How to Write an Effective Introduction in the English Discipline

Introduce your topic(s) in the first sentence.

  • People need to know what you’re going to talk about right away. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to lay it all out there immediately, but you should introduce both the topic and how you will be interacting with it in the paper.
    • Ex: The text you’re working with is The Catcher in the Rye, the way you are engaging the text is to talk about Salinger’s syntax.
    • Ex: You are working with reviews of two different colleges in the Midwest, the way you are engaging is to compare and contrast both the reviews to each other and the colleges to each other.

Introduce the sources you’re working with.

  • For novels, this means FULL title and author.
  • If a text has more than one author, introduce them all the first time you mention the article (et. al after that)
    • There are exceptions to this, i.e. 20 author pieces.
  • The exception to this tip is when you have either A. A really long paper, and some texts aren’t used until later (say, on page 20). Those you can hold off on introducing right away. B. If you have a large number of sources and it would just overload and confuse the reader to introduce them all right away. In this situation, use discretion: which do you use first, which are the most important?

Give an overview of what you are discussing in your paper.

  • This can feel weird, why reveal everything right away? But don’t think of it like that. When we’re watching movies, we don’t want to know the end in the beginning, BUT when we’re reading papers, we do. The reader needs to know the point. What should they be expecting to get out of your essay?
  • A good way to determine not enough/too much information in your introduction is to compare it to your body paragraphs, both in length and in content? Does it feel like you practically wrote this body into the intro? Probably too much information.
    • TIP: a good “formulaic” starting place is one sentence for each body paragraph. This sentence should paraphrase or introduce the argument you’re making in that paragraph. This would not include evidence or supporting quotes. This formula, of course, does not apply to all papers (or all people). There are an infinite number of ways to structure the introduction. Another example is when a lot of background on your subject is needed. Sometimes an introduction can be a brief summative history, as long as the reader comes away understanding how said history aids your paper.

Include a thesis.

  • Although a thesis is usually one sentence, don’t be afraid to make it two if you need to.
  • The thesis needs to address the overall goal of the paper.
    • i.e. why are you writing the essay?
    • For example, if you’re writing an argumentative essay the thesis should not simply be a statement of fact, BUT for a reporting paper, it could be. The lesson here is: know your genre.

Keep length in mind.

  • The length of the introduction should reflect the length of the paper.
    • If you are writing a five page paper, your introduction should be a maximum of one page. However, if you’re paper is 20 pages, you might actually need more than a page to introduce all your topics, texts, arguments, etc. In this case, don’t be afraid to have more than one paragraph as well.