Since the dawn of man, writing has been used to communicate ideas. In academic settings, ideas are typically communicated using formal types of writing such as essays. Most academic essays contain an introductory paragraph, which includes a thesis.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an introduction as, “A preliminary explanation prefixed to or included in a book or other writing; the part of a book which leads up to the subject treated, or explains the author’s design or purpose. Also, the corresponding part of a speech, lecture, etc.”
Michigan State University student Sally used to have a lot of difficulty writing introductions. Once she had suffered through writing dozens of painful introductions, she decided to look up some tips on how to introduce your essay, and after that she got a lot better.
Introductions can be tricky. Because the introduction is the first portion of your essay that the reader encounters, the stakes are fairly high for your introduction to be successful. A good introduction presents a broad overview of your topic and your thesis, and should convince the reader that it is worth their time to actually read the rest of your essay. Below are some tips that will make writing an introduction a little less daunting, and help us all to write essays that don’t make our professors want to bang their heads against the wall.
- Start your introduction broad, but not too broad. When I first started writing formal essays, I didn’t really know how broad to go with my intros. A brief paragraph on Hamlet would suddenly include irrelevant details about Shakespeare’s childhood, then grow out to be a history of Western literature, and then a history of the universe itself. Do not write an introduction like this; this kind of intro is confusing and makes the reader wonder where exactly you’re going with your essay.Your introduction should provide the reader with a sense of what they should expect out of your essay, not to expound upon every piece of knowledge ever developed by man. Go ahead and start relatively broad, then narrow to your thesis, but make sure you’re still on topic.
- Provide relevant background, but don’t begin your true argument. It’s fine to give a bit of context to your essay in the introduction, but the real meat of your argument should be located in your body paragraphs. A good test to see if information should go in a body or introductory paragraph is to ask yourself a few questions. Is this providing context or evidence? Does this introduce my argument, or try to prove it? True evidence or proof deserves a body paragraph. Context and background most likely belong in your introduction.
- Provide a thesis. The majority of the time, your thesis, or main argument, should occur somewhere towards the end of your introduction. It is a typical convention to put your thesis as the last sentence of your first paragraph. My personal opinion is that it can sometimes be awkward to shove your thesis in one specific place if it doesn’t necessarily fit, but if your thesis works in that position, that is the best place for it. That being said, if you absolutely can’t include your thesis in that location, go ahead and stick it somewhere else.
- Provide only helpful, relevant information. Anecdotes can be an interesting opener to your essay, but only if the anecdote in question is truly relevant to your topic. Are you writing an essay about Maya Angelou? An anecdote about her childhood might be relevant, and even charming. Are you writing an essay about safety regulations in roller coasters? Go ahead and add an anecdote about a person who was injured while riding a roller coaster. Are you writing an essay about Moby Dick? Perhaps an anecdote about that time your friend read Moby Dick and hated it is not the best way to go. The same is true for statistics, quotes, and other types of information about your topic.
- Try to avoid clichés. Some types of introductions may have once been successful, but have been used so often that they have become tired and clichéd. Starting your essay with a definition is a good example of one of these conventions. At this point, starting with a definition is a bit boring, and will cause your reader to tune out.
- Don’t feel pressured to write your intro first. Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what information is relevant to your introduction until you’ve written the piece itself. Personally, I find that my writer’s block is always strongest when writing the introduction. If you are having trouble with your intro, feel free to write some, or all, of your body paragraphs, and then come back to it. You might find it a bit easier to write your introduction once you’re more comfortable with the essay as a whole.
- Convince the reader that your essay is worth reading. Your reader should finish the introduction thinking that the essay is interesting or has some sort of relevance to their lives. A good introduction is engaging; it gets the audience thinking about the topic at hand and wondering how you will be proving your argument. Good ways to convince your reader that your essay is worthwhile is to provide information that the reader might question or disagree with. Once they are thinking about the topic, and wondering why you hold your position, they are more likely to be engaged in the rest of the essay.
Basically, a good introduction provides the reader with a brief overview of your topic and an explanation of your thesis. A good introduction is fresh, engaging, and interesting. Successful introductions don’t rely on clichés or irrelevant information to demonstrate their point. Be brief, be concise, be engaging. Good luck.
CRLS Research Guide
Writing an IntroductionTip Sheet 17
Ask these questions:
What is it?
It has two parts:
1. A general introduction to the topic you will be discussing
2. Your Thesis Statement
Why do it?
Without an introduction it is sometimes very difficult for your audience to figure out what you are trying to say. There needs to be a thread of an idea that they will follow through your paper or presentation. The introduction gives the reader the beginning of the piece of thread so they can follow it.
When do I do it?
Many books recommend writing your introduction last, after you finish your project. This is to make sure that you introduce what you are actually going to say.
If your project changes in the creating process, it is important to make sure that your introduction accurately reflects what you will be saying. If, however, you have written a good outline and stick to it, then it is fine to start writing your introduction first. Just make sure in your proofreading that you have kept the thread consistent throughout the paper.
How do I do it?
Start with a couple of sentences that introduce your topic to your reader. You do not have to give too much detailed information; save that for the body of your paper. Make these sentences as interesting as you can. Through them, you can hook a reader and get them very interested in the line of thinking you are going to develop in your project.
Then state your thesis, which may be done in one or more sentences. The length of your introduction depends on the length and complexity of your project, but generally it should not exceed one page unless it is a very long project or a book. The average length of an introduction is one half a page.
Teenagers in many American cities have been involved in more gangs in the last five years than ever before. These gangs of teens have been committing a lot of violent crimes. The victims of these crimes are both gang members and people outside of gangs. Many people do not want to travel to areas in our cities because of the danger from this problem. For this terrible situation to stop, it is going to take a combined effort on the part of many people. Excellent, supervised after-school programs, more jobs available for teens, and healthy family relationships will go a long way towards ending this crisis in our society.
During the Middle Ages in Europe and the Middle East there was much armed conflict between Christians and Muslims. Christians called these conflicts the Crusades because they were fighting under the sign of the cross to save the holy lands of the Bible from being desecrated by non-Christians. However, the true reason for fighting for these lands was less than holy. It was mainly a desire for economic gain that prompted the Christian leaders to send soldiers to fight in the Holy Land.
An introduction gives the reader an idea of where you are going in your project so they can follow along. You can give them more background details and supporting evidence for your thesis in the body of the paper itself.