How to write an introduction to an essay

  • An introduction is the opening paragraph of an essay.
  • It should briefly introduce the topic and outline your key ideas.
  • An introduction might also provide context and try to hook the reader’s interest.
Learn how to introduce a topic and hook the reader in from the start of your essay

Keep it short and focused

The content and style of an introduction to an essay will depend on the purpose of your writing. If the essay title is in the form of a question, then the introduction will need to outline your answer to the question.

Introductions should be:

  • short - no longer than a paragraph
  • focused on the essay question, statement, title or topic

Introduce the topic

How you start your essay will depend on the question or title. If the question is:

Why is Curley’s wife an important character in the novella Of Mice and Men?

You could answer the question directly in a single sentence:

‘Steinbeck uses the character of Curley’s wife to give the reader a glimpse into life in 1930s America and reflect some of the prejudices that existed in society at the time.’

If the essay question is about Curley's wife, your introduction should focus on her too

If the question is:

In what way does Slim represent moral authority in Of Mice and Men?

You could explain or explore the key words from the essay question or statement:

Moral authority means being trusted to make decisions that are right and good.’

If the question is:

Each of the characters in Of Mice and Men is lonely. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

You could respond directly to ideas in a statement:

Loneliness seems unavoidable for many of Steinbeck’s characters in Of Mice and Men - it is a natural result of the tough living conditions they all endure.’

Grab the reader's attention

Think carefully about your opening line. Aim to get the reader’s attention. There are different ways to do this. You could use:

  • a well-known saying or phrase
  • a statement that deliberately tries to shock or challenge
  • humour
  • techniques like alliteration or a rhetorical question

These approaches may not work in all introductions, for example, humour may not be appropriate in a formal literary essay.

Give some context

In some essays, it can be useful to give some brief context in an introduction. This could be:

  • historical - what point in time are you writing about?
  • location - what country, town or area are you writing about?
  • social - does the reader need to know anything about the society at the time?

Introduce your main points

An introduction should give the reader a glimpse into your thoughts on the subject. You could briefly:

  • introduce your main idea or key point
  • highlight your other supporting points

If the question is:

Why is Curley’s wife an important character in the novella Of Mice and Men?

You could introduce the essay by saying:

‘Curley’s wife is an important character in the novella because she is a symbol of loneliness. Along with Crooks and Candy, she comes to represent the loneliness of the outsider in society. Her character also shows the reader how women were treated and the emptiness of the American Dream.’

It's okay to spend extra time on your introduction - after all, it's the first thing people will read

What to avoid

  • Avoid phrases like ‘In this essay I’m going to write about …’
  • Avoid a detailed analysis of the text in your introduction.
  • Avoid moving away from your topic. Stay focused on the essay title.


An introduction will give the reader their first impression of your ideas. So it’s useful to spend time thinking and planning what to include.


Find out how much you know about writing an essay introduction in this short quiz!

Where next?

Discover more from around Bitesize.

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