GRE Essay Organization - Introduction Paragraphs

Your introductory paragraph for both of your issue and argument GRE essays is of utmost importance. The introductory paragraph has several very specific functions in relation to the rest of the essay. You should think of the introduction as a means to create interest, introduce your ideas, and set the tone for the rest of your composition. A well organized and interesting introduction will foreshadow not only your main arguments and issues that you are asked to write about on the GRE, but also your own writing style.

A bad introduction will do none of the above. The most common mistake in writing an inappropriate introduction is to move too quickly into your examples. If you are going to tell a story or use one main example in your GRE issue essay, then you should not start the description in your introduction. It is okay to mention the story, but launching into it too soon will leave your readers confused as to why exactly you might be using this event in your essay. Take a look at this example:

In this essay I will be writing about an event that changed my life. When I was in high school a friend of mine was in a car accident after drinking and driving. It was a very bad accident and he was hurt. We had spent the day together working on our cars and at the time I didn't think that having a few beers during the day was a problem. When he was taken to the hospital I realized that I was wrong and I wished it had not happened at all.

First a tip: Don't start your introduction with "I will be writing about ____" or "This essay will be about ____". If possible, try to avoid these kinds of generalities throughout your essay. The best essays let the audience know what the essay is about by describing and explaining, not by listing. The above example also begins to tell the story too quickly. Use the introduction to articulate your message and your purpose instead of beginning with your examples. It is okay to try to pull the reader an interesting story line, but spending too much time with the story too early will distract you and the reader from setting up an organized framework from which the essay can continue.

Now, review this example:

What could a few beers hurt? After all, we were young, it was summer, and my friends and I were had spent the day working on our cars together – an all American past time. When I look back at that day I realize the huge impact that event had on my life. Before that day, I had thought of myself as a pretty responsible kid who could be trusted to not do anything crazy when I was left alone at home for the weekend. What I learned was that responsibility sometimes means more than just not doing what is obviously crazy and wrong. Responsibility now means looking ahead and looking out for those around me. Those are the things I wish I had done that day.

This introduction piques the reader's interest by suggesting the basics of the storyline that will follow. After that, however, it quickly turns to an explanation of the importance of the story and, by extension, the importance of the essay that will follow. This is important when you are taking the GRE test, because your goal is to write an intelligent, insightful essay. Don't just list examples, but use them to project your own experiences to broader concepts and universal ideas that a wider audience can relate with. It is okay if the introduction is specific about the message and purpose of the essay. While the most experience writers can subtly foreshadow what will come, young writers sometimes have a little more trouble with this. It is better to err on the side of specifics than it is to have an introduction that is so vague and general that the reader does not have any idea where the rest of the essay is going.