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February 13, 2012 - Writing an Opening Paragraph

Writing is like baseball; you need a good starter and an even better closer. If not, you lose the game (or your reader).

For almost all of your writing, you need to write an opening or lead paragraph that introduces your subject. Specifically, the purpose of an opening paragraph is to clarify your thinking about the subject and accomplish three objectives:

(1) Introduce your subject
(2) Gain your reader's attention, and
(3) Identify your thesis or focus.

The opening paragraph is important because it sets the tone (your attitude toward your subject) and establishes the basic organization for your writing. A strong lead paragraph and effective transitional words help gain and hold your reader's attention.

There are several ways to begin an opening paragraph:

• Share some thought-provoking details about the subject.
• Ask your reader a challenging question or series of questions.
• Begin with an intriguing quotation.
• Provide a surprising statement of fact.
• Open with some thoughtful dialogue or an engaging story or anecdote.
• Identify the main points you plan to cover.
• Use a fascinating description.
• Include a thesis statement which expresses the position you will support in the rest of your paper.
• Use a definition.
• Use an unusual comparison.
• Use a controversial statement.

The paragraph below is an example of an opening paragraph. Notice the bold sections that utilize the characteristics of a strong opening paragraph as noted above.

On October 26, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson, referring to the First World War, stated that this was the last one "that involves the world that the United States can keep out of. I say this because I believe that the business of neutrality and isolationism is over; not because I want it to be over, but I mean this, that war has such a scale now that the position of neutrals sooner or later becomes intolerable." The statement left no question as to the future of American neutrality. The fact was plainly evident: the long-standing tradition of American isolationism had ceased. Prior to this monumental historical time period, isolation was distinctively American - almost a permanent condition. No presidential administration dared to challenge the isolationist policy, and nor did it need to. Americans fancied the idea of relative peace, unhampered by foreign commitments. President Wilson, however, recognized isolationism and neutrality as obsolete; a new foreign policy and strategy for intervention in the Great War and subsequent world affairs were required of such a great power as the United States. Likewise, because American isolationism had largely negated the need for military strength, President Wilson foresaw military preparedness to coincide with increased global involvement. Finally, the President realized that the United States could not be a follower, but rather take initiative and lead the world in its union of solving world matters. Therefore, by breaking the tradition of isolationism through intervention, instituting a higher level of preparedness, and constructing the stage for future involvement of the United States in global affairs, President Woodrow Wilson radically changed and impacted America in an era known for its transformation, the Progressive Era.

Read Part Two: Writing Concluding Paragraphs here.

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