PURPOSES OF INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPHS
1. To get the reader’s attention
2. To establish the tone (serious, humorous, etc.)
3. To establish the subject and its limitations
4. To indicate the organization
5. To state a restricted, unified, precise thesis
For introductions to be effective they must be relevant, informative, coherent, and interesting. Remember it forms a reader’s first impression of you, the writer. A good introduction can pique a reader’s desire to read further. A poor introduction can turn a reader away or can lower enthusiasm and interest. At least two essential points should be covered in an introduction:
1. the titles and authors of the literary work(s) being considered.
2. the thesis or direction the essay will take in discussing the literary work(s).
Here are some fundamental approaches for writing introductory paragraphs:
1. MOVE FROM LIFE EXPERIENCE TO LITERARY EXPERIENCE.
Very often what interests us in a short story, a poem, or a play is how true or real the literary work seems (mimetic criticism). We can picture any number of situations in real life which are similar to those we read about in literature. Recognizing this similarity, many writers start their essays by discussing life situations which are comparable to the literary situation, moving from the more general human experience to the experience presented in the novel, poem, or play. Such a beginning is especially useful in essays on characterization, although it may also be used when looking at other literary elements as well.
Sometimes you will come upon a work of literature very unlike anything to real life (e.g., E. T. A. Hoffmann’s "The Sandman"). In this case, you can show how unlike a literary work can be from common experience, using difference and contrast as opposed to comparison and similarity
2. FROM GENERAL IDEA TO AUTHOR’S VIEW
Many works of literature investigate human experience from a metaphysical perspective, notably from a philosophical stance. Concepts of time, chance, fate, good, evil, the meaning of life, the reality of death have all been subjects for literary artists. Before dwelling on a particular author’s views about death or time, a writer may decide to discuss such concepts more generally in the introduction. If you wish to begin an essay in this way, you must first identify a prominent idea in the work that will be the focus of your thesis. Then you step back from the particular literary work and consider where the author’s views fits into a range of opinions on the subject. Introductions which begin by discussing ideas are frequently useful in essays focusing on the theme of a literary work, though such an introduction certainly has other applications.
3. BEGINNING WITH AN OVERVIEW
Give an overview of the work, or a brief account of relevant and important details. This method is especially useful when you find these are aspects of the work that are related to your topic but which will not be discussed in detail in your essay. You should not narrate those elements of the plot which will be prominent in you later discussion of the work. Your purpose in such an introduction is to give a broad view of the play, or poem before narrowing to a thesis. An introduction of this kind places a narrow thesis within a broader context.
4. MOVE FROM GENERAL (OLD) INFORMATION TO NEW (ADAPTED FROM PURDUE UNIVERSITY)
- Introduce your readers to the "big picture" first by giving them information they already know. Then they can link what’s familiar to new information you give them. As that new information becomes familiar, it too becomes old information that can link to newer information.
The following is an example of a sentence that uses old information to lead to new information. As a result, it is rather clear and understandable
- Every semester, after final exams are over, I’m faced with the problem (old information) of what to do with books of lecture notes (new information). They (old) might be useful some day, but they just keep piling up on my bookcase (new). Someday, it (old) will collapse under the weight of information I might never need.
5. BEGINNING WITH A QUOTATION
Sometimes writers find that beginning an essay with an appropriate quotation is an interesting way to open a literary discussion. The quotation, of course, should be well chosen. It should be important, pertinent to the subject of the paper, and well integrated into the rest of the introduction. The usual place for quotations which serve as evidence for an assertion is in the body of a literary essay, not in the introduction. The type of quotation you are looking for here is one that will make an interesting, informative, and appropriate opener. Remember that you must also explain the quotation and tie to your thesis.
6. BEGINNING WITH A DEFINITION
Sometimes the main point of an essay about literature will involve a term that is not common knowledge or that is used in a particular sense and, therefore, needs to be explained. The introduction is the perfect place to define vague or unusual terms to insure that the reader and the writer have the same meaning in mind when the writer discusses the literary work. However, there is no need to explain common literary terms, such as simile, metaphor, setting, character, tone unless you can subtly work this definition into your thesis. As in a standard definition essay, describe what it is, explain the term to show how it differs of other types of its class, and what it is not.
7. BEGINNING WITH BACKGROUND ABOUT THE AUTHOR OR THE WORK
Another possible way of beginning is to mention details about the author’s life or the story’s background which may be relevant to the focus of your essay (genetic criticism). For an introduction of this type you will have to do a little research into background material. Be careful here about using unwarranted connections between an author’s life and his work or drawing conclusions about his intentions.
8. BEGINNING WITH THE LITERARY HISTORY OR TRADITION OF THE WORK
A good way to introduce a study of a work of literature is to show how it fits into a particular literary tradition. Just as authors draw on previous literature in their works, so too can you discuss a work intertextually. Often more modern works can be examined as revisions or adaptations of earlier works, of only echoing a previous one.
9. BEGINNING WITH A DISCUSSION OF A LITERARY TECHNIQUE
Some writers introduce their discussions of character, setting, point of view, or imagery by exploring the general uses authors make of a particular literary element and then considering the way an author uses the same literary element in the specific work being discussed. This kind of introduction is particularly helpful when an author employs a technique in an unusual way.
10. BEGINNING WITH A CRITICAL STANCE
As you continue studying literature, you will notice how critics take a number of different approaches when interpreting a work. For example, some will look at literature psychologically; feminists look at literature as an illumination of the female condition, past and present; Marxists will look at the economic and social values exhibited by a work. In most of your literature classes, however, you will probably be looking at works as highly crafted with identifiable parts which contribute to the whole.
METHODS FOR WRITING A GOOD CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH
A good conclusion is your last chance to convince your reader.
1. Restate both the thesis and the essay’s major points
2. An evaluation of the importance of the essay’s subject
3. A statement of the essay’s broader implications
4. A call to action
5. A prophecy or warning based on the essay’s thesis
6. A witticism that emphasizes or sums up the point of the essay
7. A quotation, story, or joke that emphasizes or sums up
8. An image or description that lends finality to the essay
9. A rhetorical question that makes readers think about the essay’s main point
10. An emphatic summary of the essay’s thesis, stated in fresh terms
AVOID TRITE EXPRESSIONS. Don’t begin your conclusions by declaring, "in conclusion," "in summary," or "as you can see, this essay proves my thesis that. . . ."