Accessible Version | Skip to content | Change text size

Table of contents

Previous page  | Next page

What does a good introduction look like?

The introduction is an important component of your piece of writing. It will address the topic you are writing about and convey the argument you wish to make. It also provides a sense of coverage for your reader.

Elements of a good introduction

In general, a good introduction can

  • introduce the topic and provide background information
  • limit the scope of the discussion
  • define/state the topic
  • present the plan of coverage including your line of argument/viewpoint/conclusions

Refer to QuickRef Writing essays for a useful diagram illustrating the structure of an essay and how an introduction fits in.

Example

The example given here illustrates those elements needed in an introductory management subject.

Look at this example of an introduction from a Human Resources Management essay written by a student.

The first part of the introduction sets the context of the answer. The second part highlights the key topics to be discussed. The third part outlines what will be covered in the essay.

Click the highlights for an explanation of the key elements of this introduction.

Human Resource Management (HRM) has been gaining recognition as contributing a sustainable competitive advantage to organisations. This is because "traditional sources of competitive advantage have begun to erode, due to fiercer competition and the faster pace of discussion of innovation" (Kramar, McGraw & Schuler, 1997, p. 14). This has resulted in the recognition that a committed, skilled and flexible workforce is the key to sustained competitive advantage (Kramar et al., 1997) and HRM involves the "productive use of people in achieving the organisation's strategic business objectives and the satisfaction of individual employee needs" (Stone, 2002, p. 4). Ulrich (1998) argues that HR managers must take on four roles in order to help businesses achieve their business objectives: as strategic partners, administrative experts, employee champions, and change agents. This essay will provide a short background on the responsibilities of HR in the past and an explanation for why there us and need for a new strategic HR. It will define each of the HR roles and discuss how they can help businesses achieve their business objectives.

Now look at some of the features of the academic language used in this introduction: the use of references and signposting.

Click the highlights for an explanation of the language features in the passage.

Human Resource Management (HRM) has been gaining recognition as contributing a sustainable competitive advantage to organisations. This is because "traditional sources of competitive advantage have begun to erode, due to fiercer competition and the faster pace of discussion of innovation" (Kramar, McGraw & Schuler, 1997, p. 14). This has resulted in the recognition that a committed, skilled and flexible workforce is the key to sustained competitive advantage (Kramar et al., 1997) and HRM involves the "productive use of people in achieving the organisation's strategic business objectives and the satisfaction of individual employee needs" (Stone, 2002, p. 4). Ulrich (1998) argues that HR managers must take on four roles in order to help businesses achieve their business objectives: as strategic partners, administrative experts, employee champions, and change agents. This essay will provide a short background on the responsibilities of HR in the past and an explanation for why there us and need for a new strategic HR. It will define each of the HR roles and discuss how they can help businesses achieve their business objectives.

Example

In this Sociology example, the student has included quite similar elements, albeit with a different set of disciplinary understandings.

The first part of the introduction sets the context of the answer. The second part highlights the key area to be discussed and limits the scope of the discussion. The third part outlines what will be covered in the essay.

Click the highlights for an explanation of the key elements of this introduction.

Topic: Select two different ethnic groups and discuss the cultural differences in the childbirth and childrearing practices along with the values and beliefs that underlay these practices.

Worldwide, childbirth and childrearing is practiced and is largely dependent on differing cultural beliefs and values. Often the birth of a child is celebrated in different ways according to unique traditions and customs they have learned and believed in. In this essay, I will be discussing, in general terms, some of the cultural differences and similarities between the Japanese and Aboriginal cultures specifically relating to childbirth and childrearing. In some instances, when giving examples I will relate specifically to the Ainu women in Japan and the Aboriginal women from the Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the Balgo children of the Kimberleys. Issues that will be discussed include the cultural significance of giving birth for both Japanese and Aboriginal families, how the new life is welcomed into the world, and some of the differences and similarities in their values and beliefs related to childrearing.

Example

Here, too, is an example of an introduction written by a student from an essay in History.

It differs from the other two.

Click the highlights for an explanation of the key elements of this introduction.

Australia, as a liberal democracy, advocates a system of democracy where the majority of the people elect representatives to govern for them in tandem with liberal conceptions of freedom and rights of individuals. Fundamental to representative democracy is that its citizens are able to participate directly in the process of selecting who will govern them by voting in elections.

In Australia, compulsory voting was first introduced for federal elections in 1924 due to declining voter turnout 2, following on from compulsory enrolment which was introduced in 1911. The introduction of compulsory voting was favoured by all parties and was introduced by a private member's bill. This ensured that no individual party could be held responsible for the introduction of such a system.

Because Australia is a liberal democratic country there are often opposing views. It is firmly held by many individuals that compulsory voting is a gross violation of civil liberties while others argue that it reduces the significance and power of money in determining the outcomes of elections.

G. Singleton, D. Aitkin, B.Jinks and J. Warhurst. Australian Political Institutions, 7th ed., Longman, Frenchs Forest, 2003, p.6.

D. Jaensch. Parliament Parties & People: Australian Politics Today, 2nd ed., Longman, Melbourne, 1994, p.42

M. Mackerras and I. McAllister. "Compulsory voting, party stability and electoral advantages in Australia", Electoral Studies, 18, 1999, pp.219-220.

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The People's Say-Elections in Australia, Australia Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1994.

Disciplinary conventions

Just how you will structure your introduction will depend on disciplinary conventions. A guide to these expectations can often be found in your subject's Unit Guide and assignment assessment criteria. For example, in one Nursing assignment, students are explicitly advised to provide a general overview of the topic, to define terms and to provide an outline of the paper.

Bear in mind that when you're writing for assessment, your reader will be looking for some direction from you as to how you've approached and addressed the given topic quite quickly. So, limit your introduction to one paragraph. Just how long this will be will be determined by the word length of your assignment – a general guide is around 10%. However, as your reader (and marker!) will be working through your assignment quite quickly, it is better to write with clarity: to get the point.

Read other work

You can develop a sense of the requirements in your subject and discipline by reading the work of others to see how they have structured their introductions. You can also spend some time with the samples of writing in different disciplines provided in Language and Learning Online.

One final piece of advice:

Many people find it useful to write their introduction after they have written their assignment. They find that it is through the process of writing their assignment that they clarify the overall point they wish to make in addressing the set topic. They then draft their introduction at the end, or they return to their initial attempt and re-write it. Refer to What does a good conclusion look like? for an example of this. Of course, some people prefer to start with an introduction that helps guide their writing. Either way, it is still good practice to ensure your introduction says what you want it to say!

Setting the context

This introduction starts with a contextualised statement about the discipline, leading to the point being made in the essay.

Key points

Narrowing in on the discussion in the essay.

Outline

An outline of what the essay will address - clearly leading the reader through what they should expect to read.

Acknowledging previous research

The references situate the discussion in relation to previous research in the area.

Acknowledging previous research

The references situate the discussion in relation to previous research in the area.

Definition

Note that the definition refers to a scholarly source, not a dictionary definition.

Acknowledging previous research

The references situate the discussion in relation to previous research in the area.

Signal language

Note how the end of this introduction lists the main parts of the essay.

Signal language

Note how the end of this introduction lists the main parts of the essay.

Signal language

Note how the end of this introduction lists the main parts of the essay.

Setting the context

What the essay is about.

Main point

Here is the point the student wishes to make.

Setting the context

What the essay is about.

Limiting the scope

Limiting the discussion and acknowledging ethnic groups

Outline

An outline of what the essay will address - clearly leading the reader through what they should expect to read.

Sets the scene

What the essay is about

Background

Provides some relevant historical background to the issue at hand

Focus on the issue

Note that the student hasn't staked a position but instead foreshadows the heart of the discussion. The expectation here is that some kind of answer will be provided to the analysis in the conclusion.

Use of references

The use of references in this case reflect the disciplinary convention of footnoting. These references situate the discussion in relation to research in this area.

download a word document Download a printable version of this page.
Problems? Questions? Comments? Please provide us feedback.

Need help? Library frequently asked questions and online inquiries: current students/staff | public users, online chat, or phone +61 3 9905 5054
Something to say? Send us your feedback and suggestions: current students/staff | public users

Monash University logo