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Writing Essays Well: Introductions, Thesis Statements and Topic Sentences

Introductions

For the first paragraph of an essay to actually be a proper introduction (in other words, for it to fulfil the requirements of an effective introduction), it must have two elements:

1) a thesis statement
2) a preview or essay plan for the essay.

So, what are these two elements?

1) A thesis statement tells the reader about your position on the topic as the author. It serves to focus your ideas on the topic and to indicate why your essay is worth the reader’s time. When you are given an essay question, the thesis statement is your clear and concise answer to the question. For example, for the essay question ‘What were the causes of the Holocaust in World War II?’, your thesis statement could be something like this: ‘There were many complicated and interrelated causes of the Holocaust, including the economy of Germany, the ideology of the fascists and Hitler’s personal racism.’

A ‘thesis’ is an ‘argument’, and the thesis statement indicates what the argument of the essay is, or what argument (or viewpoint) the author of the essay will be putting across to readers. Thus, the thesis statement also keeps authors from wandering off topic. A thesis statement can be short—just one sentence—or long—two or more sentences—depending on the points to be covered. Always include it at the beginning of the essay, within the first paragraph. For short essays, the thesis statement can list the two or three key points that the essay covers, but for longer essays that typically cover more key points, it can broadly state the central theme.

2) An introduction must introduce all the main points that you will discuss in the remaining sections of the essay. For instance, argumentative essays must provide evidence to back up or support the thesis statement. This means you have to provide proof to back up your answer to the essay question. So, if your essay is on the causes of the Holocaust, and your essay is going to discuss six main causes (two paragraphs on each), then your introduction must list (or introduce) each of these six main causes. Thus, this list acts like an essay map or preview and provides your reader with an idea about the topics that your essay will discuss. Usually, this list is linked to your thesis statement or comes straight after it.

Topic Sentences

You must also use ‘topic sentences’ in your essay. These sentences begin each paragraph in which you are about to discuss a new topic. To continue with the example we have been looking at of the Holocaust essay, the essay will discuss six causes of the Holocaust and each cause will have two paragraphs. That means that every second paragraph would use a ‘topic sentence’ since it would be moving on to discuss another cause of the Holocaust. Here are some examples of these topic sentences:

‘The most significant cause of the Holocaust is the economic state of Germany.’
‘Another cause of the Holocaust is Hitler’s personal views.’

These sentences let the reader know what the paragraph will discuss (i.e. what the next point to be discussed in the essay is) and also relate the paragraph back to the introduction. This gives the essay a logical, smooth flow and shows that it has been well organised.

Concluding Sentences

A concluding sentence goes at the end of a paragraph or topic. It sums up for the readers what has just been discussed and relates it back to the question. If you had used the topic sentence ‘The most significant cause of the Holocaust is the economic state of Germany’, and then written a paragraph or two discussing this topic, a concluding sentence could be ‘Thus, it can be observed that the economic state of Germany after World War I is the main cause of the Holocaust.’

Topic sentences and concluding sentences go before and after your paragraphs like the bread slices in a sandwich, leading the reader through your essay.

Update: 27 May 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I write a good introduction to my essay?

For the first paragraph of an essay to actually be a proper introduction, that is, for it to fulfil the requirements of an effective introduction, remember to include two elements: a thesis statement and a preview or essay plan for the essay.

What is a ‘thesis statement’?

A ‘thesis’ is an ‘argument’, and the thesis statement indicates what the argument of the essay is. It tells your readers about your position on the topic as the author. The thesis statement also keeps authors from wandering off topic. It can be short or long, but always include it at the beginning of the essay, within the first paragraph. For short essays, the thesis statement can list the two or three key points, but for longer essays that have more key points, it can broadly state the central theme instead.

What is an ‘essay plan’?

Think of it like a preview of what your essay contains. For instance, if your essay will discuss six main causes of an event (two paragraphs on each), then your introduction must list (or introduce) each of these six main causes. Thus, this list acts like an ‘essay plan’ or map and provides your reader with an idea about the topics that your essay will discuss. Usually, this list is linked to your thesis statement or comes straight after it.

What other types of sentences should my essay include?

You must also use ‘topic sentences’ and ‘concluding sentences’ in your essay. Let’s begin with the first. Topic sentences begin each paragraph in which you’re about to discuss a new topic. These sentences let your readers know what the paragraph will discuss (i.e. what the next point to be discussed in the essay is) and also link the paragraph back to the introduction. This way, you can give your essay a logical, smooth flow and organise it well.

So, what are ‘concluding sentences’?

The concluding sentence goes at the end of a paragraph or topic. It sums up for the readers what has just been discussed and relates it back to the question. Thus, topic sentences and concluding sentences go before and after your paragraphs just like the bread slices in a sandwich, leading the reader through your essay.