Certainly, every essay must include an opening paragraph, and this is your introduction. It plays an important role in drawing the reader’s attention to what your essay will discuss. Writing the introduction can seem difficult because you might feel that you need to take a long time to sit and think about what initial word or sentence you should use. A concise, coherent and well-organised introduction can give the reader a positive initial impression of your work. In contrast, a vague, disorganised or grammatically incorrect introduction can lower the reader’s interest as well as your grades!
The introduction paragraph of an essay provides the reader with overall information on the topic that the essay will discuss. In academic writing, a thesis statement must be included in the introduction. The thesis statement answers the essay question and presents the main argument of the essay. The introduction also needs to introduce the topics that will be discussed in your essay in the correct order.
To write an introduction, you can use a brief anecdote, a provocative question, a statement or a quotation to grab the reader’s interest. Remember that the selected quotation used in your introduction should be neither too broad nor too narrow for your essay topic. For example, if your essay topic is the causes of the Holocaust in World War II, your selected quotation might be ‘The Holocaust was the most evil crime ever committed’, and you would reference Stephen Ambrose, or ‘The United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II, just as the world was beginning to learn the full horrors of history’s worst genocide, the Holocaust that consumed 6 million Jews and 3 million others in Europe’, and you would reference Linda Chavez. (This approach is recommended only for first-year undergraduates and high school students. Advanced essay writers should avoid using any quotations in their introduction.)
Brief background information on your topic should be provided to the reader through the introduction to show the significance of your thesis statement. You do not need to give the whole background or history in the introduction. Just keep it short, concise and well written.
Give the reader a preview of how you are going to demonstrate your argument in the essay. You should give a brief list of the points you will discuss to substantiate your thesis statement. This should be given in the order they will be discussed, and it should be clear how each topic relates to your thesis statement and helps you to answer your essay question.
Ask your friends to read it after you have finished. This is a good idea to double check your work. If your friends can understand what the rest of the essay will be discussing just from reading the introduction, you have written an effective introduction.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the introduction section of my essay important?
These opening lines or paragraphs—your introduction section—draw your readers’ attention to what you have to say. They will form their first impressions about the overall quality of your essay by reading its opening lines, and so the introduction must be compelling because it serves as your hook to keep readers engaged! Also remember that a vague, disorganised or grammatically incorrect introduction can lower not just your readers’ interest but also your grades!
How should I structure the introduction?
Think of the introduction as the site map for your essay. It should flag all the key information that you will include in the remaining sections. It should have a beginning, a middle and a conclusion. Following this general format will allow you to frame a concise, well-organised introduction. Moreover, you can choose to write it after you’ve written the other sections. Doing so might make the writing easier and allow you to focus on only the key points that you must outline in this section.
How do I begin the introduction?
Open strong! For example, use a brief anecdote, a thought-provoking question or a quotation. The selected quotation should be neither too broad nor too narrow for your essay topic. Avoid clichés and sweeping generalisations. This approach is only recommended for first year undergraduates and high school students. Advanced essay writers should avoid using quotations in their opening sentence/s.
What goes into the middle paragraphs or lines?
Use the middle part of the introduction to set your essay context. Provide some relevant background information on the topic your essay addresses. Avoid long sentences and don’t try to pack too many ideas into one sentence. Don’t give the whole background or history—just touch upon the points that you will discuss in greater detail in the sections that follow. This way, you will give the reader a preview of how you are going to support your argument in the essay.
How can I conclude the introduction effectively?
Narrow the focus down to your essay theme. List the points you will discuss to substantiate your central statements in the order they will be discussed. State how each point relates to your central theme and helps you to answer your essay question. This way, you will set the broad limits of your work and tell readers exactly what aspects you have addressed in the remaining sections.
Updated 31 January 2023
Ellen McRae, PhD, AE (IPEd), MNZSTI
Senior Managing Editor