Writing an Introduction To Your Essay

Happy Thanksgiving!  Wordsmith’s blog is off this week, so enjoy this blast from the past: how to nail the introduction of your essay.

The introduction is usually the most important part of an essay, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s often the only part people will read. It is also one of the most difficult things to get right. A strong introduction has to provide necessary background and context, introduce the specific subject the essay will be covering, and answer the question “what is the point of this essay?”, usually within a limited amount of space. Luckily, all of this can be broken down to a very easy to follow structure that can be adapted to almost every type of essay.

The first thing to remember is that it’s best to write a rough draft of your essay before writing your introduction. After all, it’s always easier to introduce something that already exists. Once the rough draft is finished, identify your thesis statement—the central claim of the essay—and condense it to a single sentence, such as:

In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s band of pilgrims represent a system of centralized governance aided by the information and perspectives provided by a diverse population.

This thesis statement will act as the foundation for your introduction. The next step is to break the introduction down into three parts: the establishment of the status quo, the disruption, and the statement of position.

During the first part of the introduction, the status quo is established with a generalized statement of a historical or commonly accepted position. For example:

Many medievalists view literature through a lens of sovereignty, a model of hierarchical political power.

The disruption follows this as the part of the introduction that calls the status quo into question, introducing a problem or dilemma:

However, this ignores represented principles of political reciprocity among differing classes in medieval literature.

And finally, the introduction is concluded with the thesis statement. This provides the bare skeleton of an introduction:

Many medievalists view literature through a lens of sovereignty, a model of hierarchical political power. However, this ignores represented principles of political reciprocity among differing classes in medieval literature. In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s band of pilgrims represent a system of centralized governance aided by the information and perspectives provided by a diverse population.

Now, the only thing left is to add support and evidence for each claim to beef it up a bit:

Many medievalists view literature through a lens of sovereignty, a model of hierarchical political power. An excellent example is Robert Heiner’s paper on the political economy of The Friar’s Tale, which claims that “the demon the summoner faces is a manifestation of sovereign powers as seen by the laity” (84). However, this ignores represented principles of political reciprocity among differing classes in medieval literature. Contrary to the idea that characters of medieval literature represent “sovereign propaganda” (Heiner 79), medieval literature provides a more complex idea of political power and in The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer’s band of pilgrims represent a system of centralized governance aided by the information and perspectives provided by a diverse population.

This type of introduction is most useful for a “position paper” or “persuasive essay”, where a disputable thesis needs to be established or defended, but it can be adapted to other forms fairly easily. Unfortunately, we’re running a bit short on space, so we’ll have to discuss that next time. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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