Don’t let your essay (or article) stall before it even starts. Instead, put it on the fast track to success with these four tips for writing compelling introductory paragraphs:

1. First Fallacy.

Trust me; we’ve all been there: experiencing the anguish of a stubbornly blank computer screen. Contrary to popular belief, writing is not a one-way street. Almost no author has sat down and written something beginning to end (in the right order). The best approach is to outline your main points first, create a thesis, and then your introduction. It becomes so much easier once you know where your destination is. Regardless of how you do it, though, be sure to end your first paragraph with a strong thesis statement that summarizes the central idea of your essay clearly and succinctly.

2. Maintain Mystery.

Starting off with a “wow” factor that’s relevant to your overall argument can be a powerful writing strategy. But, be careful, cramming too much information into your paragraph can be detrimental to the overall health of your work.

The intro should merely hint at what’s to come without giving away every detail. Try these two steps to creating the perfect lead into your thesis.

Start with one compelling fact or observation that will keep the reader engaged enough to read more. Then, add another sentence or two to show how you are linking that introductory idea to your thesis statement.

3. Obvious Oblivion.

Avoid using broad generalizations that do not tell your reader anything about where your essay is going. Statements like, “Since the beginning of time… ” or, “The dictionary defines (term) as …” or, worst of all, “This essay will cover…” are the bain of any college professors existence. Those statements don’t tell your audience anything new; and, worse, they’re unoriginal.

4. Rudimentary Revision.

It’s time to review your introduction with a critical eye. Start by doing a word count of your paragraph; and, then, cut out 20 percent.

Introductions may be longer (depending on the overall length of your essay); but, for an essay that’s only a few pages long, challenge yourself to keep your first paragraph to no more than 100 words.