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Master the Five-Paragraph Essay
The five-paragraph essay is one of the most common composition assignments out there, whether for high school or college students. It is a classic assignment because it presents an arena in which writers can demonstrate their command of language and punctuation, as well as their logic and rhetorical skills. These skills are useful not only for classroom assignments and college application essays, but even in the business world, as employees have to write memorandums and reports, which draw on the same skills.
Mastering the five-paragraph essay is doable, and here are some tips.
Components of a Good Essay
The five-paragraph essay lives up to its name, because is has five paragraphs, as follows: an introductory paragraph that includes a thesis, three body paragraphs, each which includes support and development, and one concluding paragraph.
Its structure sometimes generates other names for the same essay, including three-tier essay, one-three-one, or a hamburger essay. Whether you are writing a cause-and-effect essay, a persuasive essay, an argumentative essay or a compare-and-contrast essay, you should use this same structure and the following specifics.
Keys to Introductory Paragraphs
Any introductory paragraph contains from three to five sentences and sets up the tone and structure for the whole essay. The first sentence should be a so-called hook sentence and grabs the reader. Examples of hook sentences include a quote, a joke, a rhetorical question or a shocking fact. This is the sentence that will keep your readers reading. Draw them in.
What Makes a Thesis Statement
The last sentence should be your thesis statement, which is the argument you are going to make in the essay. It is the sentence that contains the main point of the essay, or what you are trying to prove. It should be your strongest claim in the whole essay, telling the reader what the paper is about. You should be able to look back at it to keep your argument focused. The other sentences in this paragraph should be general information that links the first sentence and the thesis.
Content of Supporting Paragraphs
Each of the next three paragraphs follows the same general structure of the introductory paragraph. That is, they have one introduction sentence, evidence and arguments in three to five sentences, and a conclusion. Each one of them should define and defend your thesis sentence in the introduction.
The first body paragraph should be dedicated to proving your most powerful point. The second body paragraph can contain your weakest point, because the third body paragraph can, and should, support another strong argument.
Concluding Paragraph Tips
Your concluding paragraph is important, and can be difficult. Ideally, you can begin by restating your thesis. Then you can recall or restate all three to five of your supporting arguments. You should summarize each main point. If you have made similar arguments multiple times, join those together in one sentence.
Essentially, in the concluding or fifth paragraph, you should restate what your preceding paragraphs were about and draw a conclusion. It should answer the question: So what? Even if the answer seems obvious to you, write it down so that your reader can continue to easily follow your thinking process, and hopefully, agree with you.
A Note on Compare and Contrast
Let’s look a little more closely at the compare-and-contrast essay, which is a very common assignment. It can be a confusing one due to the terms used. Comparing two items is to show how they are alike. Contrasting two items is to show how they are different. One way to approach this essay is to make a grid for yourself that compares or contrasts two items before you start writing. Then, write about those characteristics. Do not try to write about both. The name of the essay is actually misleading.
Keep these pointers in mind when you need to write a five-paragraph essay, and your end result will be clear in its argument, leading your reader to the right conclusion. Often, that conclusion is to agree with you, and who doesn’t like to be right?
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“A relevant and coherent beginning is perhaps your best single guarantee that the essay as a whole will achieve its object.” Gordon Taylor, A Student's Writing Guide
Your introduction is the first thing your marker will read and should be approximately 10% of your word count. Within the first minute they should know if your essay is going to be a good one or not. An introduction has several components but the most important of these are the last two we give here. You need to show the reader what your position is and how you are going to argue the case to get there so that the essay becomes your answer to the question rather than just an answer.
What an introduction should include:
- A little basic background about the key subject area (just enough to put your essay into context, no more or you'll bore the reader).
- Explanation of how you are defining any key terms . Confusion on this could be your undoing.
- A road-map of how your essay will answer the question. What is your overall argument and how will you develop it?
- A confirmation of your position .
It is good to start with a statement that fixes your essay topic and focus in a wider context so that the reader is sure of where they are within the field. This is a very small part of the introduction though - do not fall into the trap of writing a whole paragraph that is nothing but background information.
Beware though, this only has to be a little bit wider, not completely universal. That is, do not start with something like "In the whole field of nursing...." or "Since man could write, he has always...". Instead, simply situate the area that you are writing about within a slightly bigger area. For example, you could start with a general statement about a topic, outlining some key issues but explain that your essay will focus on only one. Here is an example:
The ability to communicate effectively and compassionately is a key skill within nursing. Communication is about more than being able to speak confidently and clearly, it is about effective listening (Singh, 2019), the use of gesture, body language and tone (Adebe et al., 2016) and the ability to tailor language and messaging to particular situations (Smith & Jones, 2015). This essay will explore the importance of non-verbal communication ...
The example introduction at the bottom of this page also starts with similar, short background information.
Defining key terms
This does not mean quoting dictionary definitions - we all have access to dictionary.com with a click or two. There are many words we use in academic work that can have multiple or nuanced definitions. You have to write about how you are defining any potentially ambiguous terms in relation to your essay topic. This is really important for your reader, as it will inform them how you are using such words in the context of your essay and prevent confusion or misunderstanding.
Stating your case (road mapping)
The main thing an introduction will do is...introduce your essay! That means you need to tell the reader what your conclusion is and how you will get there.
There is no need to worry about *SPOILER ALERTS* - this is not a detective novel you can give away the ending! Sorry, but building up suspense is just going to irritate the reader rather than eventually satisfy. Simply outline how your main arguments (give them in order) lead to your conclusion. In American essay guides you will see something described as the ‘thesis statement’ - although we don't use this terminology in the UK, it is still necessary to state in your introduction what the over-arching argument of your essay will be. Think of it as the mega-argument , to distinguish it from the mini-arguments you make in each paragraph. Look at the example introduction at the bottom of this page which includes both of these elements.
Confirming your position
To some extent, this is covered in your roadmap (above), but it is so important, it deserves some additional attention here. Setting out your position is an essential component of all essays. Brick et al. (2016:143) even suggest
"The purpose of an essay is to present a clear position and defend it"
It is, however, very difficult to defend a position if you have not made it clear in the first place. This is where your introduction comes in. In stating your position, you are ultimately outlining the answer to the question. You can then make the rest of your essay about providing the evidence that supports your answer. As such, if you make your position clear, you will find all subsequent paragraphs in your essay easier to write and join together. As you have already told your reader where the essay is going, you can be explicit in how each paragraph contributes to your mega-argument.
In establishing your position and defending it, you are ultimately engaging in scholarly debate. This is because your positions are supported by academic evidence and analysis. It is in your analysis of the academic evidence that should lead your reader to understand your position. Once again - this is only possible if your introduction has explained your position in the first place.
An example introduction
(Essay title = Evaluate the role of stories as pedagogical tools in higher education)
Stories have been an essential communication technique for thousands of years and although teachers and parents still think they are important for educating younger children, they have been restricted to the role of entertainment for most of us since our teenage years. This essay will claim that stories make ideal pedagogical tools, whatever the age of the student, due to their unique position in cultural and cognitive development. To argue this, it will consider three main areas: firstly, the prevalence of stories across time and cultures and how the similarity of story structure suggests an inherent understanding of their form which could be of use to academics teaching multicultural cohorts when organising lecture material; secondly, the power of stories to enable listeners to personally relate to the content and how this increases the likelihood of changing thoughts, behaviours and decisions - a concept that has not gone unnoticed in some fields, both professional and academic; and finally, the way that different areas of the brain are activated when reading, listening to or watching a story unfold, which suggests that both understanding and ease of recall, two key components of learning, are both likely to be increased . Each of these alone could make a reasoned argument for including more stories within higher education teaching – taken together, this argument is even more compelling.
Key: Background information (scene setting) Stating the case (r oad map) Confirming a position (in two places). Note in this introduction there was no need to define key terms.
Brick, J., Herke, M., and Wong, D., (2016) Academic Culture, A students guide to studying at university, 3rd edition. Victoria, Australia: Palgrave Macmillan.
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How to write an essay: Introduction
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An in troduction generally does three things. The first part is usually a general comment that shows the reader why the topic is important, gets their interest, and leads them into the topic. It isn’t actually part of your argument. The next part of the introduction is the thesis statement . This is your response to the question; your final answer. It is probably the most important part of the introduction. Finally, the introduction tells the reader what they can expect in the essay body. This is where you briefly outline your arguments .
Here is an example of the introduction to the question - Discuss how media can influence children. Use specific examples to support your view.
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- How to write an essay introduction | 4 steps & examples
How to Write an Essay Introduction | 4 Steps & Examples
Published on February 4, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 23, 2023.
A good introduction paragraph is an essential part of any academic essay . It sets up your argument and tells the reader what to expect.
The main goals of an introduction are to:
- Catch your reader’s attention.
- Give background on your topic.
- Present your thesis statement —the central point of your essay.
This introduction example is taken from our interactive essay example on the history of Braille.
The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.
Table of contents
Step 1: hook your reader, step 2: give background information, step 3: present your thesis statement, step 4: map your essay’s structure, step 5: check and revise, more examples of essay introductions, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about the essay introduction.
Your first sentence sets the tone for the whole essay, so spend some time on writing an effective hook.
Avoid long, dense sentences—start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.
The hook should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of the topic you’re writing about and why it’s interesting. Avoid overly broad claims or plain statements of fact.
Examples: Writing a good hook
Take a look at these examples of weak hooks and learn how to improve them.
- Braille was an extremely important invention.
- The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.
The first sentence is a dry fact; the second sentence is more interesting, making a bold claim about exactly why the topic is important.
- The internet is defined as “a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities.”
- The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education.
Avoid using a dictionary definition as your hook, especially if it’s an obvious term that everyone knows. The improved example here is still broad, but it gives us a much clearer sense of what the essay will be about.
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a famous book from the nineteenth century.
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement.
Instead of just stating a fact that the reader already knows, the improved hook here tells us about the mainstream interpretation of the book, implying that this essay will offer a different interpretation.
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Next, give your reader the context they need to understand your topic and argument. Depending on the subject of your essay, this might include:
- Historical, geographical, or social context
- An outline of the debate you’re addressing
- A summary of relevant theories or research about the topic
- Definitions of key terms
The information here should be broad but clearly focused and relevant to your argument. Don’t give too much detail—you can mention points that you will return to later, but save your evidence and interpretation for the main body of the essay.
How much space you need for background depends on your topic and the scope of your essay. In our Braille example, we take a few sentences to introduce the topic and sketch the social context that the essay will address:
Now it’s time to narrow your focus and show exactly what you want to say about the topic. This is your thesis statement —a sentence or two that sums up your overall argument.
This is the most important part of your introduction. A good thesis isn’t just a statement of fact, but a claim that requires evidence and explanation.
The goal is to clearly convey your own position in a debate or your central point about a topic.
Particularly in longer essays, it’s helpful to end the introduction by signposting what will be covered in each part. Keep it concise and give your reader a clear sense of the direction your argument will take.
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As you research and write, your argument might change focus or direction as you learn more.
For this reason, it’s often a good idea to wait until later in the writing process before you write the introduction paragraph—it can even be the very last thing you write.
When you’ve finished writing the essay body and conclusion , you should return to the introduction and check that it matches the content of the essay.
It’s especially important to make sure your thesis statement accurately represents what you do in the essay. If your argument has gone in a different direction than planned, tweak your thesis statement to match what you actually say.
To polish your writing, you can use something like a paraphrasing tool .
You can use the checklist below to make sure your introduction does everything it’s supposed to.
Checklist: Essay introduction
My first sentence is engaging and relevant.
I have introduced the topic with necessary background information.
I have defined any important terms.
My thesis statement clearly presents my main point or argument.
Everything in the introduction is relevant to the main body of the essay.
You have a strong introduction - now make sure the rest of your essay is just as good.
- Literary analysis
This introduction to an argumentative essay sets up the debate about the internet and education, and then clearly states the position the essay will argue for.
The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts is on the rise, and its role in learning is hotly debated. For many teachers who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its critical benefits for students and educators—as a uniquely comprehensive and accessible information source; a means of exposure to and engagement with different perspectives; and a highly flexible learning environment.
This introduction to a short expository essay leads into the topic (the invention of the printing press) and states the main point the essay will explain (the effect of this invention on European society).
In many ways, the invention of the printing press marked the end of the Middle Ages. The medieval period in Europe is often remembered as a time of intellectual and political stagnation. Prior to the Renaissance, the average person had very limited access to books and was unlikely to be literate. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century allowed for much less restricted circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.
This introduction to a literary analysis essay , about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein , starts by describing a simplistic popular view of the story, and then states how the author will give a more complex analysis of the text’s literary devices.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale. Arguably the first science fiction novel, its plot can be read as a warning about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, and in popular culture representations of the character as a “mad scientist”, Victor Frankenstein represents the callous, arrogant ambition of modern science. However, far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to gradually transform our impression of Frankenstein, portraying him in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.
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Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:
- An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
- Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
- A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.
The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .
The “hook” is the first sentence of your essay introduction . It should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of why it’s interesting.
To write a good hook, avoid overly broad statements or long, dense sentences. Try to start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.
The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.
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Writing an introduction & conclusion
About these study tips.
Improve your essays by following these tips on writing a good introduction and conclusion. This guide includes key information your introduction and conclusion should contain and examples of what this means in practice.
Your introduction is important as it sets the tone of your essay. It should break down what the essay is about and summarise what the main body of the essay will cover. One method that you can use to write your introduction is the What, Why and How approach.
What is the essay about? This is where you explain what the purpose and focus of the essay is. Often you will be able to find this information in your assignment brief or in the essay question.
Why is the topic of the essay being discussed? This is where you should consider why the topic is of relevance and importance within your field. This could also be classed as a rationale for your essay.
How will you approach the essay? This is where you should outline the main points that you would discuss within the essay.
When using this approach, you do not necessarily have to present it in this order. It depends on what makes the most sense for the topic that you are exploring.
Example of an introduction
Examine the impact of physical inactivity on mental health (1000 words)
What: This essay will review the relationship between physical inactivity and mental health.
Why: The UK government recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week and two days of strengthening activities (Public Health England, 2019). However, 39% of adults are failing to meet the recommendations for physical activity (British Heart Foundation, 2017). A lack of physical activity increases the risk of individuals being affected by mental health and physical health conditions, with one in six UK deaths being attributed to physical inactivity (Public Health England, 2019).
How: This essay will critically discuss the impact of physical inactivity on depression, anxiety, self-esteem and stress. The essay will then go on to provide recommendations to promote and increase physical activity.
Your conclusion gives the reader a summary of the ideas you covered in your assignment. At this point, you should not be introducing any new ideas or information.
In your conclusion, you should:
- Summarise each of your points from the main body of your essay.
- Summarise the main conclusions based upon the evidence you used.
- Link your conclusions back to the title of your essay – if you were asked a question, make sure that you have shown how you have answered it.
You might be asked to:
- Offer recommendations and/or solutions.
- Comment on broader implications for this area of study or research.
Example of a conclusion
Summary of the essay: This essay has critically examined the relationship between physical inactivity on mental health. The impact of physical inactivity on depression, stress, self-esteem and anxiety has been discussed.
Main conclusion: Through the review of literature, it has been determined that a lack of physical activity can negatively affect mental health and in some cases, worsen symptoms.
Further research and recommendations: It is suggested that health education should be advertised to individuals susceptible to physical and mental health conditions. It is also recommended that healthy living programmes are integrated into workplaces and other high stress environments.
Tips for writing your introduction and conclusion
Use it as a signposting opportunity If your introduction and conclusion are clear enough, it should direct the reader through the main body easily.
Avoid being repetitive Whilst an introduction and conclusion cover similar areas, they are not the same. They both serve different purposes; therefore, they require their own attention.
10% of your word count Unless you have been given a specific word count for your introduction or conclusion, each section should only be 10% of your word count (20% in total). The remaining 80% of the word count should be for your main body.
Avoid going into too much detail You do not want to take anything away from your main body, where you will get the majority of your marks.
Make sure that you are only mentioning relevant points If you are writing five hundred words in your introduction and your essay is 1000 words, then you may be going into too much detail and including irrelevant information.
British Heart Foundation (2017) Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour. Available via the British Heart Foundation website (Accessed: 13 December 2019).
Public Health England (2019) Everybody active, every day: An evidence-based approach to physical activity. Available via the government website (Accessed: 13 December 2019).
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How to Write a Great Introduction : The Basics
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How to write a great introduction: the basics.
An introduction is the first paragraph in an essay. To write an introduction, you must:
- Only begin writing after you have completed your research.
- Answer the essay question with your thesis statement.
- Preview the topics you will discuss in the essay.
- Provide any brief relevant background information to the subject (optional).
What Does an Introduction Have to Do?
In order for the first paragraph of an essay to actually be a proper introduction (in other words, for it to fulfil the requirements of a proper introduction), it must do two things.
1. Answer the essay question (i.e. include a thesis statement) 2. List the topics you will discuss (i.e. provide a preview of the essay)
What Is a Thesis Statement?
A thesis statement is the sentence (or sometimes sentences) that tells the reader what the position of the author is. When you are given an essay question, the thesis statement is your clear and concise answer to the question.
For example, if an essay question was ‘What were the causes of the Holocaust in World War II?’ then your thesis statement might be something like:
‘There were many complicated and interrelated causes for the Holocaust, including the state of Germany’s economy, the ideology of the National Socialists, and Hitler’s personal racism.’
A ‘thesis’ is an argument, so the thesis statement indicates what the argument of the essay is, or what argument (or point of view) the author of the essay will be presenting to readers.
What Is an Essay Preview?
An introduction must also introduce all the main points that the essay will discuss. Argumentative essays must provide evidence to support the thesis statement. This means you have to provide proof to back up your answer to the essay question.
So, if your essay is on the causes of the Holocaust, and your essay is going to discuss six main causes (two paragraphs on each), then your introduction must list (or introduce) each of these six main causes.
An essay map or preview is just a list of topics that your essay will discuss. Usually, this list is linked to your thesis statement, or comes straight after it. And don’t forget to list the topics in the order you will discuss them in your essay!
You can read more on this topic, including how to write a more sophisticated introduction , on our blog .
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What you are intending to do
Towards the end of the introduction you need to tell your reader exactly what you are going to cover. The way in which you do this will depend on the type of essay you are writing and what you have been asked to do. You may be required to give a point of view and often the stance ( point of view) of the essay is shown in the introduction. You may, for example, provide your argument and then reasons for it in a statement in your introduction. For example: This essay argues that television advertising plays a substantial part in teenage obesity as it targets young people and markets fast food. In some cases, you are not required to provide an opinion. It is still a good idea to explain what you intend to do in the essay.
The essay outline
It is often a good idea to explain briefly at the end of your introduction the stages of your essay. This is known as the outline . An outline doesn't have to say first this will be done and then this... but it can explain the different aspects you are going to be looking at within your writing. The good thing about an outline is it is like a road map for your reader. It shows how you are going to travel through your essay until you reach your conclusion .
Background information to your topic
In order to help your reader understand what you are going to be talking about, and get them interested, it is a good idea to give some sort of background to your essay topic. Background information could include some general information about your topic. You should aim to give enough information so that your reader understands what the topic is about. In an introduction you do not go in to much depth, you save your main points and the discussion of them for the main body of your essay.
The specific aspect you will be looking at
Once you have provided some background information to get your reader interested, you can say exactly what your essay is going to cover. This is known as the specific aspect or question that you will focus on. You have to show in this part of your essay why the topic you are writing about is important.
Another thing that is commonly found in an essay introduction is your limitations statement . If you are writing about a very large topic it will not be possible for you to discuss everything about that topic in your essay as you have a word count. With this in mind we often state the exact focus of what we are going to be writing about. This could include things like the period of time you are going to be discussing, the geographical area etc. For example if you were writing an essay in which the topic was obesity your limitations might include stating which element of obesity you were going to talk about, which type of people with obesity you would be discussing , the country you would focus on when looking at obese people and so on.. Limitations show that you have thought carefully about what you can and can't do in your essay and they make it easier for the reader to see what is going to be focused on.
When to write your introduction
Although the introduction is the first thing your reader will read, this does not mean you have to write it first. Many students find it is easier to put together the main body of their essay first and then their conclusion. When the whole of the main body and conclusion have been done this can make it easier for you to write a clear introduction. When you write the introduction is up to you.
Key points to remember
The length of your introduction will depend on your word count.
You should view your introduction like a satellite navigation system for your reader, they should be able to see the direction your essay is going in.
You should make things easier for your reader by explaining things they may not understand and include some general background information to engage them.
Make the purpose of your essay clear.
Don't be too general - provide some general information but also make it clear what aspect of the topic will be discussed in the essay.
Length of introduction
Many students think there is a set number of words to write in an introduction but this is not the case. The length of your introduction will depend on the length of your essay . It is common to write around two paragraphs for an introduction. You do not want your introduction to be too long otherwise it will be giving details that you should be including in the main body of your text. Lengthy introductions could also confuse your reader or bore them. You need to make sure you have provided some background, shown why the particular topic you are writing about is important , discussed any limitations , shown what exactly you are going to do in your essay and how you are going to do it and provide a basic outline. Once you have completed this information you can move on to the main body of your essay.
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How to build an essay
- Body paragraphs
Preparing an outline
You are ready to write an essay after you have done these steps:
- Identified all the components that you must cover so that you address the essay question or prompt
- Conducted your initial research and decided on your tentative position and line of argument
- Created a preliminary outline for your essay that presents the information logically.
Most essays follow a similar structure, including an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, as shown in the diagram below.
Click on the plus icons for more information.
Writing an introduction
The purpose of the introduction is to give your reader a clear idea of what your essay will cover. It should provide some background information on the specific problem or issue you are addressing, and should clearly outline your answer. Depending on your faculty or school, ‘your answer’ may be referred to as your position, contention, thesis or main argument . Whatever term is used, this is essentially your response to the essay question, which is based on the research that you have undertaken or the readings you have analysed.
An essay is not like a mystery novel which keeps the reader in suspense; it should not slowly reveal the argument to the reader. Instead, the contention and supporting arguments are usually stated in the introduction.
When writing an introduction, you should typically use a general to specific structure. This means that you introduce the particular problem or topic the essay will address in a general sense to provide the context before you narrow down to your particular position and line of argument.
Key elements of an introduction
Click on each of the elements to reveal more.
Provide some background information and context.
The introduction usually starts by providing some background information about your particular topic, so the reader understands the key problem being addressed and why it is an issue worth writing about. However, it is important that this is brief and that you only include information that is directly relevant to the topic.
This might also be an appropriate place to introduce the reader to key terms and provide definitions, if required.
Don’t be tempted to start your essay with a grand generalisation, for instance: ‘War has always been a problem for humanity….’, or ‘Since the beginning of time…’. Instead, make sure that your initial sentence relates directly to the problem, question or issue highlighted by the essay topic.
Limit the scope of your discussion
Setting the parameters of the essay is important. You can’t possibly cover everything on a topic - and you are not expected to - so you need to tell your reader how you have chosen to narrow the focus of your essay.
State your position / contention
State your position on the topic (also referred to as your main argument , or contention , or thesis statement ). Make sure that you are directly answering the question (and the whole essay question if there is more than one part to it).
"Stating your position" can be a single sentence answer to the essay question but will often include 2-3 sentences explaining the answer in more detail.
Outline the structure or main supporting points of your essay
This usually involves providing details of the most important points you are going to make which support your argument.
 Business leadership has been described as the ‘ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute to the effectiveness and success of the organisations of which they are members’ (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman & Gupta, 2004, p. 63). Whether this ability is something a person is born with, or whether it is something that a person can learn, has been the subject of considerable debate. Kambil (2010) has outlined two categories of leadership attributes that help to frame the discussion: 'traits' (mostly innate) and 'skills' which can be developed through experience or training.  This essay will draw on the trait theory of leadership to argue that that leaders are first born, but then must be made.  While good business leaders share certain traits that are essential to success, including ‘curiosity, courage, perseverance, personal ethics and confidence’ (Kambil, 2010, p.43), they also need learnable skills, such as communication, negotiation and conflict resolution, that are only developed through practice. A potential leader should develop their natural traits as well as learn and practise skills which will help them to persuade, equip and inspire others to realise their vision.
Legend:  Background / Context ;  Position / Contention ;  Structure or main point of essay
Check your understanding View
Key features of an introduction.
Read the paragraph in the accordion below and see if you can identify the key features of an introduction. This is an introduction written in response to the essay question: 'Can Rome's actions towards Carthage be described as defensive imperialism?'
Writing a body paragraph
The body of the essay is where you fully develop your argument. Each body paragraph should contain one key idea or claim, which is supported by relevant examples and evidence from the body of scholarly work on your topic (i.e. academic books and journal articles).
Together, the body paragraphs form the building blocks of your argument.
How do I structure paragraphs?
The TEECL structure provides an effective way of organising a paragraph. TEECL stands for Topic sentence, Explanation, Evidence, Comment, and Link. You may find it helpful to add C for Comment before Link. A paragraph structured this way would contain the following:
- Topic sentence – the first sentence in a body paragraph that tells the reader what the main idea or claim of the paragraph will be.
- Explanation – Explain what you mean in greater detail.
- Evidence – Provide evidence to support your idea or claim. To do this, refer to your research. This may include: case studies, statistics, documentary evidence, academic books or journal articles. Remember that all evidence will require appropriate citation.
- Comment – Consider the strengths and limitations of the evidence and examples that you have presented. Explain how your evidence supports your claim (i.e. how does it ‘prove’ your topic sentence?).
- Link – Summarise the main idea of the paragraph, and make clear how this paragraph supports your overall argument.
 One of the main obstacles to reaching international consensus on climate change action is the ongoing debate over which countries should shoulder the burden.  Because the developed world has historically been responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, it has been argued that they should reduce emissions and allow developed nations to prioritise development over environmental concerns (Vinuales, 2011).  The notion of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ (CBDR) was formalised in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (UNFCCC, 1992). Article 3.1 explicitly states 'Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof' (p. 4).  However, because CBDR outlines a principle and not an actionable plan it has remained problematic. For example, it does not stipulate the extent to which, under the principle of CBDR, developing nations should be exempt from specific emissions targets. This has continued to be a point of contention in global negotiations on climate change, with developed countries such as the USA arguing that developed nations should do more to reduce emissions (Klein et. al., 2017).  Fairness and equity need to be pursued in reaching a global agreement on climate change, but transforming this into an actionable strategy is problematic.
Legend :  Topic sentence  Explanation  Evidence / Example  Comment  Link
What is missing?
The paragraph below was written in response to the essay question: '"Leaders are made rather than born." Do you agree or disagree? Provide reasons for your opinion.'
Read the paragraph then answer the question that follows.
The function of a conclusion is to draw together the main ideas discussed in the body of the essay. However, a good conclusion does more than that.
You may choose to also:
- reflect on the broader significance of the topic
- discuss why it is difficult to arrive at a definitive answer to the question posed
- raise other questions that could be considered in a subsequent essay
- make a prediction or a caution or a recommendation about what will happen to the phenomenon under investigation
When writing a conclusion, a specific to general structure is usually recommended. Yes, this is opposite to the introduction! Begin by re-stating or re-emphasising your position on the topic, then summarise your line of argument and key points. Finish off by commenting on the significance of the issue, making a prediction about the future of the issue, or a recommendation to deal with the problem at hand.
 No single theory can adequately explain the relationship between age and crime, and the debate over their correlation is ongoing. Instead, each theory provides valuable insight into a particular dimension of age and crime.  The emergence of the criminal propensity versus criminal career debate in the 1980s demonstrated the importance of both arguments. It is now believed that the age-crime curve created by Gottfredson and Hirschi is a good basic indicator for the age-crime relationship. However, the criminal career position has stood up to stringent empirical testing, and has formed an integral part of developmental theories such as Thornberry’s interactional theory.  These theories provide important insight into the complex relationship between age and crime, but, more than this, are useful for developing strategies for delinquency and crime prevention.
Legend :  Specific contention ;  Specific summary of main points ;  Broader and general significance
Home > Griffith Health > Learning and Teaching > TTP Program > Writing Essay Introductions
Writing Essay Introductions
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The video presentation for this session outlines the 5 Golden Rules for writing an essay introduction then takes you through an example introduction paragraph to provide a practical demonstration of each rule. Additional resources are also provided to guide and support you with writing introductions, including a model of the 5 Golden Rules and an annotated exemplar of the example showcased in the video (both available for download) in addition to useful links to other web resources.
Below you will find two downloadable resources to help guide you when writing essay Introductions. The first is a model of the ' 5 Golden Rules for Writing Essay Introductions ' and the second is an annotated exemplar of the sample Introduction outlined in the video which demonstrates each of the 5 Golden Rules in action!
- Download - 5 Golden Rules for Writing Essay Introduction
- Writing Essay Introductions - ANNOTATED EXEMPLAR
Here are some useful weblinks to online resources which will help you write an essay introduction. The first link takes you to an Academic Phrasebank with a huge range of 'sentence starters' to help when you need to introduce work. The second link takes you to the essay writing tips on the Griffith Health Writing and Referencing Guide. The third link directs you to Library resources that will help you with writing your assignments.
Manchester Academic Phrasebank – Introducing Work
Griffith Health Writing and Referencing Guide – Writing Your Essay – The Introduction
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Write an introduction that interests the reader and effectively outlines your arguments.
Every essay or assignment you write must begin with an introduction. It might be helpful to think of the introduction as an inverted pyramid. In such a pyramid, you begin by presenting a broad introduction to the topic and end by making a more focused point about that topic in your thesis statement. The introduction has three essential parts, each of which serves a particular purpose.
The first part is the "attention-grabber." You need to interest your reader in your topic so that they will want to continue reading. You also want to do that in a way that is fresh and original. For example, although it may be tempting to begin your essay with a dictionary definition, this technique is stale because it has been widely overused. Instead, you might try one of the following techniques:
Offer a surprising statistic that conveys something about the problem to be addressed in the paper.
Perhaps you can find an interesting quote that nicely sums up your argument.
Use rhetorical questions that place your readers in a different situation in order to get them thinking about your topic in a new way.
If you have a personal connection to the topic, you might use an anecdote or story to get your readers emotionally involved.
For example, if you were writing a paper about drunk drivers, you might begin with a compelling story about someone whose life was forever altered by a drunk driver: "At eighteen, Michelle had a lifetime of promise in front of her. Attending college on a track scholarship, she was earning good grades and making lots of friends. Then one night her life was forever altered…"
From this attention grabbing opener, you would need to move to the next part of the introduction, in which you offer some relevant background on the specific purpose of the essay. This section helps the reader see why you are focusing on this topic and makes the transition to the main point of your paper. For this reason, this is sometimes called the "transitional" part of the introduction.
In the example above, the anecdote about Michelle might capture the reader's attention, but the essay is not really about Michelle. The attention grabber might get the reader thinking about how drunk driving can destroy people's lives, but it doesn't introduce the topic of the need for stricter drunk driving penalties (or whatever the real focus of the paper might be).
Therefore, you need to bridge the gap between your attention-grabber and your thesis with some transitional discussion. In this part of your introduction, you narrow your focus of the topic and explain why the attention-grabber is relevant to the specific area you will be discussing. You should introduce your specific topic and provide any necessary background information that the reader would need in order to understand the problem that you are presenting in the paper. You can also define any key terms the reader might not know.
Continuing with the example above, we might move from the narrative about Michelle to a short discussion of the scope of the problem of drunk drivers. We might say, for example: "Michelle's story is not isolated. Each year XX (number) of lives are lost due to drunk-driving accidents." You could follow this with a short discussion of how serious the problem is and why the reader should care about this problem. This effectively moves the reader from the story about Michelle to your real topic, which might be the need for stricter penalties for drinking and driving.
Finally, the introduction must conclude with a clear statement of the overall point you want to make in the paper. This is called your "thesis statement." It is the narrowest part of your inverted pyramid, and it states exactly what your essay will be arguing.
In this scenario, your thesis would be the point you are trying to make about drunk driving. You might be arguing for better enforcement of existing laws, enactment of stricter penalties, or funding for education about drinking and driving. Whatever the case, your thesis would clearly state the main point your paper is trying to make. Here's an example: "Drunk driving laws need to include stricter penalties for those convicted of drinking under the influence of alcohol." Your essay would then go on to support this thesis with the reasons why stricter penalties are needed.
In addition to your thesis, your introduction can often include a "road map" that explains how you will defend your thesis. This gives the reader a general sense of how you will organize the different points that follow throughout the essay. Sometimes the "map" is incorporated right into the thesis statement, and sometimes it is a separate sentence. Below is an example of a thesis with a "map."
"Because drunk driving can result in unnecessary and premature deaths, permanent injury for survivors, and billions of dollars spent on medical expenses, drunk drivers should face stricter penalties for driving under the influence." The underlined words here are the "map" that show your reader the main points of support you will present in the essay. They also serve to set up the paper's arrangement because they tell the order in which you will present these topics.
In constructing an introduction, make sure the introduction clearly reflects the goal or purpose of the assignment and that the thesis presents not only the topic to be discussed but also states a clear position about that topic that you will support and develop throughout the paper. In shorter papers, the introduction is usually only one or two paragraphs, but it can be several paragraphs in a longer paper.
For Longer Papers
Although for short essays the introduction is usually just one paragraph, longer argument or research papers may require a more substantial introduction. The first paragraph might consist of just the attention grabber and some narrative about the problem. Then you might have one or more paragraphs that provide background on the main topics of the paper and present the overall argument, concluding with your thesis statement.
Below is a sample of an introduction that is less effective because it doesn't apply the principles discussed above.
An Ineffective Introduction
Everyone uses math during their entire lives. Some people use math on the job as adults, and others used math when they were kids. The topic I have chosen to write about for this paper is how I use math in my life both as a child and as an adult. I use math to balance my checkbook and to budget my monthly expenses as an adult. When I was a child, I used math to run a lemonade stand. I will be talking more about these things in my paper.
In the introduction above, the opening line does not serve to grab the reader's attention. Instead, it is a statement of an obvious and mundane fact. The second sentence is also not very specific. A more effective attention grabber may point out a specific, and perhaps surprising, instance when adults use math in their daily lives, in order to show the reader why this is such as important topic to consider.
Next the writer "announces" her topic by stating, "The topic I have chosen to write about…" Although it is necessary to introduce your specific topic, you want to avoid making generic announcements that reference your assignment. What you have chosen to write about will be evident as your reader moves through the writing. Instead, you might try to make the reader see why this is such an important topic to discuss.
Finally, this sample introduction is lacking a clear thesis statement. The writer concludes with a vague statement: "I will be talking more about these things in my paper." This kind of statement may be referred to as a "purpose statement," in which the writer states the topics that will be discussed. However, it is not yet working as a thesis statement because it fails to make an argument or claim about those topics. A thesis statement for this essay would clearly tell the reader what "things" you will be discussing and what point you will make about them.
Now let's look at how the above principles can be incorporated more effectively into an introduction.
A More Effective Introduction
"A penny saved is a penny earned," the well-known quote by Ben Franklin, is an expression I have never quite understood, because to me it seems that any penny—whether saved or spent—is still earned no matter what is done with it. My earliest memories of earning and spending money are when I was ten years old when I would sell Dixie cups of too-sweet lemonade and bags of salty popcorn to the neighborhood kids. From that early age, I learned the importance of money management and the math skills involved. I learned that there were four quarters in a dollar, and if I bought a non-food item—like a handful of balloons—that I was going to need to come up with six cents for every dollar I spent. I also knew that Kool-Aid packets were 25 cents each or that I could save money and get five of them for a dollar. Today, however, money management involves knowing more than which combinations of 10-cent, five-cent, and one-penny candies I can get for a dollar. Proper money management today involves knowing interest rates, balancing checkbooks, paying taxes, estimating my paycheck, and budgeting to make ends meet from month-to-month.
In the first line the writer uses a well-known quotation to introduce her topic.
The writer follows this "attention-grabber" with specific examples of earning and spending money. Compare how the specific details of the second example paint a better picture for the reader about what the writer learned about money as a child, rather than this general statement: "As a child, I used math to run a lemonade stand." In the first introduction, this statement leaves the reader to guess how the writer used math, but in the second introduction we can actually see what the child did and what she learned.
Notice, too, how the reader makes the transition from the lessons of childhood to the real focus of her paper in this sentence: "Today, however, money management involves knowing…."
This transition sentence effectively connects the opening narrative to the main point of the essay, her thesis: "Proper money management today involves knowing interest rates, balancing checkbooks, paying taxes, estimating my paycheck, and budgeting to make ends meet from month-to-month ." This thesis also maps out for the reader the main points (underlined here) that will be discussed in the essay.
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The introduction to an essay has three primary objectives:
- Explain the context of the essay
- Give the answer : the response to the question or the overall focus of the essay (the thesis statement)
- Describe the structure and organisation of the essay
These aims can be given more or less emphasis depending on the length and type of essay. In a very short essay (less than 1000 words), for example, there is not much room to give a full and detailed context or structure. A longer essay has room for greater detail.
Essays are usually written for an intelligent but uninformed audience, so begin with some context: the background of the topic, the topic scope, and any essential definitions.
- Introductions often begin with a broad opening statement that establishes the subject matter and background. Don't make it too broad (“Since time began…”), but identify the relevant topic and sub-topic (e.g. human resource management, early childhood development, animal behaviour…).
- To establish the scope, answer basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? Is the essay limited to a particular time period, a particular group of people, a particular country?
- Definitions are often established after the introduction, so only include them here if they are absolutely essential.
Answer / focus
The most important part of the introduction is the response to the question: the thesis statement. Thesis statements are discussed in detail here: thesis statements .
An introduction often ends on the thesis statement. It begins with a broad statement and gradually narrows down until it directly addresses the question:
This order of introduction elements is not set in stone, however. Sometimes the thesis statement is followed by a breakdown of the essay's structure and organisation. Ultimately, you must adapt the order to suit the needs of each particular essay.
Strong introductions tell the reader how the upcoming body paragraphs will be organised.
This can be as easy as outlining the major points that your essay will make on the way to the conclusion. You don't need to go into much detail in the introduction: just signal the major ‘landmarks.’
It can help to identify how all of the paragraphs are organised:
- Do the paragraphs deal with the issue from earliest to most recent (chronological)?
- Are the paragraphs grouped by broader themes (thematic)?
- Does the essay answer several related questions one after the other (sequential)?
- Do the paragraphs describe two elements and them compare them (contrasting)?
The essay will be much more readable once the reader knows what to expect from the body paragraphs.
See sample essay 1 and sample essay 2 for model introductions.
Page authorised by Director - Centre for Learner Success Last updated on 25 October, 2012
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