The following is an excerpt from my 2019 book, How to Write the Perfect Essay for IELTS. It is all about how to write an introduction to an essay and I felt it was important enough that I would include it here for everyone to read. If you want to see the rest of the book, you can find it on sale here.
Writing an Introduction
An essay’s introduction is incredibly important because it is the first thing that an examiner will read. In this short paragraph, you will attempt to address the topic and give a basic overview of your essay. If this is clear and relatively error-free, the examiner will be impressed and they may view the rest of your essay more favourably. Note that this is not a conscious decision and an examiner will always try to be fair. However, human nature is such that first impressions are important.
In our examples and rules above, I have explained the basics of writing an introduction. However, you might be wondering a few things:
- Do I always have to follow the same rules for writing an introduction?
- Will every essay require the same sort of introduction?
- Do I need to outline my essay in the introduction?
- Does each part of the introduction really require just one sentence?
- Is there an ideal number of words to write in an introduction?
The answer to all these is: NO. There are many possible ways to write a good introduction, and different teachers will tell you different things. What I have done so far is give you some helpful advice about writing essays. My advice is intended to give all IELTS students the best chance of scoring band 7.0 or higher by offering simple, practice advice, but there are different ways of writing a great essay.
Essentially, what you do need to do is:
- Introduce the topic.
- Assert a position and/or explain the purpose of your essay.
To do this, I think that the best way to write an introduction is to paraphrase the question and then write a thesis statement. Let’s look at these in detail.
Introducing the Topic
You should write one or two sentences at the very beginning of your essay that explain the topic. If you begin with a very general topic, you might need to write two sentences as the second one will focus on the key issue. Some teachers will tell you that you need to paraphrase the question, but while this can be helpful, it is not the best approach.
In Section II of this book, we talked about analysing the question. If you have fully analysed the question, then writing the first sentence of your essay should be pretty easy. You just need to find what the main idea is, and explain it. Let’s look at an example:
Some people say that now we can see films on our phones or tablets there is no need to go to the cinema. Others say that to be fully enjoyed, films need to be seen in a cinema.
Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
My introduction to this essay would be:
In recent years, mobile technology has improved to the point that people can now watch movies in HD almost anywhere by using a phone or tablet. This development has caused some people to speculate that cinemas will soon be obsolete. However, this essay will argue against that viewpoint.
In analysing the question, I noted that it contained two contradictory statements:
- It is better to watch movies on a phone or tablet.
- It is better to watch movies in the cinema.
There is a more focused point hidden within the question:
There is no point in going to the cinema anymore.
My first sentence is extremely broad. I have started with a phrase (“in recent years”) that sets this topic within a time context then stated the main idea: the improvement of mobile technology has changed the way we view movies. Rather than make one very long, complicated sentence, I have added a shorter one that expands upon and qualifies my first. The second sentence focuses my essay by introducing item #3 from above. It states that because of these technological developments, there is no reason to go to the cinema. Essentially, my first two sentences say the same thing as the question. However, I have not exactly paraphrased it. I did not attempt to copy the question with new words. Instead, I let the idea of the question develop in my head, and then wrote down the general idea of it. I think that this is the best way to handle writing an introductory sentence.
Here’s a video about how to write a great first sentence:
Asserting a Position and/or Explaining the Purpose of the Essay
What do I mean by “asserting a position”? In Section II of this book, I talked about maintaining a clear position throughout the essay. This is important for scoring highly in Task Achievement. There are different perspectives on what this requires, with some people claiming that you only need to make your position clear in the conclusion. Others, however, say that it should be stated in the introduction. The safest and most sensible option is to state your position in the introduction, support it in the body paragraphs, and then reaffirm it in the conclusion.
Of course, not all questions require a position. Some of them just ask to explain something, like a problem and a solution. In this case, you would not need to give an opinion in the introduction. You should instead write one or two sentences announcing what you will do in the essay. In the guide to structures, I referred to these as “thesis statement” and “essay outline”. You don’t always need to give both, but they are good ways of scoring highly for Coherence and Cohesion because they help clarify the structure of your essay.
In my previous example, I only wrote “…this essay will argue against that viewpoint.” This is a sort of thesis statement. I could have expanded it to say, “The first paragraph will look at reasons why it appears that cinemas will become obsolete, while the second will explore the continued relevance of cinemas in the digital era.” This is an example of an essay outline. However, there is a slight problem with this sort of sentence. While it undoubtedly adds value to an essay, it also adds to the word count, and to the length of time taken to write an essay. It is important to finish your essay within 40 minutes and also to spend time checking for errors. As such, writing an extra sentence or two could cost additional time that could be spent elsewhere. If you struggle with finishing in time, you should probably write a shorter introduction and ensure that you finish the whole essay. Advanced students, who can easily finish in time and wish to improve their score to a band 8.0 or 9.0, would do well to consider incorporating essay outlines for an improved structure.
Another reason why we may choose to include a thesis statement or essay outline is that it improves the register of an essay. In other words, it makes it more formal. Whilst a question may ask for your opinion on an issue, writing “I think…” is less formal than writing “This essay will argue that…” By getting into the habit of writing this sort of sentence, you can reduce the number of personal pronouns and increase the formality of your essay, thereby improving its tone.
Here is an example from a problem and solution essay, which would not require a thesis statement, but would require an essay outline:
Despite the growing number of gyms and fitness centres, more and more people are leading a sedentary lifestyle in the modern society. What problems are associated with this? What solutions can you suggest?
In the twenty-first century, an unprecedented number of people are living sedentary lifestyles due to changes in our work and social habits. [DW1] This is a seriously dangerous phenomenon and greatly threatens our health and happiness.[DW2] This essay will look at the problems and solutions.[DW3]
I could have expanded it slightly:
In the twenty-first century, an unprecedented number of people are living sedentary lifestyles due to changes in our work and social habits. This is a seriously dangerous phenomenon and greatly threatens our health and happiness. This essay will first look at the problems and then explore some solutions.
By adding these small extra details, I am giving a slightly more advanced guide to the essay. However, the difference is pretty minimal. This is something to consider for people aiming to make improvements and score band 7.0 or higher.
[DW1]I have written a single sentence to introduce the topic, which essentially paraphrases the question.
[DW2]This sentence develops the idea further.
[DW3]Here, I outline in the most basic terms the function of the essay.