What comprises a good essay introduction?
Essay introductions generally serve three purposes. They:
- Orient the reader to the essay’s topic, its significance and the main issues to be explored
- Preview the author’s argument or position
- Outline the essay’s organisation and approach, including the main issues to be explored and the lines of reasoning that will be developed in each section
Keep in mind that introductions are not meant to be creative or ‘mysterious’! As long as your introduction fulfils the three criteria above, then it is doing its job.
Read the sample essay introduction below and ask yourself which function each part of it is performing. When you’re ready to see the annotated version, drag the blue slider down to see notes on the right hand side.
Fine-tuning the introduction
The sample introduction above is not a ‘perfect’ introduction. Although it is a solid example, there are still ways it could be improved. For instance, consider this sentence in the second paragraph:
This sentence outlines what the first section of the essay will talk about. However, it doesn’t explain why this is a problem. Specifically, it doesn’t explain to the reader why the author thinks that the executive controlling the power of judicial appointment is one of the four ‘deficiencies’ in the current appointment process. Never leave your reader to guess why something is an issue when you could explain–and persuade the reader–yourself!
Below is an example of how the author could flesh out this part of the essay’s roadmap:
|First, the power of appointment is effectively in the hands of the government.||First, the power of appointment is effectively in the hands of the government. This contravenes the separation of powers doctrine, which Australian democracy relies upon to ensure an independent judiciary.
Similarly, this part of the roadmap does not elaborate on how responsible government and executive accountability are inhibited by secrecy:
Although the author will (hopefully) answer this ‘how’ question later in the relevant section, they are missing an important opportunity to persuade the reader at this early stage by providing the underlying reasoning and evidence for their argument.
Below is an example of how the author could succinctly answer the ‘how’ question in the introduction:
|Finally, I explore how the secrecy of the appointment process inhibits the principles of responsible government and executive accountability.
|Finally, I explore how the secrecy of the judicial appointment process inhibits the principles of responsible government and executive accountability. When political and ideological decision-making is concealed from public scrutiny, the executive cannot be held accountable for unlawful discrimination in the selection of candidates.|
‘Build an introduction’ activity
Now that you’re familiar with the elements of good essay introductions, see if you can ‘assemble’ one in this interactive activity.
Each turn, you will be presented with two competing excerpts drawn from the same article by Andrew Godwin, Ian Ramsay and Miranda Webster. Your task is to select which of the two excerpts is the most logical and appropriate for an essay introduction. Each correct statement follows on from the previous correct statement, until you have ‘built’ the complete introduction.
(If you get an answer wrong, click on the other statement to continue the quiz. You can also click on the blue speech bubble below to receive a hint for each set of statements!)
More help with introductions
The Guide to Academic Success on the LMS has detailed advice on writing essay introductions. For more good examples of introductions in the legal writing context, have a look at some of the published articles from the Melbourne University Law Review.