When you write an expository essay, you don’t want your readers to feel puzzled as soon as they start reading. You need to give them a context for the information you are presenting to them. Of course, there are many ways to create context in your introduction. We are going to practice two of the most common context builders: questions and anecdotes.
Using questions to build a context
Start your introduction with several (usually three or four) questions that will get a reader interested in the topic you are writing about.
Here’s an example of using questions as context builders. This example starts with the most general questions (about animals) and ends with more specific questions (about breeds of dogs).
Did you know that some animals are a lot smarter than other animals? Did you know that some breeds of dogs are smarter than other breeds of dogs? Can you guess what the smartest dog breed is? It’s not a Labrador (seventh smartest) or a Doberman (fifth smartest) or even a poodle (second smartest). The number one smartest breed is the border collie.
Here’s another example of using questions as context builders. This example starts with questions about a reader’s experience (“your dog”) and ends with the topic of the essay.
How many times do you have to repeat a command before your dog understands it? After your dog learns a command, how much of the time will she obey it? How many tricks can you teach your dog? How good is your dog at solving problems like getting to a reward behind a fence or finding something you’ve hidden? You may think your dog is really smart and is one of the best dogs around at learning tricks, obeying commands, and solving problems. Maybe you’re right if your dog is a border collie. The border collie is the breed that most trainers agree is the smartest.
If you’re in a testing situation where you must write an essay with time and page limitations, you can still begin your introduction with questions. However, make your introduction shorter like the example below:
Did you know that some breeds of dogs are smarter than other breeds of dogs? Can you guess what the smartest dog breed is? The number one smartest breed is the border collie.
Questions are a good way to build context in an introduction because they involve readers in the topic. Another way to draw a reader in is to build context by telling a story about something that has happened to you or someone you know—not a “once upon a time” story, but a true story. We call these stories anecdotes.
Using an anecdote to build context
Think of something that has happened to you that “brings up” the topic of your essay. An anecdote might be a story about something you experienced, something you heard from a friend, read about, or saw on television. The idea behind using an anecdote in an introduction is to connect the topic to everyday life. A story of the experience can introduce the topic to the mind of a reader. Here’s an example that uses an anecdote as a context builder:
When I was in seventh grade, my parents decided that we should get a dog. The people down the street had border collie puppies for sale, and my parents decided to get one to be our pet. It wasn’t long before we realized that our pet was going to be a major challenge. Soon our puppy grew into an adolescent dog, and soon our adolescent dog was escaping from our backyard by climbing the chain-link fence. Who ever heard of a dog climbing a chain-link fence? Well, our dog did. That dog was too smart for us. Recently I have figured out why he was so smart. I have found out in reading about dog breeds that the smartest dog breed, according to most dog experts, is the border collie.
Here’s another example of using an anecdote as a context builder:
Last week I was riding the bus to school, and two girls behind me were having an argument about which one of them had the smartest dog. One girl was saying that her dog could open the screen door with its paw. The other girl said that her dog could go out by himself in the morning and get the newspaper and bring it back to the house. I started thinking about my dog; he just sleeps most of the day. When I try to get my dog to chase sticks, he just watches me and wags his tail. He is a wonderful dog, and I love him, but he isn’t ever going to open doors or fetch newspapers. I started wondering if it is because he is a cocker spaniel. So I looked up a list of dog breeds rated for intelligence. I found out that my cocker spaniel is not anywhere near the top of this list. The breed that will open doors and fetch newspapers and in every other way surpass all other dogs in intelligence is the border collie.
In a testing situation, you can still use an anecdote in your introduction. However, make your story a bit shorter like the example below:
When I try to get my dog to chase sticks, he just wags his tail. He won’t open doors or fetch newspapers either. I discovered my cocker spaniel is not close to the top of the dog intelligence list. The breed that surpasses all other dogs in intelligence is the border collie.
Images used in this section:
Source: “Border collie face,” zoomyboy.com, Flickr
Source: Agility Turnier Rheine, Robert Happek, Flickr
Source: Corgi looking through fence, Daniel Oines, Flickr