TOEFL iBT | Writing | How to Write a High-Scoring Introductory Paragraph

You guys are going to love me for this. Yes, I know there are a ton of standard templates out there that the majority of planet Earth uses, but what if I told you that you can write a fully functional introductory paragraph and get even more points? In today’s blog/podcast/video, I will discuss just that.

A high-scoring TOEFL introductory paragraph can be split into two parts.

  1. General background information about the essay topic.
  2. A thesis statement


General background information

There are many different ways of writing the general background information about the topic. For example, you could write about a brief history of the topic or an explanation why this topic is controversial or important. Alternatively, you can begin with other people’s opinions on this topic.


Thesis statement

The thesis statement is the single most important sentence in your essay and you must include it in the introductory paragraph. A thesis statement is your main opinion on the essay topic, and it also includes a preview of your key points in which you will be writing about in detail in your body paragraphs.



Developing an industry is more important than saving the environment for endangered animals. Do you agree or disagree with the statement? Use specific details and examples to support your viewpoint. 

Typically, unprepared test takers will write something like this: 

I do not agree with the statement that developing an industry is more important than saving the environment for endangered animals. 

Before we continue, please take a moment and try to figure out what’s wrong with this introductory paragraph. Is there a problem with this intro? Well…yes…there are actually two problems. First, it simply reused the words from the topic question. TOEFL will deduct marks, if you do this. Don’t do it! :), Secondly, the paragraph is too short. 

OK, now that we figured out the issues, let’s see how we can solve this problem. 

OK! First, before you write your thesis statement, give some general background information about it or you can give someone’s opinion on it. Don’t worry, I’ll give examples later.

Now it’s time to write your thesis statement. Remember that simply copying the essay topic will cost you points, so instead you will paraphrase the essay topic. 

Let’s look at the definition for Paraphrasing: to express the same meaning by using different words or different sentence structures. Remember when I paraphrased the word “problems” into “issues”? Well, you will do the same thing for your thesis statement by paraphrasing the essay topic. 

So now that we have added background information before the thesis statement and paraphrased the essay topic into our thesis statement, we have solved the issues from the first example. 

Now let’s look at a high-scoring intro paragraph that uses everything we just learned.

Developing an industry is more important than saving the environment for endangered animals. Do you agree or disagree with the statement? Use specific details and examples to support your viewpoint. 

The debate on the competition between economic development and the protection of endangered species has been going on for decades. I disagree with the statement that developing industry should take precedence over saving the environment for endangered species because I firmly believe that destroying the environment will eventually take its toll on humans in the long run.

Notice the word “debate”? This word is very useful when it comes to TOEFL writing. Any time the essay prompt asks you to agree or disagree with a statement, you can use the word “debate” to point out that the statement has both sides of opinion. Here we write “The debate on the competition between industrial development and the protection of endangered species has been going on for decades”. So what did this sentence give to the intro paragraph? 

It gave general background information about this topic. 

Now, let’s look at the thesis statement “I disagree with the statement that developing industry should take precedence over saving the environment for endangered species because I firmly believe that destroying the environment will eventually take its toll on humans in the long run.” 

The writer used paraphrasing!. “Take precedence over” means the same thing as “is more important than”. He also uses “species” instead of “animals”. 

There are multiple ways to paraphrase sentences and words. For example: “take precedence over”can be written as “take priority over”. Here is the full sentence: “Developing industry should take priority over saving the environment for endangered species”. You can practice paraphrasing by thinking of different ways you can paraphrase essay topics and vocabulary. 

Let’s look at another example that starts off with other people’s opinions.

When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success. Do you agree or disagree with the statement above? Use examples and details to support your position. 

It is generally believed that success comes through hard work and luck does not play a part. However, in my opinion, hard work can certainly improve a person’s situation, but luck will to a large extent influence the course of a person’s life because the social circumstances that people are born into play an amazingly large role in the potential they have throughout their lives.

As you can see, it begins with other people’s opinions by using the common pattern “It is generally believed that”. Then, it uses “however” to introduce the thesis statement which is “ in my opinion, hard work can certainly improve a person’s situation, but luck will to a large extent influence the course of a person’s life because the social circumstances that people are born into play an amazingly large role in the potential they have throughout their lives.”

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