The Elements of a Strong Introduction: A Quick Guide to Undergraduate Essays

In our previous article, ‘Approaching Your First Essay: A Quick Guide to Undergraduate Essays’, we outlined how to tackle your first uni essay.

Particularly in your first year, undergraduate essays can be incredibly daunting. Writing a confident introduction is a necessary component of a successful undergraduate essay.

This series, our quick guide to essay writing, aims to provide you with helpful and practical advice. If you would like to read our more comprehensive guides that focuses on the overall method of planning, organising of research and drafting, please visit our Undergraduate Resources page.

What is an Introduction?

An introduction has an important purpose in an essay: it specifies your answer to the essay question. This is called a ‘thesis statement’. The introduction is the first paragraph of your essay and must provide a preview of the arguments you will make throughout the body of your essay.

What is a Thesis Statement?

The Macquarie Dictionary (2017) defines ‘thesis’ as ‘a proposition laid down or stated, especially one to be discussed and proved or to be maintained against objections’.

A thesis statement, in this context, is your answer to the essay question condensed into one or two sentences. Further, your thesis is best understood as the underpinning argument of your essay; you will keep returning to your thesis (or line of argument) throughout the body of your essay.

How Long Should My Introduction Be?

For an essay under 5,000 words, we recommend you allow 10% of the essay’s word count for the introduction.

Remember, the purpose of the introduction is to introduce your reader to your argument and the ideas that will drive your body paragraphs; an introduction is not the place to begin unpacking your ideas and arguments.

How Do I Write an Introduction?

After conducting your research and determining the form of your body paragraphs, you are ready to draft your introduction.

Begin by addressing the language of the question and outlining your thesis statement.

Then, identify and describe all the main points you will make throughout your essay. It’s important that you mention them in the order they will appear in your essay for the sake of constructing a logical argument.

Avoid the common pitfalls: do not introduce ideas that you don’t plan to discuss in your essay or include any irrelevant background information. You don’t want to waste precious words on unnecessary information.

As with the whole essay, your first draft should not be considered your final draft. You should revisit your introduction once you have written the body paragraphs to ensure you have introduced your main points adequately and your essay has logical sequencing of ideas. Your introduction shouldn’t be written in isolation!

What Common Mistakes Can I Avoid?

Don’t start writing your introduction before researching. If you write your introduction before you research, you might be tempted to force your research to fit your introduction rather than being led by your findings. As you don’t want to be left with an introduction that contradicts your body paragraphs, ensure you research first and write second!

For more help with writing your essay introductions, consider reading our sample introductions. It’s also worth looking into whether your university provides workshops for undergraduate essay writing.

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