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Introductory Paragraphs

Development and Design

PURPOSE:

In a response essay written under the constraints of time and the limitations of research, an introductory paragraph serves, both, to prompt your readers for the topic of the essay to come and to commit yourself to a blueprint of ideas that will direct how you develop the essay.  Writers who generally overlook the potential of the introductory paragraph as part of their invention strategies and outlining regimen often fail the exam because they veer off topic or lose sight of the coherent structure they hoped to produce.

PLACEMENT and NUMBER OF PARAGRAPHS:

Different styles and genres of writing allow for flexibility in the placement of a thesis statement, but in an academic essay the thesis statement should be presented as part of an introduction that occurs at the very beginning of the essay.  The number of paragraphs comprising the introduction depends on the length of the overall essay and the complexity of its stages of development.  (See below.)  Although the vast majority of essay introductions are just one paragraph, you should strive not to let your introduction be more than three paragraphs.

LENGTH:

For some unhappy reason, the prevailing propaganda about writing essays is that five paragraphs are the limit, the introductory paragraph being one of the five.  This is ill advice for any writer hoping to develop a complex thesis.  Five paragraphs are simply the laziest minimum for essay development.  One guideline of lasting good sense, however, is that an introduction should not exceed one-fifth (twenty percent) of the essay's overall length.  (Hence, in a five-paragraph essay, it is one of five paragraphs approximately equal in length.)

STRUCTURE:

Introductory paragraphs are, both, practical and rhetorical.  They provide readers with a sense of the essay's content, yes.  However, they also create a clue as to the personality of the writer, the style of the writing, the breadth of the writer's knowledge, and the writer's relationship to the audience.  As such, plenty of opportunity exists in an introductory paragraph to bring personality and style to bear.  The following pattern of development, however, should be practiced and applied without fail in every exam you write this quarter.

Write your introduction as a single paragraph developed in THREE STAGES

CONTEXT
Introduces readers to a general subject in relation to the essay's topic; provide a "hook" to interest readers to read further, usually less formal or academic in tone, and sometimes a provocation of the reader's response:

Marriage, they say, is an institution, a tradition in every culture that is celebrated with fanfare, gifts, and the collective blessings of an entire society.  There is only one requirement needed to secure this adulation, and it takes no special effort at all.  In fact, for ninety-nine percent of all married people, it is as basic as being born heterosexual.

 

TOPIC
Announces the topic of the essay as a more specific issue within the general subject.  In response essays-- essays in which a thesis is asserted in response to someone else's--this is where an outside text or argument is introduced for the first time by way of the author's full name, the author's authority (credentials) the essay's full title (in quotation marks or italics), and the author's thesis or position:

Why societies congratulate marriage is understandable.  Outspoken pundit Maggie Gallagher, who has actively and aggressively lobbied against the rights of gay people to marry, argues in "Why Marriage Is Good For You" that a status of marriage is also a sanctioned commitment to maintaining a state of cultural, economic and personal stability.   Predictably, she does not consider how ultimately important it is, then, for same-sex couples to receive the same congratulations for their commitment to these ideals.  And she is hardly alone in her omission.

 

THESIS 
Asserts a central claim, or thesis requiring the remaining essay to provide or support that claim; forecast an organizational and developmental strategy for the essay that will follow. (In essays that use a response-style of writing, this is where one states an agreement or disagreement with the author, and adds one's own position or perspective.)

Critics of same-sex "lifestyles" go to great lengths to protect "family" against unseen enemies and to portray the lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual people as degenerate, sex-addicted and superficial caricatures of straight people, incapable of forming stable, family-building relationships.  Yet, when gay people actively seek to do so and our society has an opportunity to encourage them to live more stable lives, it conspires against them and denies them the same privilege and right to marry.  It is time to set the record straight and gay: not only is marriage good for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, but the term "marriage" must be used equitably, for straight and gay people alike, if the benefits of marriage deserve to be praised at all.
  
Introductory paragraphs from Maggie Gallagher's "Why Marriage Is Good For You"

  

CONTEXT:
            When Americans debate the value of marriage, most attention focuses on the potential harm to children of divorce or illegitimacy, and for good reason. Mountains of research tell us that children reared outside of intact marriages are much more likely than other kids to slip into poverty, become victims of child abuse, fail at school and drop out, use illegal drugs, launch into premature sexual activity, become unwed teen mothers, divorce, commit suicide and experience other signs of mental illness, become physically ill, and commit crimes and go to jail.  On average, children reared outside of marriage are less successful in their careers, even after controlling not only for income but also for parental conflict. ...

  

TEXT:
            Yes, marriage protects children.  And yes, marriage therefore protects taxpayers and society from a broad and deep set of costs, personal and communal. But there is another case for marriage, equally significant, that you probably haven't heard.  Marriage is a powerful creator and sustainer of human and social capital for adults as well as children, about as important as education when it comes to promoting the health, wealth, and well-being of adults and communities. For most Americans, this is news.  When it comes to adults, the case for lifelong marriage has been framed in exclusively moral, spiritual, and emotional terms: one side argues for personal liberation from marriage, the other urges parents to sacrifice for God's and/or the kids' sake.... 
SUBTEXT:
            These are important considerations to be sure.  Parents surely should be willing to make appropriate sacrifices for their kids' sake.  But framing the marriage debate solely in those terms obscures as much as it reveals.  It misses the profound benefits that lasting marriage confers on adults.  And it overestimates considerably the likelihood that divorce will, in fact, lead to greater happiness for the individual.

 

Single introductory paragraph responding to Maggie Gallagher's "Why Marriage Is Good For You" (combined and revised for its wordiness):

     Marriage, they say, is an institution, and why we congratulate marriage is understandable. In every culture it is celebrated with the fanfare of gifts and our collective blessings--with only one requirement: heterosexuality. Outspoken pundit Maggie Gallagher, who has actively and aggressively lobbied against the rights of gay people to marry, argues in "Why Marriage Is Good For You" that a status of marriage is also a sanctioned commitment to maintaining a state of cultural, economic and personal stability.   Predictably, she does not consider how ultimately important it is, then, for same-sex couples to receive the same congratulations for their commitment to these ideals.  In fact, many go great lengths to protect "family" against our "unseen enemies," criticizing lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual people as degenerate, sex-addicted, superficial and therefore incapable of stable family relationships.  Yet, when gay people actively seek to prove them wrong, our society conspires denies them the chance to live in stable, publicly sanctioned unions that heterosexual couples can take for granted.  It is time to set the record straight and gay: not only is marriage good for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, but the term "marriage" must be used equitably, for straight and gay people alike, if the benefits of marriage deserve to be praised at all.

 

Last Updated: 02/17/2016

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