Writing an introduction for an academic essay

In this lecture we will talk about introductions for your term paper. We'll look at what introductions typically include and what they do, that is, what is their function. Let's first look at an introduction that is not strong and does not consider function carefully. This example is from a third year student assignment. The comments are from a teacher. What's the problem here? There seems to be too much background information that the reader can't deal with.

Why is the reader reading this information? The reader doesn't know and is probably quite frustrated when they write, "Where you going?" and "Get to the point!". The teacher seems to finally locate what the text is about but only after about 200 words or so. This introduction doesn't seem effective. So what might an effective introduction look like? There's no such thing as a standard introduction and much depends on the genre of writing. However, for a relatively short academic paper written for coursework some or all of the following might be typical. Definitions of key terms that are unclear in the title. Reference to other writers or research discussing the topic. The purpose or objective of writing and the significance of the subject. Limitations of the discussion.

Summary of the main points that you intend to cover. Sometimes one sentence in your introduction performs more than one function at once. So lets compare a couple of term papers which both have pretty good introductions. In an academic journal the first sentence is crucial in identifying the significance and importance of the topic. Look at this academic journal's first line. Over the years, corporate social responsibility and its effect on an organization's success has been the subject of much academic debate and criticism. In the example of the first term paper the writer tries to recreate something similar.

Here, the fact that CSR is increasingly becoming an imperative suggests that CSR is becoming more widespread and hence is worthy of research and discussion. Note there is no 'hot topic' or 'heated discussion' used as a phrase. Significance in a term paper is less of an issue that it is for an academic journal. You've offen been asked a specific question in a term paper so you have little choice about what to discuss. The second writer therefore goes straight into an explanation of CSR. Note how the writer in the second term paper does say that CSR is gaining popularity in the second sentence, but is not his or her main point.

This is actually an example of a sentence with more than one function. Both introductions from these term papers begin appropriately but the second one gets into the topic faster and therefore might be considered preferable. If both introductions are appropriate what are the typical features that they share? Both term papers refer to other research on the topic and summarize the points they want to cover. Both introductions appear to point out a controversy. Whether the implementation of CSR is beneficial in the first example and the fact there is a conflict between profit and social contribution in the second example. If the controversy is written clearly, there may be no need for the writer to stress "in this essay I will..." as what you're going to write about is already clear. It needs to be stressed though, the problem or controversy that you point out must be very clear and explicit or your reader will not know what it is you are trying to say. Overall then, your introduction should be as brief as possible but with enough in it to orient the reader to what is coming.

The longer the essay the more likely it is that you'll need to explicitly state what the essay will show. And don't forget, your introduction your teacher or professor sees when they're grading your work or the first thing a client sees when looking at your report. They'll be forming an impression of you or your company as they start to read. This means you really need to focus on clarity and being as brief as you can in your introduction.