The Introduction: Topic, Thesis, and Map
Writing the introduction can be one of the toughest parts of drafting an essay. Your introduction will be the key to your essay, providing an overview of your topic and the complex arguments you will develop. It can be hard to articulate this as you begin to draft; you may not yet know where your essay is headed. Revise your introduction to reflect the twists and turns your essay may take as you draft it.
The introduction needs to establish the context and specific topic or research question the essay will address. As well, the introduction should include a clear thesis and overview of the paper’s main points.
For short essays, the introduction is generally one paragraph; longer essays may have multi-paragraph introductions. In the box below, you will find suggestions for what to include in your introductions. Keep in mind that not all of the suggestions need to be used.
Good Ideas for Introductions
- Provide background information before stating the thesis, not to advance it but to provide an interesting context for it.
- Raise a question, problem, or dilemma that you will resolve and the circumstances that led to its emergence.
- Emphasize the difference between your evidence and that of other researchers, or between your interpretation and someone else’s. This places your essay in the context of scholarly debate.
- Use a quotation from a primary or secondary source. You might choose a passage that captures the main focus of your work. Controversial quotations can kindle the reader’s imagination, and ones that you disagree with and disprove can make sparks fly.
- Begin with a paradox or apparent contradiction.
- Begin with a specific example, illustration, or anecdote that is interesting and directly related to your topic.
- Define the scope of your investigation. Indicate its parameters and your reasons for choosing them.
- If you are writing in a discipline such as philosophy, psychology, or sociology, you may wish to define clearly the way in which you will use particular words, or the way in which you interpret certain words used in the work you are writing about.
What To Avoid in Your Introduction
- Cliches and inflated declarations such as “Ever since the dawn of mankind people have needed to eat/ fight wars/ search for meaning/ love simple pleasures.”
- Apologizing. Phrases such as “In the limited space of a term paper . . . ,” “As a novice . . . ,” and so on should be edited out.
- Gratuitous personal preambles. “I thought biology was dull, but then I had a great professor, and I think I might major in it . . .” You tempt your instructor to respond, “Who cares?