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Step-by-Step Breakdown of Opening Statements
The above YouTube video about Opening Statements is probably my most in-depth video about trial advocacy to date.
In it, I walk you through the 10 steps to having the best Opening Statement ever.
Each step is strategically placed within your presentation so you can maximize your Opening Statement.
I made this video after releasing my mini E-Book the 10-Step Formula to the Perfect Opening Statement.
If you haven’t received your FREE download yet, then what are you waiting for.
In fact, so much thought went into this Ultimate Guide to Opening Statements, that the above video is a lesson in Trial Ad Academy.
So whether you’re figuring out how to deliver a mock trial opening statement or you’re preparing for an actual trial, check out the video and then keep reading!
The best part about Opening Statement.
Compared to the other parts of trial, Opening Statement can be the most planned.
At this point in trial, you have typically just ended jury selection (or “voir dire” for the fancy folks) and you have the entire trial ahead of you.
In other words, your opening statement is not dependent on many variables so you should always write an opening statement script before your trial or mock trial.
As a result, there are two things that may impact your Opening Statement.
I. Motion in Limine
The first one is the other side’s Motion in Limine.
If you don’t know what a Motion in Limine is or if you want to better understand its importance, then definitely watch this video here.
Using a Motion in Limine the correct way can be an absolute game changer and can have a major impact on an Opening Statement.
For example, if the judge decides to grant the other side’s Motion in Limine on a fact or piece of evidence, then you’re not goin to be able to bring that fact up during your Opening Statement.
II. Jury Selection
Just because Jury Selection has ended, that doesn’t mean you forget about everything that happened as you were getting answers from potential jurors.
Instead, you want to arm yourself with portions of jury selection that you can use during your Opening Statement.
But we’ll talk about this in more detail later on in this post.
How to write an Opening Statement.
Using the 10-Step Formula described in the above video, you can apply the facts and theme of your case to each step.
And in order to write a winning Opening Statement, you’ll want to avoid being over-the-top with the drama.
Opening statement is all about previewing the case for the jury. It is not about arguing the case (if you start arguing, then you may raise an objection from opposing counsel).
So your goal is to come off as a teacher while you subtly and gently argue your case in a persuasive way.
In fact, you may want to lean towards underpromising so that you can eventually overdeliver during Closing Argument.
If you’re wondering how you can achieve this balance, then you may want to check out this post about opening statement examples and watch this opening statement example on YouTube.
While watching, act like you’re a juror. And then ask yourself whether the lawyer is effectively and persuasively previewing the case.
After looking at a couple of opening statement examples, it won’t take you long to figure out what a good balance should be.
Finally and most importantly, your Opening Statement script should have blank spaces!
Yes, blank spaces!
A key to the best Opening Statement ever.
Here’s the catch — if you write 100% of your Opening Statement by scripting it out and present that entire Opening Statement to the jury, then I can guarantee that your Opening Statement was not the best it could be.
Instead, you should cater all of your Opening Statements to the particular jury that you are in front of.
To do this, you should implement aspects of what has occurred prior to delivering your opening statement.
For example, the judge will most likely talk to the jury a couple of times before you start previewing the case (usually about procedural things).
In that situation, you either want to incorporate some of the judge’s statements into your Opening Statement to piggyback on his authority or you want to omit any portions that might be redundant to what the judge has already said.
Similarly, jury selection (or “voir dire” for the fancy folks) comes before Opening Statement as well. So you should always, ALWAYS incorporate tidbits from jury selection into your Opening Statement outline. Doing so will continue the bond that you have developed during jury selection. See how you can do that here.
If the idea of not sticking 100% to your Opening Statement script freaks you out a little, then read on!
Practice makes perfect.
Now that you have your Opening Statement outline written out, then you need to practice presenting it.
I know, I know. It’s not sexy or cool to practice a presentation in the mirror or in front of people.
And I know that “practice makes perfect” is overused these days.
But, I can guarantee you that practice will be the best way to iron out any wrinkles of your Opening Statement.
And just because you have an amazing Opening Statement written down, that doesn’t mean it is going to sound or look amazing.
So I recommend that you practice both your movement, voice inflections, and pauses when delivering your Opening Statement.
Trust me, you don’t want the actual jury or mock trial judges to be your guinea pig.
Plus, by practicing, you can simulate different variables for the blank spaces that you’ve incorporated. This will make you 100x more comfortable on game day.
And here’s a hidden bonus.
By reciting and rehearsing your Opening Statement, you’ll simultaneously be preparing yourself to make a great Closing Argument because the outlines will be similar.
Can I skip the opening sentence for this post?
Let’s say you skip reading the first few sentences and start with the fourth?
I don’t like the pressure of writing a first sentence.
What if I fail to engage readers? What if I’m boring them? What if I’ve wasted my time on this article because my first line sucks?
The task of writing a catchy first sentence can paralyze even the most acclaimed writers. In an interview with the Atlantic, Stephen King admits he can spend months, or even years, on writing the opening lines for a new book.
Sounds crazy, right?
As business writers, we don’t have the luxury of time. We have other things to do than worrying about one line of text.
So what can we do?
Let me share with you a trick for writing a first sentence super-fast. But first, let’s define what a good opening line is.
An outrageously good opening sentence
This is how the novel “Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga starts:
I was not sorry when my brother died.
Why is this sentence good?
It entices you to read on.
That first sentence creates drama because it instantly raises two compelling questions in readers’ minds: Why did the brother die? And why was the author not sorry? A reader reads on because he wants to find out the answers to these two questions.
An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.
One of the most famous opening sentences
This is how “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger starts:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
This famous opening line is 63 words long.
Is such a long sentence a good idea?
Ben Blatt analyzed what makes a good novel great, and he also reviewed first sentences. His conclusions are not clear cut, as he summarizes in his book “Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve:”
The first sentence is only as popular as the rest of the book, and brevity alone will not make a first sentence great.
Our literary heroes may write lengthy first sentences.
But when writing for the web, we need to remember our readers. They’re not curled up on a comfy sofa with a book and a glass of Rioja. They’re hurrying across the web, searching for interesting articles to read and share. Who has the patience to start reading a block of text?
So, instead of following J.D. Salinger’s 63-word mammoth sentence, take your cue from Toni Morrison, the master of short first sentences, like this one from “Tar Baby:”
They shoot the white girl first.
From “God Help the Child:”
Each of these sentences makes you curious to read on.
Your first sentence has two purposes. First, get people to read your first sentence—a short sentence works better because it’s easy to read. Then, make sure they want to read your second sentence.
The worst opening lines
Ben Blatt quotes the opening line of the book “Paul Clifford” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton as one of the most ridiculed opening lines ever:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Not only is that sentence awfully long, its worst crime is that nothing happens. Nothing grabs attention. Nothing makes me curious. It’s simply a description of the weather. So what?
Of course, in business we rarely write about the weather, but you may have come across similar opening lines that fail to whet your appetite for reading more. For instance:
Many ways exist to choose your words.
As you know, Rome wasn’t built in one day.
In business, you have to take risks.
The above opening lines may be short, but they’re obvious statements, killing readers’ interest. There’s no incentive to read on.
A little-known shortcut for catchy opening sentences
Getting nervous about writing a good first sentence?
No need for nerves, when you know this blog writing trick …
Unlike novels, a blog post is often a conversation with our readers. And what easier way to engage readers than asking them a question?
In a face-to-face meeting, you often start a conversation with a question, like: Cup of tea? How did your meeting go? Or: How’s business?
Why not do the same in your writing?
The one magic opening line doesn’t exist
So, no need to search for it anxiously.
Instead, remember your reader.
Imagine him hurrying across the web. He’s feeling restless. He’s impatient because he’s been wasting his time reading lousy blog posts.
How can you engage him? How can you make him read your first sentence? And then the next?
A good writer draws a reader in, and doesn’t let him go until the last word.
This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas
07 Friday Feb 2014
An opening statement has a dual purpose of providing a guide to the reader on what the research topic is going to be about as well as grasp the reader’s attention through creative writing.
Only a few basic steps should be followed to create the perfect opening for your topic and to ensure that you become a great term paper writer.
- The Hook: As previously mentioned, an opening statement must be creative and original enough that it grabs the attention of a reader. One of the ways to get a casual viewer to pay attention to your research paper is to write an interesting statistical fact like ‘The amount of trash in the seas is thrice the amount of fish that inhabit it.’ this can arouse intrigue and curiosity in the reader and he might be tempted to read your term paper further.
- Pose a Question: this type of tactics work well in term papers that are argumentative or analytical in nature. A question persuades the reader to give some thought to the topic at end and in doing so arouse curiosity. For example, a nature essay relating to caterpillars can start with the question: “Farmers believe that caterpillars are their best friends but do recent study on the eating behavior of caterpillars confirm this faith?”
- Vivid Description: Often professors and other readers refuse to read further than a few sentences of a student’s term paper because it is dull and contains no description. Students should try to use vivid sentences in their essays and term papers to attract the attention of the reader. A dull paper can make the professor demand a thorough research paper editing of the student.
- Blunt Opinion: A research paper, especially an analytical one requires no opinions, simply facts but a classroom essay can include opinions in the content. To get a readers attention, make sure that your opinion is blunt and brash as this causes immediate attention. Ensure that you use a convincing note in your essay so that the reader is persuaded by your writing as well.
Some Things to Avoid
- Avoid writing in the first person; try third person instead.
- One of the biggest let down for a reader is when he sees an essay that starts with the phrase:’ This essay is about….’
- No matter what, always ensure that you cite the resources present in the academic paper.
- Make sure your essay or research paper consists no plagiarism.
- Ensure that your citation style is according to the requirements of your high school and college.
When you compose a piece of writing, it’s important to organize your ideas so readers understand your main point and sub-points. Creating a topic sentence for your introductory paragraph and supporting paragraphs is an essential part of non-fiction writing. Learning how to write effective topic sentences can help you present your main idea and supporting information clearly to your audience.
In this article, we explain the purpose of a topic sentence, show you how to write a topic sentence and share examples and tips to help you craft strong topic sentences in your own writing.
What is a topic sentence?
A topic sentence is the opening sentence to a paragraph that gives the general idea (topic) of what the writing will be about. It needs to give broad enough information to allow for multiple subtopics and examples without being so general that it makes the purpose of the writing unclear.
Topic sentences help guide the reader by introducing the subject of the rest of the paragraph. They relate to the main idea of the entire piece of writing and present the specific topic that is the focus of a paragraph. Topic sentences provide structure to a paragraph and piece of writing as a whole.
How is a topic sentence different from a thesis statement?
A thesis statement is the sentence that states the repeated focus for an entire piece of writing. The thesis statement of an essay is usually written after a hook and or topic sentence of the introductory paragraph to make a point that will be supported by examples throughout the entire essay. A topic sentence, however, can be used to back up the thesis by introducing the topic of each supporting paragraph.
Here’s an example:
- Opening paragraph topic sentence:Tea has long been studied and enjoyed for its beneficial properties.
- Thesis:Drinking tea has positive effects on a person’s overall health because of the compounds it contains.
If you were composing an essay using these examples, you would create multiple paragraphs to explain what compounds are in tea and why they are good for your health. The topic sentence for each paragraph would introduce a topic like “cancer-fighting compounds in green tea” or “how tea lowers cholesterol.” Both of these topics support the thesis that tea has positive effects on a person’s health because of the compounds they contain.
How to write a topic sentence
Follow these ideas to create a topic sentence for multiple paragraphs:
1. Identify the main point in your piece of writing
Think about the overall topic for your writing. Decide how you can introduce this idea to your readers with an interesting opening sentence.
2. Write a sentence that connects to your main idea with a what and a why
Write a clear topic sentence by describing the what and the why of an idea that relates to your main point. State what the topic is and why it matters. Here is an example of using the what and why structure with the previous topic of tea.
- What:Tea has long been studied and enjoyed
- Why:For its beneficial properties
3. Use the sentence you created as an opening statement
Compose an opening sentence to your piece of writing that introduces the main point for the entire work using the what and why structure. Place this sentence before your thesis statement to act as an introduction to both the thesis and main idea of the entire piece of writing.
4. Create the first sentence in each supporting paragraph
Write a sentence that begins each supporting paragraph by introducing the new topic for that section and connects readers back to the main idea of your piece of writing. Continue to use the what and why structure as you create new topic sentences for each paragraph.
Tips for writing a topic sentence
Here are some helpful ideas for creating and using topic sentences in your writing:
Use new information
Create a topic sentence that gives readers something interesting to think about instead of an obvious statement (something everybody knows). When you create a topic sentence, present the information in a new way that is not just a fact statement.
- Obvious statement:Tea is a hot beverage that you steep.
- Interesting statement:Tea, a hot brewed beverage, is steeped to release the full taste of the leaves that create this drink.
Make your topic sentence complex or compound
Compound and complex sentences make topic sentences sound stronger and more high-level. Create a compound sentence with two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction and a comma. Compose a complex sentence with a subordinate clause and an independent clause joined by a comma and a subordinating conjunction.
- Compound sentence:The Victorian Era was a time of invention, but (coordinating conjunction) it was also ruled by strict social cues.
- Complex sentence:When (subordinating conjunction) birds migrate for winter, they follow aerial paths that have been used by their flock for generations.
Try transition words
Words like “although,” “another” and “even though” act as transitions to begin a new paragraph. You can use these in a topic sentence that starts a support paragraph or possibly in your opening statement topic sentence.
- Another way local farms support sustainability is by using conservation methods.
- Even though hurricane season starts in June, most major hurricanes come toward the end of August or later.
Topic sentences are used for most nonfiction writing
Learning to use topic sentences effectively can help you write nearly any piece of nonfiction. Here are some examples of common forms of non-fiction writing that use topic sentences:
- Different types of essays (expository, persuasive and narrative)
Use a topic sentence later in the opening paragraph
You don’t have to always make a topic sentence the first sentence in a paragraph. In an opening paragraph, you can use a topic sentence after the hook to get readers interested with a statement that grabs their attention.
Examples of topic sentences
Here are examples of topic sentences with a main idea listed to help you see how the topic sentence supports the main point of a piece of writing:
- January 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- October 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- February 2016
- January 2016
- Court Proceedures
- January 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- October 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- February 2016
- January 2016
- Court Proceedures
Helping people build solutions to their legal issues
Going to a trial or hearing can be daunting. Make sure you put your best foot forward by making an awesome opening statement.
A trial or hearing has three parts opening, evidence and closing. This post will focus the opening statement.
The purpose of an opening statement is to inform the judge or other decision maker about the case he or she is about to hear. The judge may have already read the pleadings and may therefore have some idea what the case is about. However it is still helpful for him or her to hear an overview of the case from the prospective of each side, including the result each side desires.
Here is the recommended format for an opening statement
1. State the theme of your case..the theme of you case is derived from the theory of your case. It should be no longer then 1 or two sentences.
2. Identify the parties.. Briefly explain who the parties are, and how they got into the overall picture.
3. State the cause of action or defense… The plaintiff states the cause of action and the defendant states their defense.
4. State the facts of the case… This is the main part of the opening statement. It sets out your version of the facts of the case, and will help the judge to follow the testimony of your witnesses, helping the judge to understand the importance of what they say. Highlight only the main facts being careful not to present any evidence.
5. State the legal issues… Identify the legal issues raised by the facts of the case. Issues are usually introduced by the word “whether” for example “the legal issue in this case is whether the tenancy was properly terminated.”
6. State the outcome you desire… Conclude your opening statement with a brief statement of the outcome you desire. If you are claiming an amount of money in damages, this is not the time to go into detail about the dollar amounts. Instead you should say something like “the plaintiff is claiming one months rent.”
You should adjust the language of your opening statement because it will be delivered orally, the judge or other decision maker will not be reading it. You can do this by keeping your sentence structure short and simple. Use introductory sentences in place of headings and only use words that you know how to pronounce.
Make sure you practice delivering your opening statement so that your delivery will to,not detract from, your statements effectiveness. You should be familiar enough with your opening statement so that you don’t have to read it.
Here are some tips to help with practiceing your opening statement.
– Practice speaking slowly
– Use pacing to reinforce the organization and meaning of of your opening statement.
– Practice using the appropriate honorific. Example ” Your Honour ”
– Practice speaking loudly
– Practice speaking with expression
If you do all this you should have no problem giving your opening statement in court. The more prepared you are the better you will do.
By PAUL N. LUVERA (Biography see: paulluvera.net. See also: paulluverajournal.com)
In spite of all of the writing and seminars on the subject of opening statements, too many trial lawyers maintain a wrong and overly simplistic view of this important step in the trial. Remember, the opening statement is the critical first impression with the jury about the case. Too many lawyers take the easy road of telling a chronological narrative is if it were a police report instead of a compelling emotional story.
Opening statements are important. That’s when most jurors take sides and start telling a story about the case. We know that jurors don’t make judgments by abstract reasoning but according to their life experiences and whether the story fits their inner scripts of experience and values. Practice reducing your case to a 30 second statement. That’s in order to clear out details that aren’t relevant. When you insert too many details the real story gets hidden in a swamp of useless information. When you practice reducing the case in that way, you are better able to identify the big picture issues the jury would find important and craft your opening statement around those.
Jim McElhaney was one of my favorite legal writers. For years he published a column in the American Bar Association Journal. I saved most of what Jim wrote because it made such good sense. In 2008 he published an article about telling a good story to the jury in your opening statement. Here are some of his thoughts. He recommends that we should not talk about this part of the trial as a “opening statement” because it is a story and not a statement. The first step, he says, is to “clear out the clutter” by removing unnecessary issues facts and needless words. He makes the obvious point that we should never start the opening statement with a lecture about how what is about to be said is not evidence or waste the golden opportunity of first impression. He correctly recommends that we tell the story of the case and not the story of the trial. We should be telling the jury what happened and not who we are going to call as witnesses or what they’re going to say. Not only is it boring, but it does nothing to help your case, especially if you later decide not to call one of the witnesses or there is a failure to say what was promised.
McElhaney argues that the job of the lawyer is not to tell the whole story but rather to create a curiosity to make the jury want to hear the details and fill in the blanks during the trial. There are several ways to do this. One of them is to start with the end of the story. His example of doing this in the article was:
“There is a tall, white building downtown on school Road. Every morning at 8:15 a city bus stops in front and a woman wearing a plain cloth coat gets off the bus. She goes inside the building and takes the elevator to the eighth floor. She walks to the end of the hall and stops in a closed door. She knocks on the door but no one hears it. She opens the door and turns on the light, but the man on the bed doesn’t see it. She walks over to the window and opens the curtain, but the man doesn’t notice. She kisses him on the four head, but he doesn’t feel it. She sits next to the bed and takes his hand but he doesn’t react. She tells him how the children are doing in school and what is going on in the neighborhood, but he doesn’t respond. She says a little prayer and kisses him goodbye, but he doesn’t move or even smile. Then she leaves the room, goes down the elevator out of the building and goes to work. Who is this man? How did he get that way? Who is responsible for? That’s what this case is all about.”
Another example of creating a “hook” or curiosity is this example he gives: “Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about a young woman’s eyes” and pause before proceeding. One has the juries full attention before proceeding with the story.
Another is to use an introduction which keeps their attention like this example McElhaney has written about: “This case is about an agreement Mark Willis made to buy lumber from the Tri-City lumber company. They gave him their word. They promised they would deliver all of the wood he needed at a price of $3.5 million. Mark believe them. He trusted them. He counted on them. He went out and hired the three extra building crews he needed to do the work. They dug basements for 12 houses; poured 12 foundations installed water mains and power lines. Then they waited for the lumber.” This kind of an opening involves curiosity and anticipation for the rest of the story. One can also use this approach: “Ladies and gentlemen, you are standing on the corner of Ninth and Broad Street in Cleveland Ohio. You are about to see a city bus run down a little girl who is gotten away from her mother while they are crossing the street.”
Another example McEheney recommends is to create questions, as in this example: “One of the questions you’re going to have to answer is whether the drug company adequately warned people about the new weight loss drug side effects. We need to look at three things: What the drug company knew,What they said and What they told the doctors and the FDA as well as the public as well as What they did when they marketed the drug.” As this is being discussed, write them down on the board. By the time you’re halfway through the list the jury has already answered the questions in your favor.
A general outline of content involves the following elements:
- Significant time facts
- analogies are metaphors.
The basic rules for opening statement are:
- Tell the story in the present tense
- when possible tell the story in the first person
- talk about sequence of events and not facts
- simplified language by aiming for an eighth grade level.
- Avoid the word “client” every time you use the client word it says that your lawyer getting paid for standing there talking about your case. Instead use names and touches of humanity that are relevant to make individuals real people.
These are some basics for opening. The primary rule for me is that it must be a compelling, emotional story and not an outline of facts, but told without unnecessary details.
Learn what is an opening statement is and how to construct a successful one, so that you may set forth what is to come before giving the facts.
Tips for creating and presenting a strong opening statement.
By Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, Family Lawyer
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could tell the Judge all about your case, from your point of view, before you even start with your witnesses? If you could slant the case in a way that would explain what you’re going to prove, how you’re going to prove it, and what the court should find? That’s what an opening statement is designed to do if the court allows you to make one and it is properly done. First, remember that it is an opening statement, not an opening argument. This is not the place to argue the facts; just to give the court a preview of what’s to come and how the story will unfold. And it is a story, as all court cases should be. This Judge has never heard the facts before, and it is counsel’s job in this opening statement, to set forth what is to come.
Constructing an Opening Statement
How, then, to construct an Opening Statement? What should you think about before you start? What is the case about? Every case has a theory; why should your client win? Why is he/she entitled to the remedy you are requesting? The opening Statement is the place to start to lay out your theory, perhaps with a statement such as “This is a case of a stay-at-home mom who is requesting the right to continue to do so” or “This case involves the division of a family owned business in which My client, Joe Jones, is a 20 per cent owner.” In other words, immediately focus your judge on where you want him/her to listen.
Introduce the Players
Use the opening statement to introduce the players. Make your client someone the judge thinks you like perhaps by touching the client’s shoulder during your statement. Tell the court what they can expect to hear from each witness that will advance your theory of the case and add to your proof. Do not argue your points. That’s why it’s called an opening statement, not an opening argument. Be careful not to overplay what you claim you’re witnesses will say.
If you can create a theme for the case, the opening statement is the place to begin its introduction. For example, if the dispute is between brothers over the control of the family business, a reach into English history is not a stretch. If the husband wants to cut support to his wife after years of a luxurious lifestyle, suggesting that he is trying to take Cinderella and return her to the pumpkin coach. A theme is a auditory and visual picture of your case that the Judge is not likely to forget among the other hundreds of cases he/she will hear.
Introduce in this statement the evidence that will be introduced. (“You will see the financial statements of this business which will help you to determine the income stream in this company”). Introduce any experts that will be called to testify. If they are experts with whom the court is familiar, make a point of that. (“The court will hear from Mark Short, an accountant who has been founded qualified by this court many times”.)
Brief but to the Point
Make the statement brief but to the point. The statement should end with the way you hope the case will end (“Once the court has heard the evidence, we will ask you to award Wife alimony for 15 years”). Once your statement has ended, the court will know how you want him/her to listen, what to expect, and where you’re going. And, even if you are not able to make an opening statement in your jurisdiction, preparing one will focus your trial strategy, the witnesses you need to call to achieve your goal, and the evidence you need to produce to get there.
Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin concentrates her practice in the areas of divorce, custody, support, prenuptial agreements, and protection from abuse. She has authored numerous books including Divorce Trial Manual: From Initial Interview to Closing Argument and Divorce Practice Handbook, as well as authored or co-authored numerous articles on family law matters. http://www.wglaw.com
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Grab your reader’s attention with the first words
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
An introductory paragraph, as the opening of a conventional essay, composition, or report, is designed to grab people’s attention. It informs readers about the topic and why they should care about it but also adds enough intrigue to get them to continue to read. In short, the opening paragraph is your chance to make a great first impression.
Writing a Good Introductory Paragraph
The primary purpose of an introductory paragraph is to pique the interest of your reader and identify the topic and purpose of the essay. It often ends with a thesis statement.
You can engage your readers right from the start through a number of tried-and-true ways. Posing a question, defining the key term, giving a brief anecdote, using a playful joke or emotional appeal, or pulling out an interesting fact are just a few approaches you can take. Use imagery, details, and sensory information to connect with the reader if you can. The key is to add intrigue along with just enough information so your readers want to find out more.
One way to do this is to come up with a brilliant opening line. Even the most mundane topics have aspects interesting enough to write about; otherwise, you wouldn’t be writing about them, right?
When you begin writing a new piece, think about what your readers want or need to know. Use your knowledge of the topic to craft an opening line that will satisfy that need. You don’t want to fall into the trap of what writers call “chasers” that bore your readers (such as “The dictionary defines. “). The introduction should make sense and hook the reader right from the start.
Make your introductory paragraph brief. Typically, just three or four sentences are enough to set the stage for both long and short essays. You can go into supporting information in the body of your essay, so don’t tell the audience everything all at once.
Should You Write the Intro First?
You can always adjust your introductory paragraph later. Sometimes you just have to start writing. You can start at the beginning or dive right into the heart of your essay.
Your first draft may not have the best opening, but as you continue to write, new ideas will come to you, and your thoughts will develop a clearer focus. Take note of these and, as you work through revisions, refine and edit your opening.
If you’re struggling with the opening, follow the lead of other writers and skip it for the moment. Many writers begin with the body and conclusion and come back to the introduction later. It’s a useful, time-efficient approach if you find yourself stuck in those first few words.
Start where it’s easiest to start. You can always go back to the beginning or rearrange later, especially if you have an outline completed or general framework informally mapped out. If you don’t have an outline, even just starting to sketch one can help organize your thoughts and “prime the pump” as it were.
Successful Introductory Paragraphs
You can read all the advice you want about writing a compelling opening, but it’s often easier to learn by example. Take a look at how some writers approached their essays and analyze why they work so well.
“As a lifelong crabber (that is, one who catches crabs, not a chronic complainer), I can tell you that anyone who has patience and a great love for the river is qualified to join the ranks of crabbers. However, if you want your first crabbing experience to be a successful one, you must come prepared.”
What did Zeigler do in her introduction? First, she wrote in a little joke, but it serves a dual purpose. Not only does it set the stage for her slightly more humorous approach to crabbing, but it also clarifies what type of “crabber” she’s writing about. This is important if your subject has more than one meaning.
The other thing that makes this a successful introduction is the fact that Zeigler leaves us wondering. What do we have to be prepared for? Will the crabs jump up and latch onto you? Is it a messy job? What tools and gear do I need? She leaves us with questions, and that draws us in because now we want answers.
“Working part-time as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly has given me a great opportunity to observe human behavior. Sometimes I think of the shoppers as white rats in a lab experiment, and the aisles as a maze designed by a psychologist. Most of the rats—customers, I mean—follow a routine pattern, strolling up and down the aisles, checking through my chute, and then escaping through the exit hatch. But not everyone is so dependable. My research has revealed three distinct types of abnormal customer: the amnesiac, the super shopper, and the dawdler.”
This revised classification essay begins by painting a picture of an ordinary scenario: the grocery store. But when used as an opportunity to observe human nature, as this writer does, it turns from ordinary to fascinating.
Who is the amnesiac? Would I be classified as the dawdler by this cashier? The descriptive language and the analogy to rats in a maze add to the intrigue, and readers are left wanting more. For this reason, even though it’s lengthy, this is an effective opening.
“In March 2006, I found myself, at 38, divorced, no kids, no home, and alone in a tiny rowing boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I hadn’t eaten a hot meal in two months. I’d had no human contact for weeks because my satellite phone had stopped working. All four of my oars were broken, patched up with duct tape and splints. I had tendinitis in my shoulders and saltwater sores on my backside.
Here is an example of reversing expectations. The introductory paragraph is filled with doom and gloom. We feel sorry for the writer but are left wondering whether the article will be a classic sob story. It is in the second paragraph where we find out that it’s quite the opposite.
Those first few words of the second paragraph—which we cannot help but skim—surprise us and thus draw us in. How can the narrator be happy after all that sorrow? This reversal compels us to find out what happened.
Most people have had streaks where nothing seems to go right. Yet, it is the possibility of a turn of fortunes that compels us to keep going. This writer appealed to our emotions and a sense of shared experience to craft an effective read.