For help with MLA style, go to the Commonwealth College website (www.comcol.umass.edu) and search for “MLA format.”
Organizing your close-reading essay In writing your close-reading essay, you may wish to start by introducing the book and describing your chosen passage’s importance within it. You could then offer relevant details to support your thesis. Questions you raise may appear as part of your conclusion, suggesting avenues for further thought and study.
Paper length Your paper should be 650-750 words long, maximum. Be detailed but concise. Edit out unnecessary words and redundancies. (Include your selected passage in your paper, but do not count it as part of the total length.) A sample close reading essay is available online. Search the Commonwealth College website (www.comcol.umass.edu) for “close reading essay.”
Questions to consider as you prepare to compose your close reading
Examine the passage by itself
• What does this passage explicitly say?
• Is there a meaning beneath or beyond the explicit message? What is it? How is it communicated?
• What might the passage suggest about the writer’s motivations?
• How do the writer’s style, imagery and choice of language create a tone or intensify a meaning?
• What specific examples in the passage (and additional passages) support these observations?
Examine the passage in light of surrounding passages and the rest of the book
• What themes running through the book are evoked explicitly and implicitly in this passage?
• How does this passage fit—or not fit—into its immediate context as well as the book as a whole? What insights into the book does it reveal?
• What questions does the passage raise about the story being told?
• What conclusions can be drawn from this passage about the author and the text?
A note about writing You should consider this paper a final version: pay attention to the quality of your writing and proofread your work. Strive to be concise and clear as well as correct. This means writing in a style that’s both academic and accessible. Always keep your audience in mind. You are writing for your interested peers.
Grading This essay will be worth 15% of your final grade.
Note: You will submit your paper at next week’s class. You will also be asked to summarize your paper and present its main points orally during class discussion. Therefore, you may want to jot down a few “talking points” in preparation.