Crafting the Utterly Coolest Paragraph: The Opening Paragraph

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“We are the first – yippee!”  Oh, yes, how true:  the opening paragraph IS the first paragraph, but it so much more:  it is the coolest paragraph in any writing!  No matter the writing – essay, column, book, email, review, letter, etc. – there must always be a first paragraph, a lead-off paragraph, an opening paragraph when there is more than one. Thus, to understand how to construct an effective and college-level opening paragraph is a must for any writer.

What makes this paragraph so cool? Ah, it is what it must do, the heavy burden thrust upon it.  For the opening paragraph must hook the reader’s immediate attention with a clever opening sentence or two and must present that all-important thesis statement. If either of these two is missing, the writing tome can melt into a flaming heap. 

Begin with its length:  it must have “The Goldilocks Effect” – not too long and not too short.  If the opening paragraph goes beyond 6 or 7 sentences, there’s a good chance the reader will skim it, perhaps skip over it.  What if the opening paragraph is only a few sentences?  This will leave no room for both that hook and the thesis statement (with a sentence or so in-between to smoothly lead the former into the latter.)  The reader should be presented with an opening paragraph that, from only its look, says, “Read me!”

Of course, that hook is critical:  we want to tease the reader’s interest so it presents an intriguing hors d’oeuvre to be appealing enough for a full read.  There are a few successful ways this can be done.  First, one can be creative.  As an example, here are two opening sentences from an opening paragraph in an essay that describe a new invention:  “Imagine a fire hydrant that gushes both water to put out fires and spring water to quench one’s thirst. Such a contraption has been invented and is now being test-marketed in Dayton, Ohio – and the results may be a surprise.”   Here, the combination of an unusual idea and the revealing of a surprise to come equate to a great hook that will surely cause the reader to continue. 

What if being creative is not one’s forte?  Perhaps an individual is a more traditional writer? No problem, as two other equally engaging options are available. First, a possibility is to begin with an interesting or unusual quote that can somehow be tied to the paper’s topic. (And remember: that quote must always be acknowledged in the sentence following the quote so the reader knows why it was included; this is called context … and the quote must be cited.)  As an example, we’ll use that fire hydrant topic:  “Amazing:  now our crew can put out fires and drink refreshing water, all from the same hydrant at the same time!” (Duvall, 2017). Thomas Duvall, Battalion Chief of the Dayton (OH) Fire Department, exclaimed this after trying out a new invention …”

The other more traditional approach is to simply include an interesting piece of info, properly cited, and that is somehow tied to the topic.  Once more, a dive into the fire hydrant topic: “An obscure 19th century painting shows a primitive fire hose with two nozzles, one with water to put out fires, another for drinking. Although an artist’s imagination then this has apparently come to life in Dayton, Ohio (Alexander, 2018).”  Again, we find an item that is unusual and interesting to the point it is sure to whet a reader’s appetite for more of the article.

After deciding on a hook, the writer can then nicely place the thesis statement towards the end or at the end of the opening paragraph.  (An important point:  first develop the thesis, as it will give the insight needed to pen that hook.)   Of course, a thesis statement must have a gentle lead in, that sentence or two mentioned earlier that easily lead the hook into the thesis statement.  Bringing out the fire hydrant example a thesis statement might read like this:  “Firefighters around the world have experienced innovative new equipment over the years, but perhaps one of the more unusual but equally useful is a two-headed fire hydrant for dousing fires and refreshing drinking at the same time. Its efficiency, relative low cost, and ease of installation appear to make it a game changer.”  This thesis statement has the three mandatory components any effective thesis must have: a general topic or subject; the writer’s take or opinion on the topic; and the supporting points that will be used to prove the author’s stand.

The writer now can sit back and look at an opening paragraph that is college level in which that writer can take pride:

Imagine a fire hydrant that gushes both water to put out fires and spring water to quench one’s thirst. Such a contraption has been invented and is now being test-marketed in Dayton, Ohio – and the results may be a surprise. Previously, extra cost, time, and materials went into supplying fresh water for thirsty firefighters, but that has apparently changed. Firefighters around the world have experienced innovative new equipment over the years, but perhaps one or the more unusual but equally useful is a two-headed fire hydrant for dousing fires and refreshing drinking at the same time. Its efficiency, relative low cost, and ease of installation appear to make it a game changer.” 

Tah, da: welcome to the coolest and most important paragraph of all: the opening paragraph!

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