Unit 4: Fundamentals of Academic Essay Writing

31 Introductions

Preview Questions:

  1. Why are introductions important?
  2. What are the components of an effective introduction?

Introductions (and conclusions) are often considered difficult sections of an essay to write. In fact, some writers prefer to write their introductions after they have written their essay. Keep in mind that you may want to revise your introduction and conclusion at the same time in order to maintain consistency to the start and finish of your essay.

Effective introductions have three functions:

  • engage your reader using opening statements
  • introduce your topic and provide connecting information
  • state your thesis (usually the last sentence of the introduction)

Example of an introduction (from the Model Essay on peer feedback)

The process of writing academic papers involves many steps: exploring a topic through reading and writing, narrowing a topic, organizing the ideas, writing multiple drafts, getting feedback and making revisions. Over multiple drafts, the writer refines his/her ideas in part by getting feedback from readers. In a classroom, the teacher and the classmates, or peers, can serve as easily accessible readers. Peer feedback, also called peer review or peer response, is widely used in writing classes for both native speakers and English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Peer review benefits both the writer and the reviewer, and it can be just as useful as teacher feedback.
Analysis of the introduction
  • In the first two sentences the writer starts the introduction by identifying, in a general way, the writing process. The writer then moves to a more specific aspect of the writing process, peer review.
  • In sentences three and four, the writer defines peer review and provides some background information including context; for this essay, the context is peer review for ESL students. This connecting information helps the reader understand what the purpose of the essay will be, which is to suggest that peer review is as effective as teacher feedback.
  • The thesis statement is the last sentence in the introduction. Notice how the introduction provides a preliminary understanding of the three supporting points.

Function 1: Engage your reader

The first sentence or two should get your readers’ attention. We refer to these as “opening statements” because they begin the essay and let your reader know the topic of your essay. Some typical opening statement techniques include:

  1. Describe a problem or controversy related to your topic: Explain a current problem or issue, including some background information.
  2. Provide a historical review: Explain a problem from the past, perhaps comparing or contrasting it with a current problem.
  3. Use a quotation from an expert, or a surprising fact or statistic: This should be from your sources and directly relate to your topic. For a quotation, you need to include the credential of the expert (and a citation). The fact or statistic should be clearly contextualized (and include a citation).
  4. Define an important term related to your topic: This can give your paper context and background information.
  5. Move from general to specific: This is the most common. Start with a broad statement (e.g. Most university students…) and slowly transition to specific points to explain your topic.

Unlike magazine writing, which uses “hooks,” academic writing is less sensational. Therefore, you should avoid using proverbs (“Every coin has two sides”), questions (“Why do students come to the United States to study?), or personal examples (“When I was a high school student”) as these techniques are not appropriate for an academic audience.

Function 2: Provide connecting information

After the opening statements, you should provide additional explanation that connects the opening statements with the thesis statement. You might include background information or develop an aspect that you raised in the opening statement. You might include a definition, provide a brief history, or in some way, help the reader understand your topic as you move towards the thesis.

Function 3: State your thesis

At the end of your introduction, write your thesis statement, which will serve as a “road map” to help the reader navigate your paper’s content and organization.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Academic Writing I Copyright © by UW-Madison ESL Program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book