7.4.2 The introduction of an essay
What is the introduction of an essay and what is its purpose?
Write down your own understanding of the term ‘introduction’ in relation to essays.
How does your understanding compare with ours? Potentially the introduction to an essay can:
lead the reader into the main body of the assignment
grab the reader's attention and interest
explain how you are going to answer the question
set the scene or provide a context
give a brief answer to the question before the fuller explanations in the assignment itself
set out the aims of the assignment
indicate the position you will be taking in answering the question.
It may not do all of these things. The introduction you write for an assignment may be short and seek only to ‘engage’ or draw the reader in. A fuller introduction, which may be preferable if you are still developing confidence in your writing, could include any or all of the following points:
an identification of the essay's topic and how you plan to define it; here you are establishing what you intend to write about and making clear, perhaps by implication, what you don't intend to write about – thus indicating the scope of your essay
a brief definition of important terms or concepts, for purposes of clarity
highlights of the important debates that lie behind the question; an essay title often acts as a doorway to an area of controversy or debate
a signpost to the content and shape of your argument or response to the question.
Look back at Section 1. It is longer than the introduction that will be required for one of your assignments: our constraint was the number of pages, not the number of words. But does it fulfil any of the above criteria? We have certainly outlined our aims and objectives; we have indicated the limits to the course – our writing assignment; but we haven't provided much background information or context.