Writing an introduction

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- Most importantly, your introduction should:

 1) convey the pattern of organization you will follow in the paper

2)  build to the thesis sentence: a clear, concise statement of the specific position you will explore in your paper.

- A good inttroduction :

Indicates the topic that essay is about, and it can describe how the body of the essay is organized, furthermore. A good introduction should explain the point of writing an essay. The point of writing an essay is usually is  to argue for a theses, so you will need to explain what thesis you argue for and how you argue for it – this is called a thesis-statement, and most essay introductions include one.

First example:

Suppose you had to write a ten page essay on the topic of whether body-checking should be banned in junior ice-hockey. You did your research and found that there are several main arguments for and against a ban. In the body of your essay you described and evaluated these arguments, and determined that arguments for a ban are stronger than arguments against a ban. Now you must write your introduction!


This essay is about the issue of body-checking in junior ice-hockey. First, arguments for a ban on
body-checking are examined. Second, arguments against a ban are discussed. It is shown that proban arguments are stronger than anti-ban arguments. Therefore, the thesis of this essay is that body-checking in junior ice-hockey should be banned.

Discussion of first example:

It is better to have an introduction that includes the three important elements (topic, structure, thesis) than to have one that does not. Many people start out by writing essays with introductions like this one. It does have the virtue of being clear, and clarity is essential. But let us review it to see if it can be improved.

Notice that words such as first and second are useful in helping to describe how the body of an essay is organized. However, if you can convey the structure of your essay without using too many organizational words, that is even better. 

The topic-sentence could be improved. Rather than writing: “This essay is about…” it would be better to write a few topicsentences that convey a sense of the current state of the topic. This not only tells the reader what the topic is but it also gives the impression that you are knowledgeable about the topic and in command of your research material.

The thesis-sentences could be better. Instead of writing: “Therefore, the thesis of this essay is…” simply give a bold, factual sentence that expresses your position on the issue. This conveys an air of confidence, unlike the phrase “…the thesis of this essay…” which is timid and non-committal.

Second example
The introduction on the next slide takes these points into account. Compare it with the previous introduction and note how wording the three main elements differently can improve the impact that the introduction has on the reader.

-Body-checking has always been a controversial issue. However, the recent decision of Hockey Canada to allow some hockey associations to permit body-checking among players as young as nine years
of age, on an experimental basis, has aggravated the controversy quite considerably in recent months.
Perspectives fall into three main categories: viewpoints of fans, the official standpoint of Hockey
Canada, and positions held by the scientific community. Evaluation of the main arguments shows
quite clearly that Hockey Canada’s decision to allow body-checking in some junior games, even on an
experimental basis, is a serious mistake.

- In this second introduction, the topicsentences give an impression of the current state of the topic (and, so, convey the topic of the essay to the reader) without using the words essay or topic. The structuresentences inform the reader of the main parts of the body of the essay and their order of discussion (views of fans, Hockey Canada, and scientific community) without using many organizational words.

- The thesis-sentences tell the reader where you stand on the issue and how you arrived at your position (through evaluation of the main arguments for and against a ban), without including words such as essay or thesis.

- This second introduction gives the reader the impression that you are knowledgeable on the topic, and that doing the research has led you to an intelligent, informed thesis. Why didn’t the first introduction have the same effect? 

- The reason is that within the context of an essay introduction, words like essay, topic and thesis make it seem as if there is a gap between you, the writer, and the essay. This gives the impression that the concerns about and position on the issue may not be your concerns and position (only the essay’s!). Notice that the second introduction gives the impression that there is no gap, and that you are expressing yourself through the essay.

Practice writing introductions without using phrases such as “the topic of this essay…”or “the thesis argued for is…” Expressing the topic without using words like topic or subject may be particularly challenging because it is easy to include too much detail and end up with an unintended bodyparagraph. But with practice, you will be able to write more effective introductions.

Frequently asked questions:

1. How long should my introduction be?

One common mistake is to write an introduction that is too long; the introduction is so detailed that it is indistinguishable from the body of the essay! As a rule, an introduction should not be longer than about 8% of the length of the essay. For example, the introduction of a ten, fifteen, and twentypage essay should be a maximum of about a page, a page and a quarter, and one and a half pages respectively.

2. How detailed should the introduction be?

The introduction only needs to state the topic, general structure, and thesis of the essay. The longer the essay is supposed to be, the more detailed your topic, structure and thesis-sentences can be.

3. Why am I finding it hard to write the introduction?
The introduction must indicate the topic, structure and thesis of the essay. If you are not completely sure about any of these things, you will find it hard or even impossible to write an introduction. Writer’s block can happen when you try to write the introduction before you have done sufficient reading and research on the topic.

4. What is an introduction for? Is it a summary?
An introduction is not a summary. A summary repeats the main ideas of an essay. An introduction introduces the reader to the topic of the essay, describes the organizational structure of the essay, and explains the point of the essay (the thesis argued for).

5. What should I put in my introduction? 

Do not try to pack everything into the introduction. It would then not be an introduction at all! An essay introduction does not need to do more than tell the reader the topic of the essay, describe how the body of the essay is organized, and explain the thesis that you argue for in the essay.

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