It’s often said that writing an introduction is the hardest part of an essay, article, blog – any piece of writing, really – but it is also the most important. If your audience has to read lots of similar pieces, they will be looking for a beginning that grabs their attention and makes them want to read more. However, if you’re the sort of person where ideas come to you as you write, or you’ve yet to figure out what your argument actually is, you’ll find it pretty difficult to master your introduction in just one draft. While it may take a couple of attempts, there are various techniques that you can adopt which will make it that much better. Here are a few to get you started…
Keep it brief: the worst thing you can do is ramble in an introduction, as the whole point of them is that they’re concise and sum up your argument/ideas. It obviously depends on your available word count, but I would advise limiting your introduction to a couple of hundred words if you can. Being able to write concisely is important because you want your reader to be genuinely interested in everything that you are saying.
Use a quote: some may argue otherwise but using a quote from another scholar is often considered a good way of starting an essay. It can effectively help inform what you want to say yourself and can help engage your reader if they become eager to find out its source. Choose wisely, though – it needs to be relevant!
Provide relevant background information: speaking of relevance, make sure all of the information that you use is on topic. If your work is about cake, for example, but you spend the introduction talking about cheese, your reader is going to be slightly baffled about this information’s relevance. Stick to the subject at hand and you can’t go too wrong!
Don’t cram too much information in: I would suggest not trying to say too much in your introduction. It’s often tempting to get all of your ideas on the page straight away, but by doing so you run the risk of getting half-way through your essay only to find that you are constantly repeating yourself. As previously said, stick to the subject and remain concise – don’t give too much away, otherwise your reader is likely to lose interest before you’ve even really begun! It might be a good idea to avoid providing evidence for your points at this stage, especially if you think they may be worthy of their own paragraph later in your work.
Ask a question: you don’t necessarily have to steer away from asking questions, you should just be careful about how! You will have to take into account the tone of your piece; if you are writing a formal essay, it may not always be appropriate to pose a question. Looking at examples of works of similar contexts might help you make the right decision on this one. However, asking questions can often promote a thought-provoking experience for the reader, so it definitely shouldn’t be off the cards!
Avoid clichés: it is far too common a theme that people include a definition from the Oxford Dictionary in their essay’s opening sentence. Whilst this does show research skills (even if they are fairly minimal), so many people do it that you might find that your piece not only immediately loses originality but also bores your marker. Steer clear of clichés and try to use your initiative where possible!
Don’t be afraid to write your introduction last: many people spend days staring at their computer in the hope that their introductions will write themselves. They spend so long doing this, thinking that they can’t carry on with their essay until they’re completely happy with their introduction, when this isn’t actually the case at all. Sometimes if you leave the introduction until last it can actually work in your favour; you will have figured out exactly what your arguments and points are, and so will more likely be able to summarize them in a confident and concise manner. Do not be afraid to write your introduction last. And if you do choose to write it first, check that it still provides a relevant summary of your work once you have completed it.
Whilst writing introductions is difficult, they do not have to be impossible. As long as you have a good structure – ie. start with an engaging opening (short sentences can be quite catchy), summarize your arguments and then suggest how you are going to articulate them, you are well on your way to achieving a top-class introduction. It might be a good idea to spend some time reading examples from other people’s work – but if you do do this, make sure you avoid plagiarism! (Check out our blog post on ‘Plagiarism’ for more information on this).