A Great Essay Introduction

The introduction of the essay

The function of the Introduction is to serve as a 'map' of the essay, outlining to your reader the main argument and points which you develop in your essay. Most introductions begin with an orientation in the form of a brief general statement that leads the reader into the topic showing how the specific topic relates to bigger issues or to the discipline field. This is followed by your thesis statement, which is your concise response to the essay question, then an outline of the argument presented in the essay. You may find it useful to think of an essay's introduction as funnel shaped ­ moving from the general to the specific. Here is an example:

Essay Question: Italy on the eve of 1860 has often been described as an unlikely nation. Why?

On the eve of 1860 the word Italy described not a nation, but a geographical area.The peninsula was split into eight separate states, all independent of one another. Economically, while the whole of Europe seemed to be surging ahead, Italy was lagging behind.At this time, Italy was seen as an unlikely nation because of the many obstacles that lay in the way of unification. The main obstacles were the dislike and distrust between the states and the "slowness of the great bulk of Italians to accept or even comprehend the idea of Italy" (Mack Smith,1968: 2). There was also a lack of planning and common goals amongst the minority of the population that supported and were prepared to fight for a unified country. This was exacerbated by the disagreement and dislike between the leaders of Il Risorgimento, the Italian independence movement.background
orientation to the topic


thesis statement

outline of argument

1This essay has been adapted from material developed by R. Woodward-Kron, E. Thomson & J. Meek (2000) Academic Writing: a language based guide (CD-ROM), University of Wollongong




© Copyright 2000
Comments and questions should
be directed to Unilearning@uow.edu.au

 

SUMMARY:

  • A good introductory paragraph 1. gets your reader’s attention, 2. introduces your topic, and 3. presents your stance on the topic (thesis).

LINKS:

Right after your title is the introductory paragraph. Like an appetizer for a meal, the introductory paragraph sets up the reader’s palate and gives him a foretaste of what is to come. You want start your paper on a positive note by putting forth the best writing possible.

Like writing the title, you can wait to write your introductory paragraph until you are done with the body of the paper. Some people prefer to do it this way since they want to know exactly where their paper goes before they make an introduction to it. When you write your introductory paragraph is a matter of personal preference.

Your introductory paragraph needs to accomplish three main things: it must 1. grip your reader, 2. introduce your topic, and 3. present your stance on the topic (in the form of your thesis statement). If you’re writing a large academic paper, you’ll also want to contextualize your paper’s claim by discussing points other writers have made on the topic.

There are a variety of ways this can be achieved. Some writers find it useful to put a quote at the beginning of the introductory paragraph. This is often an effective way of getting the attention of your reader:

“Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives…”

Hmm. Interesting…Tell me more. This introduction has set off the paper with an interesting quote and makes the reader want to continue reading. How has Jefferson’s public life differed from his private life? Notice how this introduction also helps frame the paper. Now the reader expects to learn about the duality of Thomas Jefferson’s life.

Another common method of opening a paper is to provide a startling statistic or fact. This approach is most useful in essays that relate to current issues, rather than English or scientific essays.

“The fact that one in every five teenagers between the ages of thirteen and fifteen smokes calls into question the efficacy of laws prohibiting advertising cigarettes to children…”

The reader is given an interesting statistic to chew on (the fact that so many children smoke) while you set up your paper. Now your reader is expecting to read an essay on cigarette advertising laws.

When writing English papers, introducing your topic includes introducing your author and the aspect of the text that you’ll be analyzing.

“Love is a widely felt emotion. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas uses the universality of love to develop a connection with his reader…”

Here, the reader is introduced to the piece of text that will be analyzed, the author, and the essay topic. Nice.

The previous sample introduction contains a general sentence at the beginning that bring up a very broad topic: love. From there, the introductory paragraph whittles down to something more specific:
how Dumas uses love in his novel to develop a connection with the reader. You’d expect this paragraph to march right on down to the thesis statement,
which belongs at the end of the introductory paragraph. Good introductory paragraphs often have this ‘funnel’ sort of format–going from something broad (such as love) to something more specific until the thesis is presented.

Try to avoid the some of the more hackneyed openers:

  • “Have you ever wondered why…”
  • “Webster’s dictionary defines…”
  • “X is a very important issue facing America today…”

 

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