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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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!)
"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.
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).
"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.