First impressions matter, especially in writing. The introduction of your essay is vitally important, but it’s also one of the hardest things for most people to write.
Introductions serve as a roadmap for your essay. They serve several purposes:
- Hooking your reader
- Providing background information
- Stating your thesis
- Forming a cohesive essay
Your introduction tells the reader what they will be reading about. It has to be engaging, so that they will keep reading. It should provide enough background information that the body of the essay makes sense. It also serves as a guide to keep your paper focused on the topic.
That’s a difficult balance to maintain. Don’t worry! We’re here to help you write an amazing introduction.
Structure of an Essay Introduction
There are three main parts to an introduction.
First, you must have a hook. This is your opening sentence or two, and it should be engaging.
Second, you need to provide context for your paper. Usually, the background information is not one of your main points and should not be a body paragraph. You’ll need to provide enough context for your reader to understand your essay’s argument.
Finally, you need a thesis statement. This is the sentence that tells what the rest of your essay will be about.
We’ll cover each of these in more detail below.
Write Your Thesis First
You don’t have to write your essay in any particular order. In fact, writing from start to finish can actually be harder. Your essay might lack cohesion or coherence if so. To stay focused and make the rest of the writing process easier, write your thesis first.
The thesis is the most important part of your essay. Think of your thesis as a one or two sentence answer to the entire essay prompt. If you had no room to elaborate, your thesis is how you would answer the question.
The thesis is also the guide for your entire essay. It outlines your major points, which will become your body paragraphs. For this reason, the thesis should be the first thing you write, even before you complete an outline for your paper! It will help you make sure all points in your essay relate back to the thesis statement.
But the last thing an amazing introduction needs is a weak thesis statement. You don’t want to start a thesis with something like, “In this essay, I will explain…”
Craft a Strong Thesis Statement
The first thing you need to know to write a strong thesis is what question you are answering. If your paper came with an essay prompt, this is the question you must answer in your paper. If not, write your own research question. What are you trying to answer or address in your paper?
Take a look at the wording of the question. Your thesis should not restate word-for-word what the question says; however, you should use similar wording. Make sure you fully understand what the prompt is asking, or else you will end up with an off-topic paper. Ask your teacher for clarification if necessary.
Then you must decide what the major points are in your essay. A good rule of thumb is to have three major points to support your argument, but this is not a hard and fast rule. You might have only two very strong arguments, or you might have five or six.
You can list your points in a comma series in your thesis, but it’s not required, especially if you have more than three points. You should also pay attention to the style of your essay. An expository thesis will use different wording than argumentative and analysis essays.
Here are some examples of strong thesis statements:
- The New Deal established several programs that affect the political, social, and economic institutions in modern-day America.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a moral warning about the deleterious effects of materialism and extreme wealth on individuals and society at large.
- The Civil Rights movement gave way to major cultural shifts, which are seen through books, movies, and music spanning from the 1950s to today.
Reading Shakespeare through a feminist lens allows readers to understand the ways in which women exerted their agency in Elizabethan England.
Aim to have as concise of a thesis as possible. This will likely be one sentence with two main clauses, like the examples above, although you can also use two short sentences.
Your introduction should provide some context about your topic. The context part of your introduction comes before your thesis. You should provide pertinent information about the who, what, when, where, and why in this section.
Don’t go overboard. Provide only the most necessary details. This part of your introduction can range anywhere from one to four sentences. Any more than that, and your readers will get bored. Remember, they want to get to the meat of the essay.
Make sure that all the context you provide relates to your overall essay topic. Keep a narrow focus. If you’re writing about pop culture in the Civil Rights movement, you don’t need information on specific court cases from this era. If you’re writing about the moral message of The Great Gatsby, don’t include details about Fitzgerald’s life.
Hook Your Reader
We’ve worked backward through writing an introduction because the thesis is the most important and the hook is the hardest to write.
A hook should engage your reader, but it shouldn’t read like clickbait! Here are some ways you might open your essay:
- a rhetorical question
- an interesting fact
- a quote
- an anecdote
These are all great ways to start an essay, but there are some things that you should keep in mind. You need to make sure that whatever your hook is, it fits with your essay. It shouldn’t be too broad of a statement. Taking our "pop culture during the Civil Rights movement" example, don’t use a broad quote about equality. Find an excerpt from a song or a quote about poetry during this era.
You should also avoid generalizations like, “Humans are materialistic by nature” or “Someone once said ‘money is the root of all evil.’” The narrower your hook’s focus, the better.
Final Tips for Amazing Introductions
The introduction can be the hardest part to write. Although you should write your thesis first, you can write the rest of your introduction last. This can help you make sure it stays related to your entire essay.
Introductions don’t have to be long, but the length depends on the overall length of your essay. At minimum, an introduction should be three sentences to provide a hook, context, and a thesis statement. For an average-length essay for most high school and college students, four to seven sentences is a good estimator. Again, this isn’t a hard rule. As long it flows well and addresses what you need to, it’s probably a good length.
After you write your essay, read through the entire thing. Make sure the introduction flows nicely with the rest of the paper.
What’s the hardest part of an essay for you to write? Let us know in the comments below.