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Essay writing: the introduction

Your essay should be written in your own words. Your ideas will be formed using perspectives, arguments, research, data etc. from your reading, and you must acknowledge this by using referencing. However, your writing should not be a series of paraphrases from other people's writing.

The role of an introduction 

Your introduction should tell the reader what to expect from your essay. Stay focused on the question, and keep it brief. Do not give very broad background information on the general topic, but focus instead on what is relevant to answering the set question. 

What should be in an introduction?

There isn't one way to write an introduction, and following one particular structure could lead to your introductions becoming very formulaic. Here is a general guide to what you might include in an introduction: 
  • An introduction to the main subject of the essay and why it is an important topic.
  • A definition of ambiguous terms or concepts. Your reader needs to know what you mean when you say certain things. This is usually only necessary when there are terms that have numerous definitions, e.g. "Consumerism". Are you discussing this as an ideology, economic policy or type of behaviour?
  • An outline of the key argument(s) presented in the essay and how you are planning to answer the question set.

Example of an introduction

Take a look at this example of an introduction which was adapted from Wrasse under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0.

How long should an introduction be?

There are no absolute rules about this but, as a general guide, it should be between 5-10% of your whole essay. The amount of detail that you can include in your introduction therefore will differ, depending on your word count. Even in a short essay you should still cover the main points outlined above. 

Here is an example of a shorter introduction on the same topic. This shorter version shows that the same points can be covered in a more concise way. Both versions are well executed but written in different styles and for essays with different word limits. 

Example of a shorter introduction to the same essay

Concern about racism in the police has increased since the 1980's, following a number of high-profile cases that highlighted that ethnic minorities did not receive treatment equivalent to their white counterparts. The focus of this concern has been whether racism operates at the individual level or whether it is embedded in the policies and practices of the police (Easton and Piper, 2005). Two significant inquiries, carried out in the intervening period, the Scarman report and the Macpherson report, will provide a focus by which to critically analyse the concept of institutional racism in policing and evaluate the policy responses to it. Whist some progress has been made since these two inquiries were carried out, many improvements still need to be made to overcome institutional racism.