The quality of an essay introduction often determines whether the
essay gets read in the first place. Even if it has to be read, as
in the case of essay writing assignments in a university setting,
a fine introduction gives the reader a good initial impression,
entices the reader to read on, and encourages the reader to give
an excellent evaluation at the end.
Hence, an essay introduction serves to attract the reader’s
interest, introduce the topic, and explain what the essay will be
about. Correspondingly, an essay introduction contains three features
that usually appear in the following order: an attention-getter,
some background information and the central idea.
Getting the reader’s attention
Some common strategies used to attract the reader’s interest
to an essay are:
- Relate a dramatic anecdote.
- Expose a commonly held belief.
- Present surprising facts and statistics.
- Use a fitting quotation.
- Ask a provocative question.
- Tell a vivid personal story.
- Define a key term.
- Present an interesting observation.
- Create a unique scenario.
Providing background information
Providing background information in an essay introduction serves
as a bridge to link the reader to the topic of an essay. But exactly
how long this bridge should be is largely dependent on how much
information the writer thinks the reader will need in order to understand
the issue being discussed in the essay and appreciate the importance
of the issue. For much university writing (for which the readership
may not be restricted to lecturers alone), one good rule of thumb
for students to determine whether enough background information
has been provided is to read the draft introduction to fellow students
from other faculties and see whether they understand what is being
Stating the central idea
The central idea or thesis statement in an essay introduction
is the most important part of the essay and is thus indispensable.
The thesis statement is usually one or two sentences long and tells
the reader what the whole essay is going to be about.
A thesis statement can be direct or indirect. A direct thesis
statement gives a specific outline of the essay. For example, one
of my students (in his essay entitled ‘The Qualities of a
Successful Technopreneur’) wrote the following thesis statement:
“The three core qualities that a technopreneur must possess
to be successful are vision, a never-say-quit attitude and an innovative
mind.” This sentence tells the reader what the essay is going
to be about (i.e. the qualities a technopreneur must possess in
order to succeed) and provides a structural outline (i.e. that the
essay will comprise three main parts, each portion respectively
covering one of the three qualities mentioned).
In an indirect thesis statement, no such outline is provided;
however, the reader will still know what aspect of the topic the
essay is going to discuss. For example, on the same topic, another
of my students wrote this thesis statement: “In today’s
rapidly changing technology market, only technopreneurs who possess
certain qualities will succeed while those who do not will falter
and fall in the battlefield.” From this sentence, the reader
can still expect the essay to talk about some qualities of a successful
technopreneur; but he/she will neither know exactly which and how
many qualities the essay will cover, nor predict how many parts
the writer will discuss in the main body paragraphs. The suspense
given by an indirect thesis statement sometimes gives the reader
a good reason to read on.
Once aware of the three features of an essay introduction and
some of the options for the presentation of each feature, students
can experiment with different options to see which one(s) creates
the best effect for each essay.