An essay's general statement is a broad introduction to the paper's topic. For example, a persuasive essay aimed at convincing the reader to take action against global warming might begin with a brief description of what climate change means.
An essay's introductory paragraph is where the author provides the necessary context and background for the reader to understand the topic. After the general statement of the paper's topic comes the thesis statement. The thesis statement logically flows from the general statement and directly states the purpose of the essay. Instead of a general statement, the author can also choose to open with an anecdote, a quotation or a direct explanation of the topic's importance to the reader.