The introduction to an essay is in many ways the most important part, as it makes a first impression upon the marker and sets the scene for what’s to follow. It’s therefore essential to get it right. Here are some tips on precisely how to do that.

The Upside-down triangle

If you turn a triangle upside down, it starts wide and narrows itself to a fine point, and that is exactly what you want your introduction to do. Now, you don’t literally want to alter your margins so that it looks like you’re trying to invent some crazy new kind of haiku, but in concept, you want to begin with a general statement, followed by another that gets closer to your topic, and so on, until you get down to the main point of your essay, what is sometimes referred to as the ‘thesis statement’. You’d like an example, you say? Well, if you must.

So let’s say my essay is about Taylor Swift; thus, that is my subject. My thesis statement however has to be more specific than just saying, “wow, I really like Taylor Swift.” You have to say something relevant and interesting and arguable, so let’s try this: “Taylor Swift continues to present a picture of youth and femininity that is in some ways traditional, and yet simultaneously post-modern, particularly via her ongoing critique of a sexist industry, and her defiance toward the classic sexist tropes of the media.”

Find the specific, and the general comes easy…

Now, as my thesis statement, that is the fine point on which rests my inverted triangle, and it’s pretty specific, so it’s a good one. Okay, now where to begin the triangle? Well, generally speaking, who is Taylor Swift and what am I saying about her? She’s a musical pop-star, and I’m complimenting her take on feminism. So, in general, it’s about a female pop-star, with a fresh take on an old problem of sexism. Let’s start there. How about this:
“In our contemporary popular culture, celebrity admiration often reaches staggering heights.” (Very general). “Perhaps the most common of these icons to be adored, admired, and even copied, is the female pop-singer”. (Getting closer… see what I did there?)

Now, the length of your introduction will depend on the length of your essay, although 10% of total word count is a good rule of thumb. However, since we’ve introduced ‘female pop singer’ already, then our remaining steps are to identify Taylor Swift as our star in focus, to introduce the problem of sexism in that industry, and that it must still be dealt with by contemporary singers. After that, we’ve laid out the red carpet for our thesis statement.

For some essays it will be necessary to introduce the topic and subtopics a bit more in the introduction, which is often necessary for research papers in particular. However, if you follow the triangle rule as it’s laid out here, find your ‘specific’ statement for the fine point, and then use it to talk generally about it in order to get there, you’ll be right on target.