"At their best, introductory paragraphs serve as hors d'oeuvres, whetting the appetite for the following courses" (Lunsford, The Everyday Writer, 53).

An introduction:

  • provides the background and overview of the subject
  • states the purposes for the composition
  • leads to a clear thesis statement
  • captures readers' attention

"The title and introduction play special roles, for they set the stage for what is to come. Ideally, the title announces the subject of the essay in an intriguing and memorable way. The introduction should draw readers into the essay and provide any background they will need to understand your discussion" (Lunsford, The Everyday Writer, 124).

The length of an introduction may vary. It is usually one paragraph long in a five-paragraph essay. In a research paper, it may take more than one paragraph or even more than one page to introduce the subject.

In reports, introductory information can be provided in the Executive Summary section. Report introductions should "tell readers quickly (1) what problem you are addressing, (2) how you have addressed it, (3) what your findings and recommendations are" (Hult and Huckin, The New Century Handbook, 551).

Creative Introductions

Particularly in essays, introductions should be interesting and catchy and should make the reader want to continue reading the written composition.

Here are some strategies for engaging readers in an introductory paragraph:

  • start with presenting a dilemma, a paradox, or an unusual comparison
  • tell a brief story
  • raise a question that needs a solution
  • use a striking quotation
  • question a universal truth
  • provide startling statistics

Be brief, focus on the subject, and remember to state the relevance and importance of the subject throughout the introduction.

A common flow of information in an introductory paragraph often follows the general-to-specific sequence, sometimes referred to as the funnel pattern. However, this does not always have to be the case.

Example of a good introduction

The following paragraph starts with recent statistics, then provides an overview of the subject, and concludes with the thesis statement:

The University of Illinois envisions an increase in its enrollment to more than 70,000 in under a decade by setting up the Global Campus, a new online education program. While an enrollment of 70,000 students might sound impressive, it is only about half of the current enrollment of the University of Phoenix, a pioneer in online education (Foster, The Chronicle of Higher Education). The Internet, which has been transforming the landscape of traditional pedagogy in the last few years, is argued to be the most significant development in educational technology in our lifetime. In the last decade, the growth of the Internet has caused various educational institutions and businesses to rethink how they deliver knowledge and information to their learners and to adopt new ways of implementing instruction that takes into consideration recent developments in educational technology. However, in their rush to stay on the cutting edge of technology, some educators look only at the positive features the Internet has to offer and often forget to consider its limitations. The Internet can be extremely valuable for education, but online instruction is not appropriate for all classes in all situations; its implementation needs to be based on the instructor's learning objective, the need for technology, and the availability of resources.

From a student research paper on Advantages and Limitations of Web-Based Instruction

Poor Introductions

Things to avoid in an opening:
  • starting an introduction with a dictionary definition
  • starting with a trite statement
  • announcing the purpose in a formal way
  • stating facts or statistics without substantiation

Examples of poor openings

Using a definition Web-based instruction is the form of teaching and learning which utilizes the resources of the Internet.
Formally announcing the purpose In this research paper, I will talk about the advantages and limitations of web-based instruction.
Using a trite statement The Internet has revolutionized web-based instruction.
Using unsupported statistics Each year thousands of new web-based classes are created each semester in the state of Illinois alone.

Whatever device you use to open your composition, remember that your introduction should both introduce the subject and interest the reader. It needs to provide the controlling idea for your composition which the rest of the paragraphs will try to support.


"An abstract is a brief, comprehensive summary of the contents of the article; it allows readers to survey the contents of an article quickly..." (The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 13)

"The abstract needs to be dense with information but also readable, well organized, brief, and self-contained" (The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 13).

When writing an abstract, briefly summarize each of the parts of a research paper:

  • introduce the importance of the subject, state the scope of the research
  • explain the methodology used
  • outline the results or findings of the research or study
  • discuss the findings
  • conclude with the implications of these findings

Abstracts are about a paragraph long and they should be able to stand on their own.

Abstracts need to be accurate, self-contained, concise, specific, nonevaluative, coherent, and readable (The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 14).

There are two kinds of abstracts typically discussed in the literature: descriptive and informative.

Descriptive abstract

  • provides a description of the subject
  • briefly reviews the contents of the study
  • does not discuss the findings
  • is shorter than the informative abstract (under 120 words)

Click here to view a sample descriptive abstract

Informative abstract:

  • highlights the key points of the study
  • summarizes the most important information in each section
  • presents and explains all the main points and the important findings
  • discusses the findings
  • includes the results, implications, or recommendations of the study
  • is typically longer than the descriptive abstract (could be more than 250 words)

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Abstracts Guide 

Executive Summary

An executive summary provides an overview of the report. It:

  • briefly covers all the main parts of the report (summary of research in the field, research methods, research results, discussion, recommendations, and conclusion)
  • provides a concise statement of the findings and recommendations based on those findings
  • appears on a separate page and is able to stand on its own
  • is no more than one or two pages long
  • is written for the non-expert audience who may not have the time to read the whole report

View an executive summary example