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Academic Writing

What Goes in an Introduction?

The information you will need to convey to a reader in the introduction to an essay will vary depending on the assignment. However, this guide can give you some basics that should help you know where to begin for a variety of assignments, so that you can work on writing more effective introductions.


Let’s face it: writing an intro is hard. It’s the first impression you will give a reader not only of what your essay will entail, but also of your style and voice as a writer. While we want to give readers an overview of our topic and how we will approach it, we also want to maintain a balance between giving enough information, not giving away too much, and not going too broad in what you cover.


1.     Hook the reader. We want to make the reader want to read our essay. One way to do this is by offering a “hook;” a thought-provoking and interesting lead-in to your paper.

a.     Problem-posing introduction. A popular way to introduce one’s topic to the reader is to begin by demonstrating to your reader the importance of your argument through suggesting that a problem exists that needs further investigating. For example, if you were writing an essay on hunger in central New Jersey, you might begin your essay with an anecdote taken from a local newspaper that shows how prevalent the issue is, and then make the connection between the anecdote and your argument. A problem-posing introduction can lead your reader effectively into your essay by showing the reader that the problem exists, and that you are planning to offer an exploration of the issue and some suggestions for action.

b.     Epitaph. An epitaph is the use of a quote before an introduction, and is a popular way to begin an essay. However, most people use an epitaph as a “crutch,” or as a way to get started. The epitaph is never referenced in the introduction (or mentioned briefly), and perhaps only as an aside in the conclusion. If you decide to use an passage from a text to begin your essay, it’s important to remember that this quote, like others in the essay, needs to have some context for the reader, and that you also need to offer some analysis of the quote and how it connects to your argument in the essay. If you can make an effective discussion of an epitaph, it can make for a compelling hook if you consider it as a mini-claim: the epitaph sets up and makes clear the importance of your essay to the reader.

c.     Anecdote. Sometimes an anecdote that relates to your topic can be a good way to draw the reader into your paper. For example, for an essay on the history of marriage, you might begin by describing a marriage ceremony – even by describing your own or one that you recently attended – or be briefly describing a variety of marriage ceremonies. This way, you make a connection between how marriage ceremonies are currently performed in the United States, and the history that has lead up to these ceremonies. Anecdotes can be effective because they make your topic relatable for the reader.

2.     Start specific, and get even more specific. Imagine that you are writing an essay on current policy approaches to global warming.

a.     Why is the essay that starts, “Since the beginning of time, people have battled the forces of nature” too broad for an essay that wants to focus on global warming?

b.     Why is a sentence such as, “In recent years, the debate over global warming has largely focused on whether or not global warming exists, and whether or not U.S. policies toward carbon emissions need to be modified to more effectively prevent it” a better introduction?


Overall, introductions need to focus on the topic at hand in some way. If we begin an essay with an anecdote, or a problem, or an epitaph, we need to remember to make the connection back to our topic, and make it clear to the reader why he/she is reading the essay, and what he/she can expect in our discussion that follows.

Suggestions for Revising an Introduction

As you write your own essay introduction, expect to begin general; we don't always know where we want to start. But as you revise, here are some things to consider:

1. Revise your original conclusion to become your new introduction.

2. Reread your essay, and revise your thesis to better reflect the focus of the paper.

3. Be more specific in your introductory paragraphs, so that you can cover more ground in less space.

4. Make sure your topic and your thesis are two separate points, so that you can introduce your topic early in the introduction.

5. if you haven't already, consider some ways to help the reader become excited about your topic and interested in reading more.