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Introduction paragraphs

Students often make the mistake of sailing straight into the answering the essay question in the first paragraph without following the convention of beginning with an introduction. Basic introduction paragraphs have a special function. Fortunately, introductions have a recognisable pattern (recipe) you can follow so that you do this correctly.

This workshop:

Key words: background statement, thesis statement, outline statement

About introduction paragraphs

The introduction to an essay is very important. It is the FIRST paragraph that the marker reads and should 'grab' the reader. Introduction paragraphs are usually about 5% of your essay word count. In clearly-written sentences, the writer gives some background on the main topic; explains the academic problem and tells the reader what to expect in the rest of the essay. You can follow a basic pattern (recipe) for writing introduction paragraphs to help you get started. As essay topics and lecturer requirements vary, you will find that 'the recipe' will need to be adjusted to suit the style of essay you will be asked to write.

Try to write your introduction straight from your question analysis, then review it many times while you are writing the body of the essay—this will help you to keep your essay on target (i.e. answering the set question). Note that most introductions generally only include references if definitions are taken from an information source.

Writing pattern for introduction paragraphs

The introduction to an essay is rather like a formal social introduction: How do you do! For example, if an ASO consultant comes to a lecture to do a guest presentation, it would be good practice to be introduced in a meaningful way:

This is Mary Bloggs who is a consultant from the Academic Skills office (relevant info about the person for the job about to be done). Good question analysis is critical to the success of your assignment essay so it is important that you learn a process for analysing a question (statement of purpose). Mary will work with you on analysis of the question you will be answering in your assignment and will show you how to develop an essay plan from your question (a statement about what will be happening in the next hour).

An introductory paragraph is very much tied to question that has been set (see Question analysis workshop) and we use special terms to describe each stage of the introduction.

Exercise 1: Understanding the stages of an introductory paragraph

Click or hover over the introductory paragraph below to see an analysis of its structure and how the introduction matches the set question.

The introduction is usually 'funnel shaped'. It begins with the broadest topic (sentence 1). Then it narrows to the thesis statement or the part of the topic that will be specifically addressed in the essay (sentence 2). The last sentence of the paragraph usually outlines the main points that will be covered in the essay (sentence 3).

Exercise 2: Sentence types in introduction paragraphs

Read the following question and the sample introduction paragraph. The sentences are in the wrong order for an introduction paragraph. Match the statements to the correct sentence type.

Some students who enrol in university studies have difficulties with their writing skills. Discuss the reasons for this problem and critically assess the effectiveness of university intervention writing programs.

1. Because poor writing skills can affect students' success in tertiary education, it is important that writing problems are understood so that university assistance programs are adequate.
Background statement
Thesis statement
Outline statement

2. This essay will identify and examine the main causes underpinning student difficulties with academic writing and consider evidence to evaluate whether programs delivered in universities address this problem.
Background statement
Thesis statement
Outline statement

3. Assignment essays are frequently used as assessment tasks to involve students in research, academic reading and formal essay writing.
Background statement
Thesis statement
Outline statement

Exercise 3: In the right order

These introduction sentences are in the incorrect order. Now that you have identified the sentence types, put them in the correct order (background statement -> thesis statement -> outline statement) for an introduction paragraph.

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