The Introduction

The introduction paragraph is the most important aspect of the essay. In this paragraph the writer outlines for the reader the content of the entire essay: the paragraph must include a lead-in to the general topic; it must present the dilemma, question, or sides of an issue, or the task that will be undertaken; it must clearly state the position of the writer, and consequently the argument to be made; and it should present a general outline of how this argument will be supported.

Note: While there are styles of essay writing that allow for the thesis to be presented in other parts of the essay (especially in the final paragraph), we will look here at the standard style that every writer must be able to master before experimenting with other approaches.

To get a better idea of how this paragraph should appear, follow this general guide:

introduction

The introduction paragraph should comprise 3–5 sentences, moving from the general to the more focused, and ending with a more general guide to what will follow in the body paragraphs. It should be noted, however, that the thesis statement is the all-important one in this paragraph as it clearly highlights to the reader what is expected to be drawn from the essay.


Components of the Introduction Paragraph

1. The Topic Sentence

This sentence can be difficult mainly because the writer wants to dive right into the argument. However, the function of this sentence is merely to “turn on a light” in the reader’s mind, or put another way, to bring the overall topic to the reader’s attention. That is all. You do not need to persuade/convince yet—that will come later. First, make the reader aware that this topic exists and that it might interest him/her to read on to find out what issues may be involved.

In this respect, that is, making the reader interested, try to create a sentence that is general enough, yet captivating enough to make the reader go on. Beginning a sentence with “There are many people who think that A, B or C (topic) has been a problem since the dawn of man,” is cliché; this type of sentence has been overused and lacks a “punch”, or a dramatic effect. If you are having a hard time thinking of a creative start, keep the sentence short and simple, direct and to the point. Don’t be afraid to “borrow” the ideas given to you in the question, just be careful: do not use the same words that are given to you in the task. This will demonstrate a lack of vocabulary and creativity. Use synonyms and paraphrase if you need to get started.

Look at these possibilities for the topic we planned out in the brainstorming section:

  • Progress has always been a double-edged sword, but no human advancement has exemplified this duality more than nuclear technology.
  • Before one condemns nuclear technology as the parent of bombs and mass destruction, one must also realize that this same technology has positive uses as well.
  • Humanity has always striven to advance itself technologically; from the wheel to the lightbulb, and now nuclear technology, this progress has shaped the world we live in today.
  • Nuclear technology is one of humanity’s greatest achievements.

Notice that most of these sentences also include the element of humanity. Based on the plan we created for this essay, the focus will be on the benefits and disadvantages as they pertain to humanity more so than to nature.

2. The Issue/ Debate

This sentence (or two sentences if necessary, though this is not recommended) serves to present the question or issue concerning the general topic mentioned in the previous sentence. It differs from the topic sentence in that it clearly expresses what question the essay will aim to answer, or what issue needs to be resolved, or what sides there are to support in a conflict or controversy regarding a particular aspect of the topic. It is a more specific sentence in that it focuses on one area of the topic rather than the topic itself as a whole. For test takers, this sentence demonstrates your understanding of the task given. In other words, did you understand the question asked? It is this sentence that either leads you off topic and away from the task, or keeps you on the right track (a common error that test takers make, and one that causes them to lose many points, is that they do not understand what it is they need to address and therefore they miss the aim of the task).

Put simply, use this sentence to present the same problem that has been presented in the task itself. The best way to do this is to paraphrase the task problem directly.

Look at the following examples, based on the initial sentences we produced in the topic sentence section:

Examples

  • Progress has always been a double-edged sword, but no human advancement has exemplified this duality more than nuclear technology, which has both its benefits, in such terms as environmentally-friendly energy sources, and its disadvantages, in terms of military capabilities. The question remains, however, as to which aspect has a greater impact on human civilization.
    (The question may actually begin even earlier, but notice that the second sentence is in fact the one that clearly states the debate.)
  • Before one condemns nuclear technology as the parent of bombs and mass destruction, one must also realize that this same technology has positive uses as well. Such being the case, one must ask whether the benefits of this technology to humanity are worth the negative implications of pursuing its advancement.
  • Humanity has always striven to advance itself technologically; from the wheel to the lightbulb, and now nuclear technology, this progress has shaped the world we live in today. Yet, is this world better off for this technology, or are we headed to disaster on a large human scale?
  • Nuclear technology is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. However, this technology has both positive and negative uses, the balance of which is a point of great debate.



3. The thesis statement

(aka, your opinion)

Again, this is the most important sentence in the introductory paragraph. It is this statement that places the reader on the road map to the essay’s aim. It is crucial that this statement is very clear and to the point even when you add fanciful language or style to it. There are several ways to express an opinion:

Clear, simple, to the point:

  • I believe that…
  • I would argue that…
  • I think that…
  • I find that…, or I find _____ to be more/less…
  • In my opinion,  __ is more advantageous than__ …

Keep in mind that tests such as IELTS and TOEFL will more often than not ask you to express an opinion in the essay section of the test. With this in mind, it is not only permissible, but actually preferable that you use the personal pronoun “I”. This will make your thesis much easier to recognize and will also ensure that you do not miss this all-important statement.

However, there are writers who prefer to avoid the personal pronoun and who want to add a touch of style to this statement. This is possible and might even garner the writer extra points if, and only if, the opinion is expressed clearly. Again, you do not need to use the personal pronoun, but the “stand” you take, or the opinion you express must come through in an obvious manner. In other words, you must have a clear “lean” to the side you take, or the advantageousness or benefit of your side must be obvious. This will usually be supported by the way in which you present your reasons. One way to add style, then, is to attach the thesis statement to the expository statement. We will look at examples of this after we discuss the expository statement.

Now for our opinion. Based on our brainstorming map and plan, this essay will argue that the benefits of nuclear technology to humanity do outweigh the disadvantages, yet to a lesser degree than the statement of the task (far outweigh). The following thesis statements illustrate this opinion:

  • Progress has always been a double-edged sword, but no human advancement has exemplified this duality more than nuclear technology, which has both its benefits, in such terms as environmentally friendly energy sources, and its disadvantages, in terms of military capabilities. The question remains, however, as to which aspect has a greater impact on human civilization. If we approach humanity as the beneficiary of this technology, then the positive aspects of nuclear technology seem to be greater than its potential negative impact.
  • Before one condemns nuclear technology as the parent of bombs and mass destruction, one must also realize that this same technology has positive uses as well. Such being the case, one must ask whether the benefits of this technology to humanity are worth the negative implications of pursuing its advancement. In the big picture, when examining the positive and the negative effects of this technology on humanity over a long period of time, I would argue that overall there are more people who benefit from it than there are real and potential victims.
  • Humanity has always striven to advance itself technologically; from the wheel to the lightbulb, and now nuclear technology, this progress has shaped the world we live in today. Yet, is this world better off for this technology, or are we headed to disaster on a large human scale? In my opinion, the world is indeed a better place because of the advantages that come with this technology.
  • Nuclear technology is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. However, this technology has both positive and negative uses, the balance of which is a point of great debate. Looked at in terms of its benefits and disadvantages, I think that the former outweigh the latter to some degree.

Notice that the italicized words address the question of to what extent.


4. The Expository Statement

This is the last portion of the introduction and is the bridge to the body paragraphs. The function of this sentence(s) is to inform the reader of what will follow, that is, how the essay will develop and defend the argument, as well as the order in which the support will be presented. You should therefore organize your ideas from strongest to weakest at this point, and list them here. The body paragraphs of the essay will follow the same order as that presented in the expository statement. The reason for doing this is that you want to express your strongest ideas first in case you run out of time and have to rush the last paragraphs.

The expository statement also gives you the option to add style to your thesis statement. By joining the two, you demonstrate a strong grasp of sentence structure because you will be using a complex, or compound-complex sentence to do this. You will have to express a clear opinion that is premised on, or supported by, clear reasons. However, if you are losing time and need to get to your body paragraphs and need simple bridge sentences, you can rely on these:

  • This is because…
  • This is due to…
  • The reason for this is…

Referring again to our plan, the following are examples of expository statements on their own and how they might look if attached to the thesis:

  • Progress has always been a double-edged sword, but no human advancement has exemplified this duality more than nuclear technology, which has both its benefits, in such terms as environmentally friendly energy sources, and its disadvantages, in terms of military capabilities. The question remains, however, as to which aspect has a greater impact on human civilization. If we approach humanity as the beneficiary of this technology, then the positive aspects of nuclear technology seem to be greater than its potential negative impact. This can be justified by looking at the number of people whom this technology helps in the way of clean air, affordable energy, and medical treatments, as opposed to the real, though more rare, victims of military or accidental misuse of it. (word count: 123)
  • Before one condemns nuclear technology as the parent of bombs and mass destruction, one must also realize that this same technology has positive uses as well. Such being the case, one must ask whether the benefits of this technology to humanity are worth the negative implications of pursuing its advancement. In the big picture, when examining the positive and the negative effects of this technology on humanity over a long period of time, I would argue that there are more people who benefit from it than there are real and potential victims. While it is true that many have suffered because of nuclear accidents and intentional military use of nuclear technology, an even greater number have benefitted from cleaner air, more affordable energy, and medical treatments. (word count: 126)
  • Humanity has always striven to advance itself technologically; from the wheel to the lightbulb, and now nuclear technology, this progress has shaped the world we live in today. Yet, is this world better off for this technology, or are we headed to disaster on a large human scale? In my opinion, the world is indeed a better place because of the advantages that come with nuclear technology. We have cleaner air, more affordable energy, and better medical treatments. (word count: 79)

Or, In my opinion, the world is indeed a better place because of the advantages that come with nuclear technology, such as cleaner air, more affordable energy, and better medical treatments.

  • Nuclear technology is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. However, this technology has both positive and negative uses, the balance of which is a point of great debate. Looked at in terms of its benefits and demerits, I think that the former outweigh the latter to some degree. This is because even though nuclear technology can hurt people, it can contribute more positively by providing people with clean air, affordable energy, and excellent medical treatments. (word count: 73)

Or, Looked at in terms of benefits and demerits, I think that the former outweigh the latter to some degree because even though nuclear technology can hurt people, it can contribute more positively by providing people with clean air, affordable energy, and excellent medical treatments.

Final Notes 1: Again, time is an issue here, as is word count. If you are unable to quickly come up with specific ideas you can make your expository statement more general by referring to more abstract ideas. Also, you should spend more time on the body of the essay, so an introduction that is over 100 words long will not necessarily help you. These are just examples of what you can do.

However, in any of the above examples for instance, you can write:

I believe that there are more benefits than disadvantages to nuclear technology. This is due mainly to environmental, financial, and health reasons.

For other tasks, you can have a supply of generalized “reasons” that can be elaborated on in the body. Keep these handy in case a little panic starts to set in.

Reasons: environmental, financial, health, political, religious, personal, social/societal, economic, historical, artistic, technological, humanitarian, educational, moral, psychological, and when you are really stuck for a general reason, there is always philosophical.

Of course, these types of sentences will not score as high, but they will get you to your body paragraph more quickly. In the body of the essay, however, you will need to be more specific and focused with your reasons and examples. That is why the planning stage is so crucial and should be practiced before you approach the test.

Many test takers find it difficult to come up with ideas quickly and creatively. To help with this matter we have established an idea bank for you to study before test day. You should also try to create your own idea bank.

Final Notes 2: The above are only examples of how to approach the introduction. The complexity of sentences and level of vocabulary can vary, but remember that these elements are important if you want to achieve a high score on the essay section of the tests.

Final Notes 3: The TOEFL essay suggests 300+ words for the essay. The IELTS requires a minimum of 250 words. Please note that in most cases, neither of these word counts is sufficient for a very high score. To score higher than 25 on the TOEFL Writing, or a band 7 or higher on the IELTS, you will need to write longer essays in the time provided.

Want to see another sample? Click here.