How to write an essay introduction

A good introduction paragraph is both engaging and informative. The main goals of your introduction are to:

  • Catch your reader’s attention and interest.
  • Give context and background on your topic.
  • Set up the focus and purpose of your essay.

This introduction example is taken from our interactive essay example on the history of Braille.

The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability.The writing system of raised dots, widely used by blind and visually impaired people, was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. Although it initially met with resistance from sighted people, Braille eventually became central to blind people's education and autonomy, giving them unprecedented access to cultural activities and social participation.The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new; Braille adapted and simplified existing methods to create the first writing system specifically for blind people. But its success depended on acceptance among sighted people before the social status of blindness could truly be transformed, and this process was shaped by broader debates about disabled people’s place in society.

Step 1: Hook your reader

Your first sentence sets the tone for the whole essay, so spend some time on writing an effective hook. Avoid long, dense sentencesstart with something clear, concise and catchy, and make sure it’s directly relevant to what follows. Some strategies to write a hook include:

  • A surprising fact or statistic
  • A question
  • A quotation
  • A brief anecdote
  • A broad summary

Always avoid cliches and generalizations:

  • Dictionary definitions
  • Sweeping claims that use words like “always” or “everywhere”

In academic essays, don’t worry too much about coming up with a hugely creative or exciting hookit’s more important that your first sentence leads the reader into your essay and gives a good sense of what it will be about.

In our example, the first sentence simply introduces the topic in a concise, compelling way:

The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability.

This sentence makes a bold claim that emphasizes the importance of the topic, but it doesn’t over-generalize. It gives a good idea of the essay’s general purpose and approach, but doesn’t give away too much information.

Step 2: Contextualize your topic

Next, give your reader the background information they need to understand your topic and argument. Depending on the subject of your essay, this might include:

  • Historical, geographical, or social context
  • Definitions of unfamiliar terms
  • A summary of current scholarly debates, theories or research

The information you give should be broad but clearly focused and relevant to your argument.
Don’t give too much detailyou 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 example, the writer takes a couple of sentences to introduce the topic and sketch the social context that the essay will address:

The writing system of raised dots, widely used by blind and visually impaired people, was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. Although it initially met with resistance from sighted people, Braille eventually became central to blind people’s education and autonomy, giving them unprecedented access to cultural activities and social participation.

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Step 3: Establish your purpose and position

Now it’s time to narrow your focus and show what your essay aims to do. This is your thesis statement — a sentence or two that sums up your focus and overall argument. This part of the introduction paragraph is important to set the limits of your essay and let the reader know exactly which aspect of the topic you will address.

The thesis statement often takes the form of a strong argument for a particular position. But in expository or analytical essays, it’s more like a map of the central points that the essay will demonstrate and analyze, as in our example:

The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new; Braille adapted and simplified existing methods to create the first writing system specifically for blind people. But its success depended on acceptance among sighted people before the social status of blindness could truly be transformed, and this process was shaped by broader debates about disabled people’s place in society.

The two-sentence thesis statement covers the main points that the essay will discuss: Braille’s development from other tactile reading systems, its effect on blind people’s status, and the social processes that allowed it to become successful.

Although in this case there is no direct argumentative statement, the thesis still takes a clear position: the underlying argument is for Braille’s importance in relation to the social context of the time.

Step 4: Check and revise

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.

Whether you write your introduction first, last or somewhere in between, you should return to it and check that it matches the content of the essay. Make sure you have included only necessary and relevant information.

To see our introduction in context, take a look at the full essay example.

Essay introduction

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Shona McCombes

Shona has an MLitt in English Literature and an MA in Gender Studies, so she's an expert at writing a great master's thesis. She has worked with lots of students to improve their academic writing, and gathered lots of useful tips to help you with yours!

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