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Bethune Writing Centre. Just the plain facts! PRESENTATION SERIES How to write an introduction © Nicholas G. Ashby 2004. General The purpose of an introduction is to prepare the reader for the body of writing that comes after it.
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Just the plain facts!
How to write an introduction
© Nicholas G. Ashby 2004
The purpose of an introduction is to prepare
the reader for the body of writing that comes
You know what you are writing about and why. But unless you inform your readers of this in an introduction, they will feel lost and judge your essay to be an unclear piece of work!
the point of writing an essay is usually to argue for a thesis, 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.
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!
Here is how someone new to academic
essays may write the introduction (the
topic-sentence is in red, essay structure in
blue, thesis in yellow):
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 pro-
ban arguments are stronger than anti-ban
arguments. Therefore, the thesis of this essay is
that body-checking in junior ice-hockey should be
This introduction is all right so far as it goes.
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.
The structure-sentences are fine.
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 topic-
sentences 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.
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 topic-
sentences 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 structure-
sentences 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
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 body-
paragraph. But with practice, you will be
able to write more effective introductions.
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.Forexample,
the introduction of a ten, fifteen, and twenty-
page essay should be a maximum of about a
page, apage and a quarter, and one and a
half pages respectively.
2. How detailed should the introduction
Another common mistake is that the
introduction is so detailed that it fails to
indicate the topic of the essay in a clear
way! 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
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.
3. Why am I finding it hard to write the
How can you know what the structure of
your essay will be until you have written at
least a draft of the body? How can you
know what your thesis will be until you have
done the reading and research?! To save
time, always write the introduction last.
4. What is an introduction for? Is it a
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
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
6. How many paragraphs should I use
for the introduction?
The introduction needs to indicate the topic,
structure, and thesis of the essay for the
reader. In a short ten page essay, all of
these things should be easy to include in one
or two paragraphs. In longer essays, your
topic, structure, and thesis-sentences will be
more detailed, and so more paragraphs may
be required to complete the introduction.
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