Students often make the mistake of sailing straight into the answering the essay question in the first paragraph without following the convention of beginning with an introduction. Basic introduction paragraphs have a special function. Fortunately, introductions have a recognisable pattern (recipe) you can follow so that you do this correctly.
About introduction paragraphs
The introduction to an essay is very important. It is the FIRST paragraph that the marker reads and should ‘grab’ the reader. Introduction paragraphs are usually about 5% of your essay word count. In clearly-written sentences, the writer gives some background on the main topic; explains the academic problem and tells the reader what to expect in the rest of the essay. You can follow a basic pattern (recipe) for writing introduction paragraphs to help you get started. As essay topics and lecturer requirements vary, you will find that ‘the recipe’ will need to be adjusted to suit the style of essay you will be asked to write.
Try to write your introduction straight from your question analysis, then review it many times while you are writing the body of the essay—this will help you to keep your essay on target (i.e. answering the set question). Note that most introductions generally only include references if definitions are taken from an information source.
Writing pattern for introduction paragraphs
The introduction to an essay is rather like a formal social introduction: How do you do! For example, if an ASO consultant comes to a lecture to do a guest presentation, it would be good practice to be introduced in a meaningful way:
This is Mary Bloggs who is a consultant from the Academic Skills office (relevant info about the person for the job about to be done). Good question analysis is critical to the success of your assignment essay, so it is important that you learn a process for analysing a question (statement of purpose). Mary will work with you on analysis of the question you will be answering in your assignment and will show you how to develop an essay plan from your question (a statement about what will be happening in the next hour).
An introductory paragraph is very much tied to the question that has been set (see Question analysis workshop), and we use special terms to describe each stage of the introduction.
Click or hover over the introductory paragraph below to see an analysis of its structure, and how the introduction matches the set question.
The introduction is usually ‘funnel shaped’. It begins with the broadest topic (sentence 1). Then, it narrows to the thesis statement or the part of the topic that will be specifically addressed in the essay (sentence 2). The last sentence of the paragraph usually outlines the main points that will be covered in the essay (sentence 3).
Figure 1: A pattern for introduction paragraphs
Read the following question and the sample introduction paragraph. The sentences are in the wrong order for an introduction paragraph. Match the statements to the correct sentence type.
Some students who enrol in university studies have difficulties with their writing skills. Discuss the reasons for this problem and critically assess the effectiveness of university intervention writing programs.
Because poor writing skills can affect students’ success in tertiary education, it is important that writing problems are understood so that university assistance programs are adequate.
This essay will identify and examine the main causes underpinning student difficulties with academic writing and consider evidence to evaluate whether programs delivered in universities address this problem.
Assignment essays are frequently used as assessment tasks to involve students in research, academic reading and formal essay writing.
These introduction sentences are in the incorrect order. Now that you have identified the sentence types, put them in the correct order (background statement -> thesis statement -> outline statement) for an introduction paragraph.
Drag the sentences to rearrange them.
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The thesis statement is the center around which the rest of your paper revolves; it is a clear, concise statement of the position you will defend.
If you’re just beginning to think about a thesis, it may be useful to ask yourself some of the following questions. This list is not exhaustive; anything that helps you consider your text or subject in a complex, unusual, or in-depth manner will get you on the right track:
- Do I have a gut response to the prompt? Does anything from my reading jump to mind as something that could help me argue one way or another?
- What is the significance of this text or subject? Why did my professor choose it? How does it fit into the broader themes or goals of the course?
- How does this text or subject relate to the broader context of the place or time period in which it was written or in which it occurred?
- Does this text or subject challenge or complicate my ideas about race, class, gender, or religion? About political, carceral, or educational institutions?
- Does anything in this text seem to not “fit in” with the rest of it? Why could that be?
- Are there aspects of the text (or two separate texts) which, when I compare and contrast them, can illuminate something about the text(s) that wasn’t clear before?
- Does the author make any stylistic choices– perspective, word choice, pacing, setting, plot twists, poetic devices– that are crucial to our understanding of the text or subject?
Developing Your Ideas:
At this point you should have some potential ideas, but they don’t have to be pretty yet. Your next goal will be to play with them until you arrive at a single argument that fulfills as many of the above “Components of a Strong Thesis” as possible. See the following examples of weak or unfinished thesis statements:
Setting is an important aspect of Wuthering Heights.
Britain was stable between 1688 and 1783.
The first example is argumentative, but it’s not that argumentative– most critics agree that setting is important to Wuthering Heights. Both examples are too broad. One way to develop them is to consider potential conjunctions that would help you complicate your ideas:
See below for examples of stronger or more complete thesis statements. In part due to the addition of conjunctions “because” and “as,” these are more argumentative, more specific, and more complex:
Because the moors in Wuthering Heights are a personification of Heathcliff’s personality, their presence suggests that human emotion and the natural world are intricately entwined in the novel.
Corruption was a major source of stability in Britain between 1688 and 1783, as landed elites controlled every aspect of British government and ensured political stability at the cost of social equality.
I Have a Thesis. Now What?
Once you feel confident about your final thesis statement, you have conquered the most important (and usually, the most difficult) part of writing a paper. Here are two ways your thesis can help you figure out what to do next:
By Sarah Ostrow ’18. Definition of thesis statement adapted from earlier Hamilton College Writing Center Resource “Introductions and Thesis Statements.”
© Nesbitt-Johnston Writing Center, Hamilton College
|Components of a Strong Thesis||Components of a Weak Thesis|
Wuthering Heights Examples
Gathering evidence: Look back at your text(s) and begin compiling a list of quotations or ideas that would support your thesis statement.
Considering structure: See if your thesis statement gives you any clues about how to organize your thoughts into body paragraphs.
The moors and Heathcliff can each have their own paragraph. Or separate paragraphs can tackle separate qualities, i.e. the wild nature of both, the morose nature of both, etc.
Political corruption and social inequality can each have their own paragraph. Or, if there are cause-and-effect relationships between specific instances of corruption and inequality, each pair can have its own paragraph.