This started out as a post for the IB, but I realised it can be applied generally as well.
- If you get to choose your topic, choose one that you find genuinely interesting, as you will be much more motivated. It should also be a topic that you’re fairly familiar with. If you’re really stuck for ideas, look at example essays online (but don’t steal!).
- Have a specific focus.
- Keep a log of all of your references. Make sure that you’re referencing in the correct format.
- Find out if there are any competitions or scholarship contests that you could submit your essay to.
- Try starting your essay with a claim related to the title/question.
- Have a sentence which defines your whole essay; give the reader and idea of what you’re going to be arguing. Try to get the reader interested in your essay so that they’re motivated to read.
- Don’t use “I” or “My” (we were always warned against this).
- Know what conclusion you’re coming to at the end.
- Think of essay introductions as covering what/why/how:
- What the question is about – explain your interpretation of the question and what it is asking you to do.
- Why the question is important – put the question into context and identify the main issues that are raised by the question.
- How you are going to answer it – let the reader know what you are going to cover in your essay in order to answer the question.
- Provide example to prove your thesis write or wrong.
- Develop the idas and arguments outlined in your introduction.
- Each paragraph should have a topic sentence, which acts like a mini introduction. This should clarify what you’re going to discuss in that paragraph. If your topic sentence doesn’t match what you discuss in the paragraph then it will read confused.
- Think of each paragraph like a small essay.
- Keep your essay question/title in front of you while you’re writing; it will help you stay focused.
- Don’t be too general.
- Keep your paragraphs well structured. Don’t jump from one idea to the next; there should be a link between the paragraphs, they should be consecutive. Try to show the flow of your though. Again, if this goes wrong, your essay will appear confused. This is something that I found online about how to structure a paragraph (included as a photo for the colour coding):
- Don’t just state your ideas; have evidence, analysis, and comments. Remember, you’re trying to convince the reader that you’re right!
- Reread your essay, and conclude your ideas; all of your points should lead logically to this conclusion.
- Your conclusion should capture the essence of your essay. Summarise your main points, and relate them back to the question. Think about what the reader knows now that they didn’t know when they began reading.
- Don’t introduce any new information.
- Don’t include apologies about the incompleteness of your argument (e.g. If I had more time….) although you can include some limitations.
- Don’t end your conclusion with a rhetorical question; it leaves the reader unsatisfied.
For tips about other aspects of essay writing, see:
Earlier this week I told you how NOT to write an introduction. Here are some quick tips on how you can write an effective introduction.
(1) What kind of information should my intro include?
Your introduction should:
- Provide a concise background account of the problem you are studying—what is the context of your research question?
- Outline the relevance of your study—why is it important to investigate this question?
- State the principal conclusions of your research—what are you going to argue?
(2) How long should my intro be?
For a standard undergraduate essay (10 pages or less), you can probably write an effective introduction in one substantial paragraph (about one-half to three-quarters of a page). However, if you are preparing a longer and more complex essay, you will probably need more than one paragraph to set the context of the argument. A 20 page paper might need a two or three paragraph introduction, and a dissertation may well need an introductory chapter.
(3) How do I present my thesis statement?
Think about the question you are trying to answer—this can either be a question that is assigned, or one that you formulate based on your topic. The answer to your question should form the substance of your thesis statement, which you should put at or near the end of your introduction.
For longer papers, you may want to provide a roadmap following your thesis statement to sketch the structure of your argument (e.g., the first section explains xyz, the second section provides analysis of xyz…); however, you should only include a roadmap if your paper is long enough to make this necessary. Many students use the roadmap as a fallback to fill out their introduction when they can’t think of anything more useful to say.
Remember that you are writing an essay, not a story. You do not need to keep your readers in suspense! You should tell your reader what your conclusion is upfront and use the body of your essay to set out your argument in support of that conclusion. I often read student papers that end their roadmap with sentences like “Finally, this paper includes a conclusion that sums up the findings of this essay.” This says nothing more than “My conclusion is a conclusion.” The point of your thesis is to tell your reader what your paper is about and the conclusions your argument will support.
(4) How do I make my introduction catchy and interesting?
Introductions don’t need to be boring! In presenting the background information on your topic and establishing the relevance of your study, you can use some of the following techniques:
- Present a startling fact or statistic that illustrates the seriousness of the problem you are addressing
- Describe a common misperception that your thesis argues against
- Include a brief narrative that exemplifies the relevance of the topic (this is a great way to introduce your topic if you have conducted interviews in the field!)
- Think before your write. To avoid the BS introduction, you need to be sure you are clear about your argument and where your paper is going. Sometimes it helps to write your introduction in point form first, and then formalize it after you have written the rest of your paper.
If you have more questions about the dos and don'ts of writing an introduction, see my earlier post on this topic, leave a comment on this blog, or ask me via Twitter or Facebook.