Writing Introductions

Your introduction is the first impression your reader has of your writing. A good introduction

will show him/her that you know what you are talking about and that you are going to

complete the task in question. It will also make them want to carry on reading and look

forward to what is to come. There should be no surprises in your essay; the reader will

understand from the introduction what the essay will cover. A bad introduction will have the

opposite effect and may even prejudice the reader against the rest of the writing, even if it

improves over the course of the essay.

A good introduction will:

  • Show that you understand the question.
  • Show that you understand why the topic is important and the broad issues surrounding the topic.
  • Show how you are going to answer the question by indicating the structure of your answer and making clear the main areas that you are going to write about.
  • Define some of the key terms and concepts (although if this is to be a significant part of the essay you may leave this until the start of the main part of the essay).
  • Be totally relevant.

Some common mistakes in introductions include:

  • Not including an introduction at all.
  • Including an introduction, but one which is unrecognizable as such.
  • Including too much background/historical information in the introduction (which should go in the main part of the essay but only if it is relevant).
  • Making the introduction too long.
  • Producing an introduction which does not let the reader know why the topic is important.
  • Producing an introduction which does not let the reader know how the essay will be structured.

You want your readers to say to themselves "Good! This writer has understood the

question, has done some research and is going to answer the question set, not different one. Let's read on!" Start with a general statement that sets the broad context and shows that you know the importance of the topic. Include a "topic sentence" which indicates the main thrust of your answer. For example:

  • This assignment will examine Britain's peculiar unwritten constitution.
  • This report will analyse the relative advantages and disadvantages of the different operating systems.
  • This essay will first describe the recent changes in the tax system and will then go on to argue that these changes are unfair and impracticable.

You can use the same, or very similar, wording as in the question. If part of the question is "Discuss recent developments in communication technology" then in your introduction say something like: "This essay will consider recent developments in the field of communication technology and will..." Do not leave the reader in any doubt that you know what the question is about and you have a plan for answering it. Use words and expressions which clearly show the plan behind your writing, for example:

  • The essay is divided into four main sections.
  • It will first consider ...
  • It will then go on to describe ...
  • The third part compares ...
  • Finally, some conclusions will be drawn as to ...

Here is a sample introduction in response to the following essay question: 'Examine the sociological evidence of stereotypes of social groups in the mass media. What are the causes of stereotyping in the mass media and to what extent do they influence social attitudes?' (2000 word limit)

"Stereotypes abound in today's society. People seem to have an innate compulsion to categorise others into various groups and then to apply rigid and limited descriptions to these groups. There are therefore, amongst others, stereotypical nationalities and races; stereotypical sexes and sexual orientations and stereotypical classes. And one place where these stereotypes often thrive is in the mass media, particularly in the tabloid press and popular television, such as in situation comedy. Some, for example Hick (1996), claim that this is a harmless phenomenon, whereas commentators such as Ealham (1998) point to the possible dangers of obsessive stereotyping in the media. This essay will examine what sociological evidence there is for the process of stereotyping in the mass media, and will then go on to analyse the reasons for its occurrence. The final part of the essay will ask how far society's attitudes are in fact shaped by this portrayal of the various kinds of stereotypes."

This is a good introduction. It is about the right length (8%); gives a little relevant background and context, indicating that the writer has thought about what a stereotype is in its broadest interpretation; makes some initial references to sources; and finally focuses precisely on the question, showing the reader that it has been fully understood and that it will be answered. Note that the wording of the final part of the introduction is very close to that of the question.