main menu

Writing effective introductions

Student typing an essay

Student typing an essay

Introduction

Introductions are an important part of any academic essay or report. They introduce readers to the topic being discussed and give the writer an opportunity to explain a) the topic about which they are writing and b) why they are writing about it. In addition, introductions enable the reader, within a few words, to make a decision as to whether or not they wish to continue reading.

Listen to an audio overview of the learning object

Objectives

To introduce you to five main elements considered to be the fundamental building blocks of writing introductions.
To help you gain a deeper understanding of the importance of a good introduction
To give you practice in writing good introductions.



Activity 1: The purpose and function of an introduction

As mentioned above, introductions are fundamental to a good academic essay, report or research paper. They perform many functions, some of which are listed in the introduction to this learning object. In the following exercise, you will write down additional functions that you think an introduction performs or should perform.

Instruction

In the text box beneath, write down the additional functions that a good introduction performs.

Activity 2: Identifying a good introduction

Introductions generally follow a similar pattern, even though the style of each essay is discipline and genre specific. Good introductions contain several, if not all, of the following elements:

General/background information
Supporting/further information
Filling/acknowledging a gap in knowledge/research
Providing a definition of key/important terms
Stating your purpose. That is, stating what you intend to do in the essay/paper/report.
Stating your position on the subject you are going to discuss (often called a thesis statement)
A summary of the points you are going to cover
A recognition of other researchers/writers who have written on the same topic



Instruction

Below you will find 2 example introductions to the question 'Discuss the problems of pollution in your country'.

Read the introductions and decide which is better, remembering to focus on the reasons behind your decision. Use the criteria listed above to help you make your decision. Write your answers in the text entry boxes provided before checking with the feedback.





Since the current trend of 'Green' politics came to the fore, we have discovered our water is unfit for consumption, our meat is poisoned by various bacteria, and our fruit and vegetables are contaminated by chemicals. Not only are food and water affected, but the land and sea are constantly subject to chemical and nuclear dumping. In addition, sewage and various oil disasters have contributed to the increase in the killing of wildlife. Even the air we breathe is polluted every day by the millions of cars constantly pumping carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.




Despite the increased awareness of the problems of pollution in recent years, Britain continues to trail behind most of Western Europe in adopting stricter measures of control. While it is almost impossible to consider the problems of pollution with respect to one country in isolation, the most serious problems to affect Britain directly are probably those of industrial and nuclear waste, pesticides and car exhaust fumes. In what follows, each of these will be discussed together with their effects. Finally, it will be argued that to continue to ignore such problems is at the peril not only of Britain's environment but of the environment in general.


Adapted from: Jordan, R.R. 1999. Academic Writing Course Study Skills


Activity 3: Identifying thesis statements

Whilst there is some freedom in academic writing to include some, but not all of the key elements in an introduction, there is a broad consensus that introductions should include at least a general statement and a thesis statement. General statements are, as they imply, quite general and often give background to the topic. Thesis statements are usually more specific and can perform several functions; stating the main topic, summarising the main topic, revealing the author's position/stance on the issues being discussed and showing how the essay/report/research paper will be organised.

Instruction

All of the following introductions have a thesis statement. Identify the thesis statement in each. Cut and paste it into the text box. The first one has been done as an example.




It is a commonplace and well documented belief amongst second language acquisition researchers and language teaching practitioners, that students' performance does not always accurately indicate their competence and mastery of the language in question, due to their language being variable, dynamic and in a constant state of flux and change. This exploratory dissertation therefore is based on the notion that studying languages in production helps further research and understanding into second language acquisition. It thus places foreign language participants in a central and pivotal role and uses detailed transcriptions of sample data generated by participants in online situations as the basis of the analytical process. It seeks to paint a realistic picture of how learners use language in real time. Furthermore, by viewing the data through a transcription system which illustrates intonational rather than syntactic boundaries, it endeavours to view the variable and permeable language of L2 learners from a different perspective than previous studies.

Adapted from Cooper, J. 2008. Exploring learner language: Using intonation units in the analysis of low level, EFL learners' online data. M.A. Dissertation.

Thesis statement: It seeks to paint a realistic picture of how learners use language in real time. Furthermore, by viewing the data through a transcription system which illustrates intonational rather than syntactic boundaries, it endeavours to view the variable and permeable language of L2 learners from a different perspective than previous studies.



Asynchronous online forums provide a venue for thoughtful discussion and as such have become a common component in both distance and blended courses (Cummings, Bonk & Jacobs, 2002). These online discussions allow for dynamic growth, development, and interchange of ideas among students, and therefore can play an important role in student learning (Barbour & Collins, 2005; Wu & Hiltz, 2004). Online discussions are not uniformly implemented in courses. In some courses, discussion participation is mandatory (e.g. Wu & Hiltz, 2004); in others, it is not required (Sullivan & Pratt, 1996). Some forum discussions are clearly structured by the instructor, who specifies the aspects of the topic or questions to be focused on (Black, 2005); other forums do not stipulate anything beyond the topic and alllow students free range of exploration (Dougiamas & Taylor, 2003). This essay therefore aims to tackle this issue in two parts. In the first part the essay aims to evaluate the use of asynchronous forums in education. In the second part, conclusions drawn from the evaluation will be used to offer a practical solution to the assessment of student contributions in EAP online forums in the context of the level and objectives of the course.

Adapted from Kol, S & Schcolnik, M. 2008. Asynchronous forums in EAP: assessment issues. Language Learning and Technology. 12/2. pp49-70



The ethics and legality of advertising disputed commodities is under debate. For tobacco, the use of which has straightforward, detrimental health consequences, advertising has been prohibited or minimised, in many countries. For alcohol, the use of which (as opposed to misuse) is generally accepted in most Western countries, the picture is more complex. Many prevention workers and policy makers demand total prohibition of alcohol advertising, whereas the alcohol-producing industry claims to be responsible, encouraging sensible drinking habits, e.g. in the Netherlands by only aiming adverts at mature age groups. This essay focuses on one argument in this debate: whether or not alcohol portrayals and advertising have a causal effect on drinking behaviour and seeks to highlight that this is indeed the case.

Adapted from Engels, R.C.M.E., Hermans, R., van Baaren, R.B., Hollenstein, T & Bot, S.M. 2009. Alcohol portrayal on television affects actual drinking behaviour. Alcohol & Alcoholism. 44/3. pp244-249.



Wireless networks are a key technology to provide user mobility. Wireless mesh networks (WMNs) are self-organising networks based on a backbone of stationary wireless routers that cooperatively provide Internet access to mobile users. Moreover, WMNs are a low-cost alternative, compared to traditional cabled networks, to extend the Internet. Mobility is one of the main reasons for using wireless networks. As entertainment and news updates are a part of our daily lives, users want access to streaming audio and video applications while on the move in areas illuminated by a WMN. In such cases, the application performance perceived by users is affected by variable network connectivity, caused by various factors such as handoffs between routers, varying levels of interference, or protocol reconfiguration. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to evaluate the impact of user mobility on the performance of different protocols and applications in real scenarios. This essay will evaluate the success of P2P (peer to peer) applications on the Internet and in community networks. It will argue that this type of application if by far the most successful and beneficial to all parties.

Adapted from Moraes, I.M., Campista, M.E.M., Costa, L.H.M.K. & Duarte, O.C.M.B. 2008. On the impact of user mobility on peer-to-peer video streaming. IEEE Wireless Communcations. 15/6. pp54-62

Activity 4: Write your own introduction

 

Instruction

Using the information provided here to write an introduction to the question:

Individuals, not the state, should pay for higher education. Discuss.

Would you like to review the main points?

References:

Cooper, J. 2008. Exploring learner language: Using intonation units in the analysis of low level, EFL learners' online data. M.A. Dissertation

Engels, R.C.M.E., Hermans, R., van Baaren, R.B., Hollenstein, T & Bot, S.M. 2009. Alcohol portrayal on television affects actual drinking behaviour. Alcohol & Alcoholism. 44/3. pp244-249

Flodstrom, A. (2010). This house believes that individuals, not the state should pay for education [Online] Available at http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/232 . Accessed on 28/7/10. Adapted

Jordan, R.R. 1999. Academic Writing Course Study Skills in English. 82 - 83. Harlow, Essex: Longman

Kol, S & Schcolnik, M. 2008. Asynchronous forums in EAP: assessment issues. Language Learning and Technology. 12/2. pp49-70

Moraes, I.M., Campista, M.E.M., Costa, L.H.M.K. & Duarte, O.C.M.B. 2008. On the impact of user mobility on peer-to-peer video streaming. IEEE Wireless Communcations. 15/6. pp54-62

Rota, M. 2009. Evolution, providence, and Gouldian contingency. Religious Studies 44, 393–412

Wolf, A. (2010). This house believes that individuals, not the state should pay for education [Online] Available at http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/232 [online]. Accessed on 28/7/10. Adapted.

 


 

Feedback. Please give us your opinion on this learning object.

 

How useful did you find this Learning Object? 

Very useful
Quite useful
Not very useful

 Please write your comments below:
 

© Jessica Cooper /Queen Mary University of London / photograph used under terms of creative commons attribution license courtesy of dbdbrobot