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The introduction's function

There are no strict rules about the content of your introduction and you need to decide for each essay just what you need to include. However, there are a few points to always keep in mind when writing an introduction:

  • You will almost certainly state quite clearly just what you are going to do, or the case you will make.
  • With almost equal certainty you will provide a context that shows the significance of your discussion in relation to broader issues.
  • If your topic is potentially large and needs to be clearly limited, state the limits you have set to your discussion.
  • If certain terms central to your discussion have ambiguous meanings or might give rise to confusion, present definitions for these terms in the introduction.
  • If an outline of the structure or development of your essay would help your reader, you should provide one.

You must judge what you need to provide in order for your reader to understand clearly what your essay is about and what you are going to do in it.

Because your introduction introduces your essay (and not issues in general) it is almost certain that you will need to make final changes to your introduction after you have completed the rest of the essay. It is only at that point that you know exactly what you are introducing.

The following sample introduction below is based on this topic:

Sample topic

It has been suggested by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer in their article, 'Active Voluntary Euthanasia, Morality and the Law' (1995) 3 Journal of Law and Medicine 129, that the primary focus in determining the legal permissibility of medical end-of-life decisions should be the issue of patient consent rather than the subjective intention of the doctor or nurses. Comment critically with reference to the current legal position in Victoria and contrast this with the approach taken in some overseas jurisdiction.

Each of the four paragraphs in the introduction below performs a different function. Look at the following four functions and decide which paragraph carries out which function.

  1. It states the case this essay will make
  2. It outlines the structure of this essay
  3. It presents a context for this discussion
  4. It limits the scope of this essay

Enter your answers by selecting the appropriate option below each paragraph.

Introduction

  1. Although surveys of Australian doctors and nurses have established that requests by patients for a hastened death are commonplace and that compliance with them occurs in around half of these cases, at present, the administration of drugs that will hasten the death of a patient is legal only if the doctor's primary intention is to alleviate the pain of the patient. This basis for terminating a life, giving rise to the notion of 'double effect', is flawed, because it is almost impossible to disprove a doctor's assertion of what his or her primary intentions were. It lends itself to abuse by doctors who seek to hasten the death of a patient without their consent, no matter how altruistic their intentions for doing so are.

  2. This paper will argue that it is completely undesirable for the death of a patient to be brought about or hastened without their consent, and consent must therefore become a central issue in determining the legal-permissibility of euthanasia. The focus must shift from the intentions of the doctors when making medical end-of-life decisions to whether the rational consent of the patient whose death is being hastened has been obtained.

  3. Not all end of life decisions, or acts of euthanasia, involve patient consent. This essay will ignore non-voluntary and involuntary forms of euthanasia. Of those involving consent, there are three main types. 1) Passive voluntary euthanasia may be defined as an omission or inaction by a doctor holding the consent of the patient that results in death. For example, the withholding of life-prolonging treatment. 2) Active voluntary euthanasia may be defined as an act by a doctor who has the patient's consent that results in their death. 3) Assisted suicide occurs where the doctor provides the means by which the patient can commit suicide. In this essay I will be mostly concerned with Active Voluntary Euthanasia, although references will also be made to the other two forms as well.

  4. This essay will refer to the current state of Victorian law on euthanasia, and that of the Netherlands, to show weaknesses in the present approach to legislation on euthanasia. It will then show the difficulties of practically implementing law based on doctor intention, and argue instead that a focus on patient consent would be better form both a legal and ethical point of view.


Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Look at the following introduction to an essay on the legal protection of civil liberty. What function(s) does each paragraph have? Do you think this is the best order for these paragraphs?

Introduction

  1. This essay is concerned with the protection of the 'freedom of speech'. It will first of all clarify what is meant by 'freedom of speech', demonstrate its importance, and then show its current protection under law. It will then argue that current law is too restrictive, as it protects the powerful from disclosing to the public information that it is in the public's interests to know. In effect, such law discriminates in favour of the powerful. It will be argued that this is against the interests of democracy and therefore the law needs to be changed. Areas of change will be suggested.
  2. Civil liberties are an essential part of a healthy democracy. The guaranteeing of certain rights and privileges not only protects citizens from the tendency of government to intrude too far into the affairs of individuals, but they also protect conditions necessary for the full development of individuals. Therefore the protection of civil liberties is important for the maintenance of democracy. If they are not adequately protected, democracy is put in danger.

Which paragraph provides a context for the overall essay?





Which paragraph states the case of the essay?





Which paragraph outlines the structure of the essay?





Which paragraph should come first?





Check your answers

Paragraph 1 states the case this essay will make but at the same time as it outlines the structure of the essay.

Paragraph 2 contextualises the discussion.

If you are providing a context, it is helpful to do this first. The paragraphs are better ordered as follows:

Civil liberties are an essential part of a healthy democracy. The guaranteeing of certain rights and privileges not only protects citizens from the tendency of government to intrude too far into the affairs of individuals, but it also protects conditions necessary for the full development of individuals. Therefore the protection of civil liberties is important for the maintenance of democracy. If they are not adequately protected, democracy is put in danger.

This essay is concerned with the protection of the 'freedom of speech'. It will first of all clarify what is meant by 'freedom of speech', demonstrate its importance, and then show its current protection under law. It will then argue that current law is too restrictive, as it protects the powerful from disclosing to the public information that it is in the public's interests to know. In effect, such law discriminates in favour of the powerful. It will be argued that this is against the interests of democracy and therefore the law needs to be changed. Areas of change will be suggested.

Note: There is no separate paragraph indicating the scope of this essay. It is not necessary.

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