How can I write background information effectively?

This is the third and final chapter about Background Information. To complete this reader, read each chapter carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Consider what makes for effectively written introductory background information

– Provide five pieces of advice for effective writing

– Use an example paragraph to demonstrate background-information mistakes

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Chapter 3

This third and final chapter about writing background information for the introductory paragraph of an academic essay focuses on the general tips and advice that (if followed carefully) should lead to more effective writing, which we’ve organised into five key areas. Once you’ve read and understood these five pieces of advice, you may wish to then unlock our beginner-, intermediate- and advanced-level worksheets to check your understanding of this topic.


1. Consider the Elements

As was described in some detail in Chapter 2, there are four key elements which may be included as introductory background information, which are (a) introducing the topic, (b) providing a hook, (c) defining key terms, and (d) highlighting topic importance. An effective writer should know when to vary both the length and inclusion of these elements depending upon the topic of their essay. If, for example, the subject matter of your essay lacks subject-specific vocabulary, then perhaps you shouldn’t worry about defining any terminology. Likewise, should your essay focus be on something important or significant – such as global warming or achieving world peace, then remember to detail this significance clearly for your reader.


2. Include Key Sources

One aspect of writing background information that students often neglect is the inclusion of key sources. First remember that sources should almost always be included in introductory background information, particularly when providing key statistics, definitions or theoretical concepts. Remind yourself here that referencing is intended to not only provide acknowledgement to the sources used and to avoid plagiarism, but to also assist the reader in locating those sources more easily.

Another consideration when citing sources during the introduction is to make sure that the key research for that specific topic has been included. Which authors and sources conducted the initial investigations about that topic, for example? And if you’re evaluating a theory, then which sources posited that theory first, and which later sources further developed those concepts? As is shown below, it may also be worth including a key multiple-source citation within your introduction:

Background Information 3.1 Multiple-Source Citation

3. Be Concise but Comprehensive

The third piece of advice about writing effective background information reminds the writer to be concise but also comprehensive. It’s not easy to find the right balance between including as few words as possible while still making sure that all the information necessary to sufficiently contextualise your essay has also been provided. One way of achieving this might be to first include all of the key information that your introduction requires without concerning yourself with aspects of concision. Once written, a writer is then able to carefully edit their work, rewriting any phrases or sentences that are able to carry the same meaning but in fewer words. Ultimately, by remembering the concept that academic writing requires the clear and concise conveyance of a writer’s ideas and arguments, you should be on the right path to academic success. 


4. Be Specific but Relevant

Two additional and important aspects of academic writing are specificity and relevance. It’s no secret that to write effectively, you should try to avoid having vague language throughout your essay – particularly in the introduction. The more specific a writer can be without providing unnecessary detail, the clearer and less ambiguous their writing will appear and therefore the more convincing their argument will likely be.

At the same time as being specific, a writer should try to be ruthless and critical in whether or not their background information is strictly relevant to their essay question and thesis statement. Ultimately, if such information lacks relevance, then those details should be deleted without question or repurposed elsewhere. Beyond a sentence or two to set the context, one good rule here is to avoid mentioning anything in your background that isn’t then further explored in the body section of your essay. Remember that most persuasive essays do not have the word count available for providing description within the body paragraphs, and so any concept that requires explanation should be briefly introduced and explained in the introductory background information first. 


5. Edit Carefully

Finally, as with all aspects of essay writing and academic assessments in general, an effective writer should always remember to edit and proofread their work carefully. Although even experienced writers make occasional typos and produce minor errors, non-native speakers of English also often make mistakes with other aspects of the language – such as word forms or subject-verb agreement. With this in mind, try to make sure that you, and perhaps also a peer, look carefully over your writing before the final submission deadline.


To highlight more clearly to you what might happen if the five tips we’ve outlined above are not followed, we’ve provided below a modified version of our Chapter 1 background information. This modified example demonstrates ineffective background that lacks sources, concision, specificity, relevance and careful editing:


Foreign Aid is Effective in the African Continent. Discuss.

The question of whether a country should provide assistance to a nation is not a contemporary one.1 In fact, recent evidence suggests that cultures as ancient as the Egyptians may have been at war with their foreign neighbours on a yearly basis (Smith, 2016).2 Something that may be taken as being somewhat ironic is that the majority of countries and nations that now depend upon foreign AID and investment exist firmly within the many countries that make up the African continent.3 AID, or Assisting to International Developing, is however an relatively recent conceptual, with $1.7 trillions now spent annually on providing international support for little affluence countrys.4 Many researchers have claimed that as much as 65% of this has failed to achieve its intended purpose.5 With poverty levels increased year up to year, the questions off whether Africa has a promising future is an importance one.

Background Information 3.2 Example Problems
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