Which background elements are important?
This is the second of three lessons about Background Information. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Outline the four elements of background information
– Provide examples to help guide and inform the reader
– Demonstrate language structures that are useful when introducing background information
Now that we’ve discussed the overall concepts and purpose of background information and why it’s conventionally included in an essay’s introductory paragraph, this second lesson focuses more specifically on the four key background elements that work to introduce the topic, engage the reader, contextualise any key terms and signify the writer’s purpose for conducting that particular research. The example introduction about foreign AID in Africa that was presented in Lesson 1 is used throughout this lesson to demonstrate these four key elements.
1. Introducing the Topic
While the four background information elements described in this lesson may be presented in any order or omitted at the writer’s discretion, the logical general-specific introduction structure as prescribed by most English for Academic Purposes tutors dictates that the essay topic should probably be presented to the reader first. By introducing the essay topic at the start of an essay in a general and broad way, a writer can create a coherent beginning to their assignment:
This first sentence from our example introduction in Lesson 1 succeeds in (a) introducing the topic of foreign AID, and (b) introducing that topic generally without yet focussing on Africa or the effectiveness of foreign AID.
2. Hooking the Reader
Once the essay topic has been introduced more broadly, the next element that a writer may wish to include as background information is what’s known as a hook – which is a piece of information that’s intended to engage the audience and encourage them to continue reading. In our example introduction, this has been achieved in sentences 2 and 3:
Sentence 2 intends to hook the reader by providing a cited fact about the longevity of the essay topic, claiming that foreign AID has been an aspect of human history for nearly 5,000 years. Sentence 3 then uses the attitude marker ‘ironically’ to connect this previous fact with the situation in Africa today, moving from the general topic of foreign AID to the more specific topic of AID in Africa today.
3. Defining Key Terms
Sometimes a writer may be required to define particular subject-specific or key terminology that’s important for better understanding and contextualising the essay topic. A good writer shouldn’t assume that their audience knows as much about their subject as they do, and so academic students should be prepared to concisely define select language in their introductions. However, which vocabulary is defined in the background should be carefully considered to avoid patronising the reader through the unnecessary explanation of obvious terms. The general advice here is (a) to always define any acronyms or initialisms that will be used throughout the essay, (b) to usually define any subject-specific language that the researcher found defined in the literature, and (c) to never define any language that should be commonly known by the average academic.
As can be seen in sentence 4 of our example introduction, the writer has decided to define the initialism ‘AID’ and further contextualise that term by providing a cited statistic about how much foreign money is spent annually around the globe. Although the language of providing definitions and categorisations is dealt with in more detail in that particular course, we’ve included some of the key structures for your reference below:
The two sentences (5 and 6) of our example introduction that succeed in outlining topic importance are provided above. This section successfully (a) provides a statistic that highlights the severity of the situation, (b) indicates how this statistic connects to the topic focus of AID in Africa, and (c) further specifies this topic by indicating that the efficacy of foreign AID is this essay’s precise focus.
To highlight topic significance more clearly in your own writing, there are a number of common language structures that students should consider using. The most useful structures have been provided for you in the table below:
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