Template for the structure of an introduction

This article constructs a template for the structure of an introduction based on the questions an essay’s introduction usually addresses: what? why? and how? It can be adapted to introductions that span many paragraphs, as in longer essays, or introductions that span only a paragraph, as in shorter essays.


Say something true that will pique the reader’s interest and give a sense of what the paper’s topic is.
Avoid clichés—they’re both vague and uninteresting. For example:

It’s true that a picture paints a thousand words.

Good things do come to those who wait.

Avoid overstatements—they’re usually false. For example:

For all time…

The most important x in y is z.

People always say…

General introduction of topic matter

Identify the field of study. For example:

Phenomenologists have been concerned with…

Eco-poetry is a subspecies of environmental poetry that…

The post-modern approach to x has…

Avoid over-explaining an entire field of research—remember, the goal is introduce the field (or fields) that relates to your thesis statement, not to explain that field.

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Helpful background

What’s helpful is anything needed to comprehend your thesis statement:

  • Define both key terms, as they arise, and theories (if necessary).
  • Give relevant historical facts (if necessary).
  • Cover the function of a literature review.
  • Provide anything else required to understand what you mean when you give your thesis statement.

What’s unhelpful is anything not necessary to comprehend your thesis statement:

  • Remember, the introduction should be concise, and should not make any arguments.
  • Avoid going into the details of anything that will take too much time to explain. Such topic matter is best left for the body paragraphs of the paper.

Importance of the topic

Consider the following questions to provide answers to why the essay is important or interesting:

  • What new information are you offering your readers?
  • What questions do you address and what answers can you provide?
  • What’s useful about the knowledge you impart?
  • What are the consequences of your argument?

Thesis statement and presentation of key points

Be both precise and concise. Show how the paper proceeds:

  • Give key points in the order they occur in the body.
  • Explain (briefly) how each key point builds on the one(s) before it.
  • Show how the key points support the thesis statement.
  • Don’t miss any key points from the body of the paper.

Avoid giving unnecessary detail about the argument:

  • The goal is not to make the argument here—the goal is to show in broad strokes how the argument will proceed.  Use just enough detail for readers to understand how you will argue.

Depending on your taste and topic, you may decide to give the thesis statement before or after your present the key points that relate to it.

Map (optional)

Be reasonably brief given the size of your paper. In short papers mapping can be done in a sentence or two, and in long papers this can take a paragraph or more. Use signposting language to clearly indicate transitions (“First…”, “Then the paper turns to…” etc.).

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Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master's degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

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