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National College of Ireland


Academic Writing Skills Guide: Introductions

What Should an Introduction Do?

The introduction is the first thing your reader will see, so making a good first impression from the very beginning is important. If it does not contain a clear argument and a direct outline of what is to come, it may leave them confused for the entire assignment. Your introduction should provide a brief summary of the main points and arguments in your assignment and should serve as a promise to the reader: this is what your topic and main argument is, this is why it is important, and this is how it will be organised. Your introduction tells the reader not only the intended final destination but the route you are going to take and the topic areas you are going to visit on the way. The reader is not expecting a mystery, but an analytical discussion of your topic in an academic style, with the main argument (thesis) stated up front – there should be no concern about spoilers here. 

When you write your introduction, try to think of it as narrowing down from broad to focused. One recommended approach to writing an introduction is to use the funnel approach. Think of an introduction in an academic assignment as an upside-down triangle, with the broadest part on top and the sharpest point at the bottom. It should begin by providing your reader with a general understanding of the overall topic. The middle of the introduction should narrow down the topic so your reader understands the relevance of the topic and what you plan to accomplish in your assignment. Finally, direct your reader to your main point by stating your thesis clearly.  

You can think of your introduction as an inverted triangle where you should begin with more general content and become more specific by the end of it.


  • Start broad, with an overview of the general context  

  • Open with a statement of the assignment’s general subject/topic area, showing that you have understood the assignment and what you are being asked to do.  



  • Then start to look more closely at the specifics of the question 



Finish with a precise focus on what your assignment will do - the reader should know exactly what you are going to argue by the time they have finished your introduction 

  • State your objectives in the assignment, saying what you are going to do. Your introduction should tell your reader what they should expect from your assignment. What is your main focus? What are the key themes? Where will you take them in your discussion?  

  • Outline the structure of the assignment and how it is organised. Write down what you are going to argue, and in what order; this should act as a guide or road map for your reader to follow as they read through the main body of your writing. 

  • Indicate the main point(s) you are going to argue. The final part of your introduction should state what your overall conclusion will be, asserting the point of the assignment with the thesis statement.

Although you may draft an introduction early in the writing process, you will normally write the introduction last once you have researched and written the main sections of your assignment. It is difficult to write an introduction when you do not yet know the key points you will be focusing on; best to write it last, when you have fully developed your ideas and finished the rest of the assignment.

It is much easier to explain your aim and structure after you have written the main body and conclusion.

Once you have researched and written a first draft of the assignment, you will have a better idea which are the key sources you are using, what your key themes are, and the order in which you will address them. However, some people may find that they need to write some kind of introduction in order to get the writing process started. Jotting down a few bullet points to serve as a temporary introduction can help avoid writer’s block, then you can alter, revise and review it as your ideas develop and you write the main body.

One way to get started with a draft introduction is to ask yourself the following questions. What is this assignment going to be about? How am I going to organise my discussion? What is the main point I will be making?

You do not need too much detail in the introduction; the introduction should be no less than 5% and no more than 15% of your overall word count. Save the detail for the main body of your assignment. 

Consult the Academic Phrasebank for helpful phraseology suitable for writing introductions.


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