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Academic Writing for University Essays: Writing the Introduction

A. Functions

Possible Functions of the Introductions

- Provide general background information

- Make clear the scope of the work

- Define important terms

- State the aims/main claims of your work (i.e. give the thesis statement)

- Outline the structure of your work

B. Structure

The introduction has two main parts background and introduction to an essay. Sometimes its focuses on your main claim (because of the limited words)


It moves from general background information to increasingly specific information

[1] provide general background information -> context -> school children
[2] make clear the scope of the work -> narrow the focus -> secondary school. The scope of the essay is narrower than the background sentence
[3] [4] State the aims/main claims of your work (i.e. give the thesis statement) -> thesis statement. The thesis statement is yet more specific
Outline the structure of the work: none (through the order suggest the structure)

Another style to write an introduction by Doctor Sheane (

- The context -> Background: define the key concepts: 'movement' in light blue; 'negative feedback' in blue; and 'feedforward mechanism' in pink.

- Thesis statement -> in orange

- Narrow the focus -> scope in green


adding the 'importance' of the essay is also important. the essay should be important not only for you to complete your task but for society. (

C. Background Information

1. Be careful not to be too general

- “Too general” = not sufficiently related to the essay question or to the essay itself

- Analyze the presentation of romantic love in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.

o Too general

(it will be too difficult to relate to the narrow topic and thesis statement)

Since the beginning of time, romantic love has fascinated mankind (x)
Throughout the world romantic love fascinates people of all social classes (x)

o Not too general

Romantic love in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet has been interpreted in several different ways. (v)

2. Background information: giving definitions

It is common to give a definition in the very first sentence of the essay and come later in the essay. Definitions are often given between commas or dashes.

- Communicative language teaching, an approach emphasizing the importance of

meaningful communication has been applied in many different ways

- The bilingual – defined here as a user of two or more languages – has been

suggested to have cognitive advantages over monolinguals

D. Narrowing the Focus to the Scope of the Essay

- Connects the general background information to the following thesis statement

o Provides the most relevant, narrow context for the thesis statement

o Changes the meaning of the thesis statement

- Without narrowing the focus, the thesis statement may not be specific enough, or

could even be inaccurate

- If the blue sentence is deleted, it will raise the problem.

- Sometimes the focus is narrowed in the same sentence that gives the thesis statement

as the following example.

E. Thesis Statement

1. Definition and Functions

  • A thesis is "a proposition [a point of view/claim] stated, especially as a theme to be discussed and proved, or to be maintained against attack".

  • Your Thesis is the main idea that your essay is trying to prove or defend

  • It is necessary to answer the question and to demonstrate critical thinking (defend it logically).

2. Length and Position

- 2-3 sentences maximum (40 words or less)

- End of the introduction.

> Sometimes followed by a separate structural outline, especially in longer essays.

- May indicate/imply the structure of the essay (more typical in short essays)

It will be argued that generally homework should be given regularly but in small amounts [1]. However, during exam season, the amount of homework should be increased to help with revision [2]

3. Content: A thesis statement should be a claim

- Not a thesis statement (makes no claim)

This essay will be discuss the effect of the 2008 financial crisis upon three sectors of Britain's economy: agriculture, construction, and manufacturing (x)

The above sentence can be used in the introduction but you still need a thesis statement

- Thesis statement (make a claim)

It will be argued that, to protect against possible damage by similar events in the future, these sectors should increase exports to non-EU countries (v)

4. Content: Precision

"Is money essential for happiness?"

- Vague thesis statements

a. This essay argues that there can be both positive and negative effects of wealth upon a person's sense of happiness (x)
b. This essay argues that there are advantages and disadvantages of the internet.(x)

- More precise thesis statement

a. Cases will be examined where increased wealth has led to unhappiness (as well as happiness), in order to show that wealth is not a necessary condition for happiness. (v)
b. It will be demonstrated that, overall, the internet is beneficial for society, and the advantages it offers in terms of opportunities for the spread of knowledge outweigh the potential harm done through cyber crime. (v)

5. Cautiousness

- Not cautious

It will be argued that money is essential for happiness (x)

- More cautious (be more precise and specific)

It will be argued that whilst increased wealth does not necessarily lead to increased happiness, personal socio-economic stability is essential for happiness (v)

6. Evidence-based

Should not be an opinion

It will be proposed that the film batman is less exiting than superman (x)

7. Five key elements for a strong thesis statement

  1. Counterargument/opposite point of view: mention the opposite point of view (or anti-thesis) to show that you have thought critically about the topic and are able to reject possible alternative viewpoints. For example, Despite/Although/While [anti-thesis], [your thesis].

  2. Include a signaling phrase to tell the reader that you are about to present your main claim: This essay will argue that/It will be argued that. A phrase such as this is essential to clearly tell the reader the purpose of the sentence.

  3. Opinion: Give a clear, arguable opinion. This should be a point of view that someone could disagree with, and which requires defense.

  4. Supporting evidence: Summarise the main reasons why you hold the opinion in the thesis statement. By doing this, you are summarising the main points from the relevant supporting paragraphs in the essay body. You are thus preparing the reader for what is to come and give a mini-summary of your whole argument.

  5. Paraphrase the task/instructions. Do not repeat phrases from the task instructions exactly, but rather use synonyms and different grammatical structures to show a greater understanding of the topic and greater skill in the use of language. You will do this naturally if you expand your thesis statement by giving sufficient detail about the opposite point of view, your own opinion, and the specific supporting evidence in your body paragraphs.

F. Grammar for Introduction

1. Giving Background Information

- Present simple

Refers to a permanent situation

The amount of homework that schoolchildren are required to complete varies immensely

- Normally not present continuous

- Present perfect

Give general background information about the time period up to the present

In recent years e-book have gained greatly in popularity
The field of English language teaching has changed significantly in the last ten years

2. Narrowing the focus to your topic

- Future tenses

In this essay, homework in secondary school will be discussed

- Present tense

Against the background of the international financial crisis, we examine/discuss/explore/investigate X

3. Thesis Statement

- Present simple tense

This essay argues that money is not necessary for happiness

- Future tenses will

This essay will argue that money is not necessary for happiness

- Use of first-person pronoun I (depends on the subject)

In this essay, I will propose 

- Passive voice sounds formal and objective

- The preset simple passive and the future passive are common in (impersonal) thesis


However, in this essay, it is argued that paper books will never completely disappear. The current state of te worldwide publishing industry will be examined, and it will be demonstrated that paper book sales still exceed e-book sales. With regard to the future, it is proposed that...

- Future passive will be

will be_____ -ed (for regular verb)

The publishing industry will be examined
It will be demonstrated that..

4. Structural Outline

- More common in a longer essay

- Simple present tense or future tense

Section 2 examines the role of NGOs, and then the impact of local government initiatives will be considered in Section 3. Finally, in section 3, examples of successful partnership between NGOs and local government will be presented

- Combination of active and passive voice helpful to vary sentence structure

In section 2, X is discussed. Section 3 considers Y


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