How to Write a More Sophisticated Introduction
In a recent article, ‘How to Write a Great Introduction: The Basics’, I provided a quick and simple outline of the two main things that an introduction must do in order to be considered a true introduction to an essay.
In this article, I’d like to take you a step further, and explain what you can do in order to write an introduction that is more sophisticated. This advice is aimed at upper-level students (second- or third-year students), and high-achieving first-year students.
Answering Your Essay Question
As I explained in the previous article, your introduction must answer your essay question. This is your thesis statement. You can’t simply introduce the question, you must also answer it. But, a sophisticated introduction won’t just answer the question, it will also provide some context for it. It will explain why the question is being asked in the first place. What is the point of the essay question? Why is it an important question to consider?
Be careful to ensure that in doing this you still only include information that is directly relevant to your essay question and your answer to it. Providing context for the question itself does not mean you should provide irrelevant (or only indirectly relevant) background information. There’s no place for that in an undergraduate essay. When writing an essay of 3,000 words or less, you usually don’t even have enough space for all the essential information!
How Do I Explain Why the Question Is Being Asked?
Here’s an example. It is a simple one, just to help you understand the concept.
The example essay question is:
‘The Nazi Party’s promise offered significant benefits to “Aryan” women under their rule. To what extent were these benefits delivered?’
And this is the example introduction:*
The question of whether the Nazis fulfilled their promise to bring significant benefits to women under their rule continues to be vigorously debated. Historians such as von Saldern (1994) and von Papen (1999) subscribe to the view that women gained meaningful advantages during the Nazi regime. Von Saldern (1994, p. 151) claims that proof of this was the number of women who supported Nazism. Papen (1999, p. 693) takes the controversial view that Nazi policy concerning women was not a ‘return to the past’ but rather ‘a move forward’. Koonz (1987) and Stephenson (1981) disagree. They maintain that National Socialism failed to produce anything but negative effects for women. Koonz’s (1987, p. 310) findings are that the overwhelming majority of women ‘despised’ the Nazi regime, and Stephenson (1981, p. 170) argues that women were ‘particularly resistant’ to Nazism. Many historians, including Frevert (1989) prefer to take the middle road. Frevert (1989, p. 250) describes Nazi rule as ‘a highly ambiguous period in history which witnessed a unique confluence of “modernist” and “traditionalist” tendencies’, which suggests Nazism brought both benefits and suffering to women. It will be argued here that Nazi policy concerning women was blatantly sexist and its implementation affected women in a severely negative fashion, but there were several incidentally positive side effects of Nazi rule. That the Nazi Party did not bring significant benefits to women can be seen clearly through an examination of the position of women in the areas of the Nazi Party, government and military, work and education, and the private sphere of the family.
*Please note that this serves as an example of how to write an introduction only. It should not be used by students studying in this field. The information given and sources used are over 15 years old.
Providing the Context for the Essay Question
You can see that the example introduction above introduces the question as a historiographical one, and provides the context that it is a question that is vigorously debated among historians. It sets the groundwork for a historiographical essay, but one that puts forward its own thesis statement, ‘Nazi policy concerning women was blatantly sexist and its implementation affected women in a severely negative fashion, but there were several incidentally positive side effects of Nazi rule’, which will be supported through an examination of four topics:
- The Nazi Party
- The government and military
- Work and education
- The private sphere of the family
So the example introduction answers the essay question (in a thesis statement) and introduces the topics the essay will discuss to demonstrate that the answer is correct, but it does so in a way that explains why the question is important, and why it is one worth investigating and answering.
For more information about essay writing for advanced and upper-level students, you can visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) and the Harvard College Writing Centre. You can also stay informed about articles on this topic and more from us by subscribing to our blog or liking our Facebook page.