What is the purpose of an academic essay introduction?

This is the first of four chapters about Introductory Paragraphs. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the overall purpose of an essay introduction

– Break the purpose down into five key areas

– Describe each of the five areas in some detail

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Chapter 1

When writing an academic essay, it’s important to not only understand that there are separate sections of an essay – such as an introduction, a body and a conclusion, but to be able to recognise and utilise the possible elements and structures of each section that (when used correctly) should increase the chances of academic success. The following four chapters have therefore been created to outline and exemplify the overall purpose, individual elements, possible structures and useful language which are often recommended to university-level students who are writing essay introductions.


The first and most important aspect when writing an introduction is to understand the purpose of this essay section. Being familiar with the relationship between the writer, the reader and the introduction should help a writer to use this dynamic to their advantage. With such purpose in mind, we’ve isolated five aspects below that you should consider when planning your introduction:


1. Introducing the Topic

First and foremost, the key purpose of an essay introduction is to introduce the topic of that essay to the reader. Is your essay a compare and contrast or persuasive essay for example, and is the topic about language learning or economic stability? It’s important to let the reader (or your tutor) know exactly what they’re about to read as soon as possible, and then stick closely to that that topic throughout your essay. A good introduction should maintain a theme and remind the reader of that theme at various stages in the essay.


2. Contextualising the Topic

Not only is it important to introduce the focus of the essay, but one major purpose of an introduction is to provide the reader with the basic information they’ll need to understand the essay topic. Don’t forget that your reader may have never encountered such a topic before, and may therefore not have the general or subject-specific knowledge necessary to begin reading more deeply about that subject. Consider carefully which aspects of the topic are the most important for both the reader and for your essay argumentation, and then make sure to include and explain those in clear and concise language.


3. Signifying Purpose

Once you’ve introduced and contextualised the essay topic, it would then be a good idea to inform the reader of the overall purpose of the essay. How is the topic of your essay significant, and why are you investigating it? How are you investigating that topic; will your essay be balanced, critical or descriptive? The better you can prepare your reader for the type and purpose of essay that they’re about to read, the more logical and easy-to-follow your essay should seem to the reader.


4. Indicating Opinion

At the same time as signifying purpose, the writer should probably also indicate their opinion about the topic – if one is necessary for the type of essay  being written. By informing the reader early on whether you’re for or against the essay topic or are planning on evaluating both sides of the argument, you’ll better prepare the reader for predicting the content of the essay. After all, a reader that’s able to predict content will usually find that content more coherent and cohesive.


5. Outlining Structure

Finally, once the reader has been informed and educated about the topic and understands the topic’s importance and how the writer feels about it, the last purpose of an essay introduction is to clearly outline the structure of that essay. Which main ideas will come first, and how will those arguments be ordered? Will the counter argument be provided before the writer’s arguments, and how many body paragraphs will there probably be? By providing an outline for the reader, that reader will likely be better prepared for the contents of your essay. 

Once you’ve considered the overall purpose of your essay and understand the purpose of an introductory section, the next step is to look at the specific introductory elements that can be used to your advantage.

1 of 4 Chapters Completed


Once you’ve completed all four chapters about introductory paragraphs, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

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