How to Write an Introduction for an Essay

Introductions are notoriously difficult to write - but they shouldn't be! As the first paragraph in your essay, the introduction is usually what makes the strongest first impression on your reader. And yet so many people struggle to write a good one. (Since the beginning of time, students have been writing terrible introductions...) We've put together top tips for what your introduction should include and a simple step-by-step guide for how to write it.

Essay with corrections in red ink


1. Try writing your introduction last

Some students write their introduction first and then feel constrained by whatever idea they had at that point (even if, as the essay develops, they can see it isn't really working out). Writing without a plan can also mean that your introduction doesn't match up with the thesis you actually end up arguing for. So, it's always important to plan out your essay before you start to write. For more on this, have a look at How to Write an Essay in Ten Steps. Once you have your essay outline and your thesis statement, it's often easiest to begin by writing the body of your essay. By writing your introduction last, you will have a clear idea of the essential features of your argument and how exactly they connect together.

2. Don't overcomplicate things: good introductions are just clear and concise signposts

Remember that a good introduction is like a concise signpost for the reader: it should simply tell them what to expect from the essay. You may have been told that your essay should keep the reader engaged by slowly revealing your argument en route - this does not make for good university essay writing. The last thing your professor wants is to still be trying to guess at your thesis halfway through your essay. A good essay is not mysterious or full of twists and turns. A good essay begins with a clear promise and a concise plan for how to deliver it, and then does exactly that. Opt for (what might feel like) boring and clear over catchy and vague.

3. Start your introduction with the central claim of your essay

In high school, you may have been taught to start your essay with a 'hook' like a question or quote. Unless your professor explicitly asks for this, it's generally not a good idea to do this for university essays. Your reader wants a clear idea of what you are trying to persuade them of right away.

Image

4. Next, explain what you are going to argue and the order you will do it in

Explain how you will establish your claim and what order you will present your arguments in. This should not take more than a couple of sentences: you are not going into detail about your arguments. You are signposting the essay for your reader so that they know what to expect as they read it.

5. Finish your introduction by stating how you will conclude your essay

"I conclude by examining the implications of my argument for author/theory/future research."

The conclusion of your essay should be short and should not introduce new evidence for your thesis (or against the argument you are criticizing). At most, your conclusion should give a concise summary of what you have argued and point towards the implication of your argument for some (slightly) wider domain. E.g., you may mention the implications of your conclusion for the theory you have been analyzing or for future research in a related area. If you manage to do this in your conclusion, the last sentence of your introduction should explain this final element of your essay. As with other introduction sentences, keep it nice and short and do not do the explaining here - save that work for the rest of your essay.

6. Take a break from your introduction and edit

Always make sure you leave time for editing. Your introduction is going to make the strongest first impression on a reader if it is clear, to the point, and error-free. After reading through your whole essay, re-read your introduction critically. Does your essay really do all of the things you promise in your introduction? Is your introduction's thesis statement the same as the thesis you are arguing for in the body of your essay? Ideally, you will ask a peer to read your introduction and give you feedback on how clear it is. If you don't have time for this step, try to create some distance from your own work by reading it out loud.

Image

Finally, let's look at some common mistakes that students make when writing introductions for university level essays. (Sometimes adapting your writing style to university involves unlearning some writing techniques that you were taught in high school!)

7. Don't start off with an uninformative general statement

"From Freud and Jung to Skinner and Pavlov, hundreds of psychologists have wondered what motivates human action."
"Since the advent of the earliest civilizations, philosophers have been theorizing about the underpinnings of reality."
"Humans have been creating and appreciating art for thousands of years."


A lot of writing schemas taught in high schools suggest starting with a generalization before you make any specific claims about your topic. Students often keep this habit with university writing and begin their essays with statements like the ones above that are intended to 'hook' the reader in. Avoid starting your introduction in this way - it does not tell the reader anything about what your essay will do and is stylistically annoying to most professors.

8. Don't lean on a dictionary definition to set up your thesis

"The dictionary defines sustainability as the 'avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance'."

Many students like to introduce their topic through a dictionary definition. While this may be a good place to start your own research if you're unclear on any of the terms in your question, dictionary definitions should generally be excluded from introductions (and from essays).

9. Don't choose a thesis that is too wide or ambitious

"In this essay, I will argue that nurture is more important than nature."
"In this essay, I will argue that utilitarianism about ethics is right."


Each of these thesis statements takes on a huge debate. Even if you had 10,000 words, you would not be able to even scrape the surface of these issues. Make sure that the scope of your thesis statement is sufficiently small. This will help you to write a more focused essay, which is what your professors are looking for. For example, you might choose to focus on one particular author's views on utilitarianism and argue that there is a problem with one of his arguments. It's good to be bold, but don't try to take on questions that are so wide in scope that you are forced to give them a superficial answer.

Image

Review

  1. Write your introduction last
  2. A good introduction is a clear signpost
  3. Start with your central claim
  4. Explain what you are going to argue
  5. State how you will conclude
  6. Remember to edit!
  7. No uninformative general statements
  8. Don't rely on dictionary definitions
  9. Don't make your thesis too wide or ambitious

Find a tutor