By Will Byrne
Since the beginning of time, students have been writing terrible introductions to their papers. Or maybe: introductions to papers are an essential part of human life. Or: the first time I wrote an introduction was in Mrs. Blerg’s class, back before the beginning of time. Or, as JFK once said: “Ask not what your introduction can do for you, but what you can do for your introduction.” Or, to put it statistically: 95% percent of all introductions are clichéd tripe.
Although there are many obnoxious, useless and clichéd paper introductions, there is an equally mind-blowing number of cliché teaching strategies explaining how to write an introduction: “Hook a reader!” “Use a quote!” “Use a surprising fact!” “Tell a story from your life!” “Make it funny!” “Make sure it’s interesting!”
The idea that every paper needs a hook contradicts that the paper is interesting in the first place. Indeed, all of this advice on introductions seems to fortify what the student-writer already thinks: this paper is boring.
If the paper’s argument is interesting, shouldn’t that be the hook? Throw out “since the beginning of time” or “90%” --what if we were to start with the thesis? If it’s a good thesis, then the audience (especially if the audience is the grading professor) will be immediately interested, correct? It’s worth a try. I googled “good thesis statements” and this is one that popped up:
“Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.”
What are the possible downsides of this thesis also being the first sentence of a paper? Well, for one, I am instantly confused. I know we’re talking about Huck Finn, but I’m not sure what the author means by “river and shore scenes,” “true expression of American democratic ideals,” or even “civilized society/nature.” These three major ideas demand immediate explanation and without it, the reader can’t fully understand the thesis. Confusion is never a good way to start an essay so what should an introduction do?
An introduction not a hook, it’s the space where the most important and contentious vocabulary of the essay needs to be established. Once that information is established, the interest of the piece is apparent and the writer merely needs to state their argument. If the argument is compelling, the reader will be hooked.