How to write an Introduction for an Essay: The Perfect Intro Formula

How to write an introduction

One of my friends – a high-up professor in an English university – told me he can tell the grade a student will get within the first 90 seconds of reading a paper.

This makes the introduction the most important paragraph in your whole paper.

The introduction orients your reader to how well you understand academic writing, your skills in critical thinking, your ability to write professionally with minimal errors, and the depth of knowledge you have on the topic.

All in one fantastic paragraph! No pressure.

No wonder introductions are so difficult to write. If you’re like me, you find that you can sit and stare at a blank page as the moments tick by. You’re just not sure how to write an introduction!

After reading the top 30 online articles on how to write an essay introduction, I synthesised the five most common steps that universities give on how to write an introduction.

The five steps I am going to introduce to you in this paragraph form my I.N.T.R.O. method. The intro method provides an easy to use acronym for how to write an introduction that the top universities recommend.

The INTRO method’s steps are:

  • [I] Interest: Provide an opening sentence that shows why the topic is of interest to everyday human beings
  • [N] Notify: Notify the reader of background or contextual information
  • [T] Translate: Translate the essay topic or question by paraphrasing it
  • [R] Report: Report on your position or argument
  • [O] Outline: Provide an outline of the essay structure

Below, I go through each step one by one. Each step is designed to be written in order, although you may feel free to mix them up after you’ve written each sentence to make it feel and read just the way you like.

Use the INTRO method as a guide for how to write an introduction and getting words down on paper. As I often argue on this website, just writing something is often the hardest part.

You may also find that some essay introductions work better without one or more of these 5 steps. That is okay, too. Use these 5 steps as advice on points to include in an introduction and adjust them as you need. You may find in your specific area of study you need to add or remove other sentences. Play around with your introduction until you feel comfortable with it.

So don’t be too hard on yourself: have a go at a draft of your introduction with no pressure to use it in the end. You’ll find by the time you’ve written these five sentences you’ll have the creative juices flowing and a compelling introduction will be down on paper in no time.

1. Interest: Provide an opening sentence that shows why the topic is interesting to everyday human beings

How to write an introduction

Nearly every source on how to write an introduction that I found online recommended that your first sentence be an engaging ‘hook’. Most sources highlight that the ‘hook’ sentence should draw-in the reader’s interest in order to make your piece stand out.

The marker wants to see if you understand why this topic of interest in the first place. They want to see if you ‘get it’ from the very start.

I also recommend that you view the hook as an opportunity to show why the topic is interesting to everyday human beings. This makes it relevant to your reader.

To show you understand why the topic is of interest in the first place, aim to do one of the following things:

  • Show what makes the topic is worth discussing. Your ‘Interest’ sentence might help show why someone should care about the topic. Will it affect our livelihoods? Will it harm us? Make our work lives easier? The more relatable this point is to real human lives, the better.
  • Highlight the single most interesting point in the essay. You might notice that you have already pointed out this interesting ‘hook’ somewhere in your essay. Find that interesting, relatable point and make it your opening sentence of your introduction.
  • Use an interesting fact or figure to show the topic’s importance. Percentages or real numbers about how many people are or would be impacted by the issue help to show the topic’s importance. This will create reader interest with a ‘wow’ factor.
  • Show how the essay topic is relevant to today’s world. If you’re struggling to identify this interesting ‘hook’, go onto google and find news reports related to your topic. How has the topic made it into the news recently? The news report will help you to brainstorm why this topic is of interest to the everyday lives of real human beings.

However, do not overstate the issue. You should provide a clear, reasonable perspective in this first sentence rather than an over-the-top claim. For example, aim to avoid hyperbolic or overly emotional phrases:

Too much hyperbole and emotion:

Professionally crafted phrase:

“For the sake of the survival of humankind, …”

“A prosperous future may require…”

“The outrageous murder of whales by fishermen in the Pacific is a tragedy for mankind.”

“The killing of whales in the Pacific is condemned internationally by respected bodies such as the United Nations.”

“It has always been the case that…”

“There has long been scientific consensus that…”

To find out more about retracting over-the-top emotion and hyperbole, we have put together a guide on academic language that you may like to read.

To summarize, I recommend that your first step in how to write an introduction is to write a ‘hook’ sentence that focuses on why the topic is interesting to everyday human beings. Use sober, clear facts about the importance of the topic to real human lives to get yourself started.

2. Notify: Notify the reader of background or contextual information

How to write an introduction

Nearly every source I found also recommended that you provide brief ‘background’ or ‘contextual’ information.

‘Background’ or ‘contextual’ information shows your depth of knowledge and understanding about the topic.

Here’s some examples of ‘context’ for a few topics:

Topic

Example of brief Contextualisation

Climate Change

Climate change only made its way into the world’s focus in the early 2000s, even though scientists knew about it as early as the 1980s.

Harry Potter

JK Rowling came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a train in Britain.

Snowboarding

In the mid-1980s snowboarding was considered a rebellious, anti-social sport that was banned on many ski resorts through the 1990s.

United States History

The United States was settled by British-born Europeans in the 1500s, although it had been inhabited for many thousands of years previously by the Indigenous people of North America.

Hopefully, you can see here that giving ‘context’ is a way of showing that you have a really strong or deep knowledge of the history or background story of the topic. This is your chance to differentiate your depth of knowledge from other students’. A sentence or two giving some of this context also helps to show-off your knowledge right from the start.

Most sources recommend only providing one or two sentences of background information. This will help you to show-off your knowledge without stealing content from the body of your essay. The body of the essay will add depth and detail to your points in the introduction, so feel free to leave out examples and explanations beyond your engaging sentence or two: you will have time in the body of the essay to elaborate.

3. Translate: Translate the essay topic or question

How to write an introduction

This point was mentioned by more than half the websites I found giving advice on how to write an introduction.

Many universities recommend re-stating the essay topic or question in your own words. This helps your marker to see that you understand the topic and are directly addressing it.

Here are some examples of essay questions and ways you can re-state the essay question in your introduction:

Essay Question

Rephrased in a Sentence in the Introduction

How can knowledge about history help us to improve our lives in the future?

The study of history is important because it helps civilisation not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Paying attention to the mistakes of history will improve the lives of millions of people into the future.

Critique how the struggle between capitalism and communism shaped the second half of the 20th Century.

After World War 2, the world’s focus quickly shifted to the uneasy relationship between the communist ideology of the Soviet Union and the capitalist ideology of the United States. The 40 years between 1950 and 1990 were heavily shaped by the conflicts and proxy wars between capitalism and communism.

What is the lasting impact of European Colonisation in the 21st Century?

European colonisation lasted between the 1500s and 1800s. In this time, French, Dutch, British, Spanish and Portuguese naval powers raced to assert domination over the world. The Americas, Asia, Africa and Antipodes were rapidly colonised by European powers. This European colonisation continues to have an enormous impact on the livelihoods, health and welfare of hundreds of millions of Indigenous peoples.

Something to keep in mind is that you do not want to appear to be re-stating the essay question simply to take up extra words. We call this ‘padding’. An example of padding is when a student drops the essay question in as a question, word-for-word:

  • How can knowledge about history help us to improve our lives in the future? This is the question that will be answered in this essay.
  • This essay will answer the question “What is the lasting impact of European Colonisation in the 21st Century?”

Do not drop the essay question into the introduction without paraphrasing or surrounding explanation. If you do this, your marker will think you’re just trying to add words to the introduction because you’re not sure of anything interesting to say

4. Report: Report your position or argument

How to write an introduction

Most essays do not require you to take a stance on an issue.

Essays that do require you to take a stance are called either ‘argumentative essays’ or ‘persuasive essays’.

If you are writing a persuasive essay, you will need to include Step 4: Report. For this step, you’ll need to state where you stand on the issue:

Question for a Persuasive Essay

Stated Position in the Introduction

Can knowledge about history help us to improve our lives in the future?

This essay demonstrates that knowledge about history is invaluable in helping current generations learn the lessons of the past in order that we have a safer, healthier and more prosperous future.

Did the 20th Century prove that communism does not work?

The cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union concluded with the fall of the Soviet Union and the movement of democratic capitalism further into Eastern Europe. This essay argues that the long decades of suffering, government corruption and limited individual freedoms in the Soviet Union demonstrated that communism is impractical when put into practice.

Should Europe have Colonised Africa?

While many scholars argue that European colonisation of Africa brought increased opportunities and healthcare to Indigenous peoples, the argument that European colonisation also brought disease, mass slavery and disrupted livelihoods convincingly demonstrates that European colonisation should not have occurred.

Keep in mind that essays should never leave a reader confused. Essay writing is not like creative writing: your reader must always know what’s going to be said right from the start. When reading to gather information, readers don’t like to be surprised. They want the facts up-front. Therefore, your marker will expect to know what your stance is on the issue right from the introduction onwards.

5. Outline: Provide an outline of the Essay Structure

How to write an introduction

This last point on how to write an introduction is important and separates average students from top students.

Introductions should always highlight the key points that will be made in an essay. Academic writing should never surprise the reader.

The fact that steps 4 and 5 both highlight that you should orient your marker reinforces the importance of this. Always, always, guide your marker’s reading experience.

Your essay should signpost all key concepts, theories and main sections that make up your essay. If an important point is made in the essay but not signposted in the introduction, you are likely to confuse your marker. A confused marker very rapidly lowers your mark.

Too often, students fail to outline key points of their essay in the introduction. Make a habit of signposting your key ideas, points, theories, or concepts you will cover in the introduction in order to gain marks.

It is always easier to write this outline once the essay plan is written. You will then be able to gather together your key points that you listed in your essay plan and include them in the introduction.

The outline of the essay structure can only be one or two sentences long. You can state as your last sentence in your introduction:

  • “Firstly, this essay … then, …, and finally …”
  • “The essay opens with …, then, …, and then closes with …”
  • “After exploring …, … and …, this essay will conclude with …”

Try to outline the issues you will cover in order. Providing an orderly outline of your essay is very helpful for your reader.

Now, I know that some people don’t like this method. Let me reassure you with this study from Theresa Thonney in 2016. Thonney examined 600 top ranking articles in fields including Literature, Music, Environmental Sciences, Nutrition, Inter-Cultural Studies and more to see how many articles used this method. In other words, she completed a comprehensive study of whether professional, published authors use this method of orientating the reader to the structure of the article.

Thonney found that 100% of top-ranking articles she looked at in the Astronomy field used this method. 98% of articles in Sociology journals used this method. In fact, the field with the lowest amount of authors who use this method is Art, which had 76% of authors use this method. In other words, even the lowest result she found showed that three in every four professional authors use this method.

So, you should too.

Here’s the findings from Thonney’s study:

How to write an introduction
https://www.ncte.org/journals/tetyc/issues/v43-4


Let’s sum point 5 up by reinforcing this very important rule: your marker should always be very clear about what they will read, and in what order, to improve their reading experience.

A short list of things to Avoid in Introductions

How to write an introduction

I want to conclude this post with an outline of some of the worst things you can do in an introduction. The introduction sets the scene, so you want to make a good impression. You don’t want your marker taking away marks due to one of these top mistakes:

  1. Rhetorical Questions.
  2. Vague padding.
  3. Dictionary definitions.

Sometimes, teachers also recommend avoiding referencing in introductions. I have colleagues who absolutely refuse to let students include referencing in their introduction. Personally, I think that’s absurd – if a reference is required, include it! However, check with your teacher on their personal preferences here as I know this is a point of contention in faculty lounges.

Summing Up

How to write an introduction

The introduction is important for creating a strong first impression, especially since markers often make up their mind about your grade very early on in the marking process.

Introductions are best written last. That way, you will be able to include all the signposting you need to do (step 5), have a good understanding of the context (step 2) and be more certain about what you stance is on the issue (step 4).

Here’s the five INTRO steps I’d encourage you to use every time:

  • [I] Interest: Provide an opening sentence that shows why the topic is of interest to everyday human beings
  • [N] Notify: Notify the reader of background or contextual information
  • [T] Translate: Translate the essay topic or question by paraphrasing it
  • [R] Report: Report on your position or argument
  • [O] Outline: Provide an outline of the essay structure

Once you have written your introduction, it is a good idea to put it away for a few days then come back to edit it with fresh eyes. Remember that grammar and punctuation are important in the introduction. You want to leave a good impression.

If you have a friend who can read the draft for you and give you tips, or if your teacher has drop-in hours, use them to get some tips on how to write an introduction, what sounds right, want sounds off, and how you might be able to improve your introduction.

Once you have written your introduction, you might want to have a look at our guidance on how to write conclusions in order to end your piece as strongly as you started! People often think conclusions are just like introductions. That’s not true. Conclusions are unique paragraphs, so head over to our guidance on conclusions now to get that support you need on writing the best conclusion you can.

 

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