Writing the introduction

The purpose of the introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to give your reader a clear idea of what your essay will cover. It should provide some background information on the specific problem or issue you are addressing, and should clearly outline your answer. Depending on your faculty or school, ‘your answer’ may be referred to as your position, contention, thesis or main argument. Whatever term is used, this is essentially your response to the essay question, which is based on the research you have undertaken.

An essay is not like a mystery novel which keeps the reader in suspense; it should not slowly reveal the argument to the reader. Instead, the contention and supporting arguments are usually stated in the introduction.

When writing an introduction, you should typically use a ‘general to specific’ structure. That is, introduce the particular problem or topic the essay will address in a general sense to provide context, before narrowing down to your particular position and line of argument.

Diagram of the structure of a conclusion

Key elements of an introduction

Click on each of the elements to reveal more

Sample introduction

Business leadership has been described as the ‘ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute to the effectiveness and success of the organisations of which they are members’ (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004, p. 63). Whether this ability is something a person is born with, or whether it is something that a person can learn, has been the subject of considerable debate. Kambil (2010) has outlined two categories of leadership attributes that help to frame the discussion: 'traits' (mostly innate) and 'skills' which can be developed through experience or training.  This essay will draw on the trait theory of leadership to argue that that leaders are first born, but then must be made. While good business leaders share certain traits that are essential to success, including ‘curiosity, courage, perseverance, personal ethics and confidence’ (Kambil, 2010, p.43), they also need learnable skills, such as communication, negotiation and conflict resolution, that are only developed through practice. A potential leader should develop their natural traits as well as learn and practise skills which will help them to persuade, equip and inspire others to realise their vision.

Legend: Background / Context ; Position / Contention ; Structure or main point of essay


Read the paragraph below and see if you can identify the key features of an introduction. This is an introduction written in response to the essay question: 'Can Rome's actions towards Carthage be described as defensive imperialism?'